The Great War

from Late Songs, an electronic edition

(On a Tyrone hillside)

The little valley folded lies

Amid the hills a-dream,

The silence, soft as lullabies,

Hushes the wind, the stream.

Here where no dreadful thing affrights,

No lurking shadows creep,

Only the short sweet grass invites

The cropping kine and sheep,

The pagan giant takes his rest

Who died when this was new.

His huge slab broken o'er his breast

Has let the daisies through.

And round about and all around

The unchristened babies lie.

Only the mother knows the mound

And the name to call it by.

When the sad world is all in shade

They bring the babies here,

The little weary ones unstayed

By any Angel dear.

The mother lays her lamb away

Where soft South winds will blow

And where the sweet sun shines all day

On small graves in a row.

The mother smooths the clayey bed,

And sets the piteous stone

Where some most precious drowsy-head

Sleeps on alone, alone.

But when the Winter nights are long

And the hearth fires are bright

And babes sleep sweetly and grow strong

Lapped up in fleeces white,

And when the mother's arms let go

The happy babe full-fed,

These hapless ones in frost and snow

Must go uncomforted.

But the old giant in the mirk

He hears the cry and call:

Come hither, O children from the dark,

My arms have room for all.

No little babe need go afeard

Since he is strong and kind,

For all his armour and his beard,

His great voice on the wind.

The unchristened children rustle and stir,

Their hearts are not dismayed,

God sends as once St. Christopher

His pagan to their aid.

Now like a flock of frightened birds

The little ghosts will fly.

He hath mothered them with tender words

And stilled their lonely cry.

The pagan giant now grown mild,

His notched sword by his arm,

Draws close to him the hapless child

That never else was warm.

As a hen gathereth her brood

He keeps from eve till morn

The little orphaned ones of God

That died ere they were born.