The Great War

from War: an Ode And Other Poems, an electronic edition

In Memory of a Young Airman

BROWN hair, brown brow, brown throat, like bronze

Sculptured by a Praxiteles,

And hazel eyes, like summer dawns,

Lighting the isles of Southern seas.

He seemed like some great poet's dream

Of some white lovely Grecian god--

Adonis, with young eyes agleam;

Or Herakles, with shoulders broad.

Or Hermes, with his wingéd feet

Flying on messages divine;

Or Ganymede, the stripling sweet,

Pouring the gods their ruby wine;

Or Hyacinthus, ere the wound

Turned him to flowers in Zephir's arms;

Or tall Narcissus, ere he swooned

From love of his own mirrored charms.

Yet, though his beauty and his grace

Were as the dreams of Grecian art,

'Twas England's soul illumed his face,

'Twas England blossomed in his heart.

And England, England, England lit

His eyes with loving, filial joy;

He went and gave his life for it,

This happy-hearted English boy.

And gave it not as one might lay

A gift upon an altar high;

He did not kneel, he did not pray;

Gaily he sallied forth to die.

He had nor gods, nor marble fanes,

He had no pious faith forsooth,

Save English lawns, and English lanes,

And English homes, and English truth.

England, his Merrie England, stood

For all things high, and all things free;

For all things wise, and all things good;

For Justice and for Liberty.

So he faced peril with a jest,

And with a smile he paid the price.

England was worthy England's best,

England was worth all sacrifice.

There was such laughter in his breath,

He was so young, and strong, and straight,

His beauty made a mock of death

His joyance had no place for hate.

He went as warrior of the air,

Above him were the sun and stars,

And rosy clouds, and under there

The trenches' livid weals and scars;

The bloody fangs of barbéd wire,

The muddy craters choked with dead,

The cannon belching smoke and fire,

The crests of battle breaking red.

He saw the glint of steel below,

The thunder of the guns he heard;

But what to him were death and woe!

He only was a boy, a bird--

A boy on high adventure bent,

An eagle soaring to the blue;

Up to the radiant sun he went,

Through the bright fields of air he flew.

He loosed his bolt. The bright death sped

Spinning like an Ithuriel's spear,

Earth spluttered red around the dead,

Yet felt he neither wrath nor fear.

For he was messenger of Fate,

Merely a boy, a bird, a Doom,

And neither doubt, nor fear, nor hate

Within his boyish heart had room.

There came a blizzard through the skies,

A shrieking gust of shrapnel rain;

A blinding mist came o'er his eyes,

He felt a sudden throb of pain;

Then peace. With broken wings he lay

Upon the ground. But still meseems

The climbing spirit cleaves its way,

With the white wings of happy dreams.

And still meseems the boundless force,

The beauty and the love set free

From the gross flesh, will run its course

Through æons of Eternity;--

Unspoilt, unspent, will reach its aim,

And from the dead will spring perchance

A Europe purged by steel and flame--

A nobler England, nobler France.

Yea, from his fame as white as snow,

And from his sacrificial blood,

The lilies of new France will grow

The roses of new England bud.