The Great War

from War Daubs: Poems, an electronic edition

Standing By
(DESOLATORY REFLECTIONS)

O spirit of my Fate keen-eyed, firm-lipped !

Thou lead'st me not to pleasant places, dipt

Rich in gold of setting suns, where dance

Slim sylphs in silken draperies, who glance

With luring elfish eyes as they flit away--

Their white limbs twinkling in the gloom; or say

(For vision lags) to those dim aisles of Faerie

Where my craving soul would fain be led:

Ah! no. Thou hurriest me to fields where dead

Glue piteous eyes on me, each eye a curse!

Relentless Fate, thou drivest on, steel-lipped !--

And I rebel !--with frantic passion gript,

Shrinking from lurid horrors that I see

Revealed, in stark display, awaiting me!

And War I do curse! and gruesome, ogling death!

O you! condemn me not with scorning breath,

Who sit at home secure, in cushioned ease

At peace, penning glib sonnets wrought to please,

On War, and Pain, and Heaven and Sacrifice,

Saying, " He who for his country dies

Is blest! " and making sestets nobly end

With ' Death!the sweet-toned, ever-welcome

Friend'!

(O Death! sweet welcome Friend! no friend of mine

Art Thou)!

Ah, no! That clear pure sight of thine

Is not in me; I hear no fairy bells

On battlefields, no visions see of wells

Of rest, or hear no inner voice that sings;

Or feel the fluttering of angel wings,

Sheltering around,--but only Death

I see, and Carnage, reeking with nauseous breath,

Leering in War's hideous company

With gorged Destruction, Lust and Misery!

Oh ! I would rather gaze on beauty's face

In some dim woodland grove, and dreaming, chase

In rich-hued phantasy, all loveliness

Of perfume, form, and sound; and wake to see

The still twilight steal soft and holily

Into the wood, and in the solemn deep

Of eve, when birds and beasts are all asleep

And not a leaf or flower is swaying, feel

The hush of God!

But, ah! I cannot! Steel

And iron and lead and poison gas and blood

Blur my vision, blinding it with mud

Of harsh reality! I see grim sights,

And smell foul smells, and in some awful nights

I see gaunt long-nailed Death with grinning jaws

Stalking, creaking in his joints, with claws

Out-stretched to grip me!

Oh! how can I pen sweet songs

On noble themes, when all I see belongs

To hell? War is no glorious, cleansing thing;

And Death no gentle-mannered Saviour King!--

But off! Begone! This whining piteous fret!

War will not crush me--I am a soldier yet!

Come ! Spirit of my Fate, whate'er thou hast

In store for me--where'er my lot is cast

In War's grim jaws--I'll strive to face, and fight,

With proud rejoicing reckless might!

And should Death have me in his thumb-smudged Book

Dog-eared and grimy, with unwavering look

I'll face him to the last and, fighting, fall

With scorn upon my face for Hell and all

Its despicable crew!

But still I pray,

Spirit of my Fate ! that thou hast stored away

For me, in some fair peaceful place, a spot

Where Death and War and Pain will be forgot;

And where, alive, dead friends will merry be

'Mid song-filled homes in Paradise with me.