The Great War

from Lest We Forget, an electronic edition

The Yser.

Sweet and soft was thy stream, Yser,

As it first sang the song of the Spirit that wrought thee;

When down to thy brim came the dry-tongued hare,

And the little low hills their moist tribute brought thee.

Lithe, yet lowly,

Like a maid half-holy,

As thy lover the sun in the white dawn caught thee.

Sad and sluggish thy tide, Yser,

When man cast his mantle of sin about thee,

And the mean alley stoops to the wharfinger's stair,

And the sodden string of the barges flout thee.

Sad and shamed,

Like a wild thing tamed,

As the slimy lock-gates dare thee and doubt thee.

Red and royal thy flood, Yser,

When the nations flock to debate thy fording,

And the great guns crash, and the bugles blare,

And the blood soaks into thy banks for hoarding.

Red, rose-red,

Is thy bosom with dead,

As the shells strike home on the frail bridge-boarding.

It is no great span to thy stream, Yser,

But the Styx were an impotent babble beside.

Though thy ooze be slow as a midnight mere,

There's the ebbing of life in its ghastly tide.

Thou art consecrate

To a proud foe's fate,

Who peered in the ink of thy magic, and died.

When the Judgment sounds on thy life, Yser,

And thou liest prone in thy penitency,

The God who girt Eden with rivers fair,

And set on our walls that old watchman, the sea --

He shall not forget, When the thrones are set,

How thou gavest thy soul to the stand of the free.