The Great War

from War Daubs: Poems, an electronic edition

The Gaff

OUT, out into the wind-swept cleansing night

Whose purple canopy, the sky, is bright

With the soft splendour of the full round moon

And a thousand stars that mystically croon

Strange melodies upborne on the cooling wind !

Out into the night I plunge, my fevered mind

Hot and drunk.

Out to the night from the stenches

Of a swelt'ring music-hall where leering wenches,

Sickly pale, nudge lustfully in glee the men

That smoke and sweat in their music-den

Like bestial things; where the reeking pit

Vomits out its noise of ribald wit,

The click of glasses in its bar in the rear

Where bloated men swill nauseous beer;

Its drunken babbling, oaths, hysteric glee,

Licentious talk and loathsome waggery;

Where huddled men and women sit in swarms,

All sensual and sweating all, on forms

Above a spittle-littered floor ; and where

Tall men with silent philosophic air

Y-clad in tawdry braided gold, spit out

Tobacco juice and, watching, prowl about!

Out from the garish stage flashed bright with lights

That lure the eyes of the sweating crowd to sights

And things they lust for, women showing legs,

And more (like that fat girl, half nude, that begs

Her languid lover's ravishing embrace

And smiles hideously in his grinning face);

Full-limbed, tight-laced wantons singing all

Delirious songs of love that shrilly fall

On the gloating herds like balm; voluptuous dancing,

And the winking chorus, ludicrously prancing

On behind, like animated dolls.!

Ugh, enough! this tinsel show appals

My soul. Away this gruesome glare! Away

This carnival of gay indelicacy,

Gross and joyless!

Out I rush to the night

Whose purple covering, the sky, is bright

With the soft splendour of a million stars

And the mystic moon. Out, out, to list to bars

Of delicious music mingled with the scent

Of hidden flowers, that surely ne'er was meant

For man ! Out, out, to wash my jaded soul

With cooling airs from the star-wrought purple bowl

Of night, in the vast solemnity

Of silent trees where purple shadows lie

And where, by a rugged ivy'd grot, enriched

With golden withered leaves, a brook bewitched

By the elfish spell of moonbeams babbles on

And mutters of a silent graceful swan

It loves ; and where, upon the whispering grass

Slim fairy dancers laugh and, twinkling, pass!