The Great War

from War Daubs: Poems, an electronic edition

Arras, 1917

I HEAR a rat scurrying

At the end o' the street

Across the moon-lit stones, hurrying

To dingier retreat--

A ruined house against the moon,

Black like cob-web silhouette--

And the wind runs around

Like a whining hound

Seeking its master,

Faster and faster ;

And I'll never forget

How chill strikes the moon !

And a heavy sound,

A hollow tread, comes after me--

I never glance around,

But, onward hurrying, flee

From the haunting dread

Of the unknown tread ;

And I hold my breath :

Is it Death ?

This is a city desolate ;

It stands, but not inviolate,

A virgin place that rape

Has spoiled in brutish fight

Of soul that, sobbing, seeming dies :

And the black windows gape

Like anguished eyes

In mute horror thro' the night!

Ah ! is the bruisèd spirit fled ?

Come ! and I will lead thro' winding thread

Of pulseless streets, blanched with light

Of th' anmic moon, coldly bright!

Follow me, and I will lead a quest

Along lone lanes by saintly stones oppressed.

Fear not the shadows ! look, how warm

And golden strikes that streak of light

That steals, like ghostly finger form,

Into the heart of night!

Behind that broken barricade

There dwells a man, a woman, and a maid;

They vend their wares all day

In humble, cheery, careless way,

And whisper low of days gone by--

See there, the city's soul

That pulses on with irresistless roll

To a future, mightier destiny!

And gleams it still in many a dingy hole

Thro'out this sad, sepulchral place !

It breathes in cellar like a mole ;

It smiles with wistful face ;

It walks the silent street;

And you hear its accents in the wandering feet

Of haggard women, trudging to the ground

Where food is to be found !

One day that soul that wails in low lament

In darkness, will arise--renewed and strong--

Jubilant with reincarnate faith--a song

Of triumph from its fiery lips sent

Ringing to the astonished firmament--

Music that will never die,

A swelling, surging song of Liberty!

Martyrdom will cease

And Freedom come again with Peace;

And jostling, hustling throngs,

Singing o'er a hundred wrongs,

Panting, laughing, crying,

Weeping, shouting, sighing

Will rush like rising sea

Into the empty streets, bellowing Victory !

But still the wind runs around

Like a whining hound

Seeking its master,

Faster and faster;

And a heavy sound,

A hollow tread comes after me--

I never glance around,

But, onward hurrying, flee

From the haunting dread

Of the Unknown Tread ;

And I hold my breath :

Is it Death?