The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

The Vale of Shadows

There is a vale in the Flemish land,

A vale once fair to see,

Where under the sweep of the sky's wide arch,

Though winter freeze or summer parch,

The stately poplars march and march,

Remembering Lombardy.

Here are men of the Saxon eyes,

Men of the Saxon heart,

Men of the fens and men of the Peak,

Men of the Kentish meadows sleek,

Men of the Cornwall cove and creek,

Men of the Dove and Dart.

Here are men of the kilted clans

From the heathery slopes that lie

Where the mists hang gray and the mists hang white,

And the deep lochs brood 'neath the craggy height,

And the curlews scream in the moonless night

Over the hills of the Skye.

Here are men of the Celtic breed,

Lads of the smile and tear,

From where the loops of the Shannon flow,

And the crosses gleam in the even-glow,

And the halls of Tara now are low,

And Donegal cliffs are sheer.

And never a word does one man speak,

Each in his narrow bed,

For this is the Vale of Long Release,

This is the Vale of the Lasting Peace,

Where wars, and the rumors of wars, shall cease,

The valley of the dead.

No more are they than the scattered scud,

No more than broken reeds,

No more than shards or shattered glass,

Than dust blown down the winds that pass,

Than trampled wefts of pampas-grass

When the wild herd stampedes.

In the dusk of death they laid them down

With naught of murmuring,

And laughter rings through the House of Mirth

To hear the vaunt of the high of birth,

For what are all the kings of earth

Before the one great King!

And what shall these proud war-lords say

At foot of His mighty throne?

For there shall dawn a reckoning day,

Or soon or late, come as it may,

When those who gave the sign to slay

Shall meet His face alone.

What, think ye, will their penance be

Who have wrought this monstrous crime?

What shall whiten their blood-red hands

Of the stains of riven and ravished lands?

How shall they answer God's stern commands

At the last assize of Time?

For though we worship no vengeance-god

Of madness and of ire,

No Presence grim, with a heart of stone,

Shall they not somehow yet atone?

Shall they not reap as they have sown

Of fury and of fire?

There is a vale in the Flemish land

Where the lengthening shadows spread

When day, with crimson sandals shod,

Goes home athwart the mounds of sod

That cry in silence up to God

From the valley of the dead!