The Great War

from Songs & Sonnets for England in War Time, an electronic edition

Introduction

In the stress of a nation's peril some of its greatest songs are born. In the stress of a nation's peril the poet at last comes into his own again, and with clarion call he rouses the sleeping soul of the empire. Prophet he is, champion and consoler.

If in these later times the poet has been neglected, now in our infinite need, in our pride and our sorrow, he is here to strengthen, comfort and inspire. The poet is vindicated.

What can so nobly uplift the hearts of a people facing war with its unspeakable agony as music and poetry? The sound of martial music steels men's hearts before battle. The sound of martial words inspires human souls to do and to endure. God, His poetry, and His music are the Holy Trinity of war.

Not always the greatest songs that have sent men on to victory. Sometimes it has been a modest verse that has found refuge in the heart of the soldier ready for the ultimate sacrifice, cheered on his way by the lilt of a humble song. Who else, indeed, can take the place of a poet?

As Mr. William Watson has most nobly said:

"Empires dissolve and peoples disappear:

Song passes not away.

Captains and conquerors leave a little dust,

And kings a dubious legend of their reign;

The swords of C├Žsars, they are less than rust:

The poet doth remain."