The Great War

from Great Poems of the World War, an electronic edition

Here at Verdun

I STAND on a peak at Verdun--a scarred, torn peak of hope and death.

Far under my feet run the mystic passages of Fort Souville.

I strain my eyes to look over a great field where men have swayed in the death lock with eternity.

Ahead and to the right and left stretch fifteen kilometres gaping with wounds, each shell hole a pit of death, a hideous mark left by the scourge of despotism.

Ahead is that foul stretch from which came and still come the hordes of tyranny, with breath of poison and sting of contamination.

Behind is ruin. Never was such ruin. A blight, a torture, a world pain, piercing and cruel.

And yet behind is hope. Behind are the legions of liberty, the soldiers of our children's freedom.

Behind are the endless legions, coming, coming, coming. Behind are the veteran legions of France and Britain. Behind are the countless legions of America, coming, coming, coming--a brown ribbon of promise stretching across the sea to the shrine of Liberty!

Here where these jagged slashes in the yellow earth have formed a glorious tomb for three hundred thousand gallant French--here is the testing ground of our destiny. Here they have held for us our heritage! Here they have perished in the eternal splendor of self-sacrifice for us! Here is their borderland--and ours!

Here they have written with their ebbing blood the slogan that has thrilled the world--"They shall not pass!"

The gaunt and sinister craters, one merging into the ragged rim of another, the bits of shell, the battered helmets, broken guns, ill-assorted refuse of combat--each shattered particle a marker for some valiant soul "gone west" in service of humanity.

Here, over this land glorified by a nobility of deed than which there has been no more exalted, must our war be waged. Out of this hallowed ground comes the call of those who have given of their best--the call to our great land for Old Glory's best!

There will come to us wounds that will rack our bodies and drain the coursing blood of our vibrant veins. There will come to us the aching pain of suffering and loss--here on these red fields of France. But we will save our souls and our nation's soul! And we will save our heritage and give to the billions of the world the right to theirs.

So the brown ribbon of youth winds across the sea--to Verdun and to the long, thin lines on either side. Here will we prove our right to life and liberty!

Brown ribbon of promise!

Hoping, longing, wounded France!

Brown ribbon of youth and high resolve!

Brown ribbon of Liberty!

Here at Verdun!