The Great War

from War, The Liberator and Other Pieces, an electronic edition

War, The Liberator
(TO THE AUTHORESS OF "NON-COMBATANTS")

SURELY War is vile to you, you who can but know of it,

Broken men and broken hearts, and boys too young to die,

You that never knew its joy, never felt the glow of it,

Valour and the pride of men, soaring to the sky.

Death's a fearful thing to you, terrible in suddenness,

Lips that will not laugh again, tongues that will not sing,

You that have not ever seen their sudden life of happiness,

The moment they looked down on death, a cowed and beaten thing.

Say what life would theirs have been, that it should make you weep for them,

A small grey world imprisoning the wings of their desire?

Happier than they could tell who knew not life would keep for them

Fragments of the high Romance, the old Heroic fire.

All they dreamed of childishly, bravery and fame for them,

Charges at the cannon's mouth, enemies they slew,

Bright across the waking world their romances came for them,

Is not life a little price when our dreams come true?

All the terrors of the night, doubts and thoughts tormenting us

Boy-minds painting quiveringly the awful face of fear.

These are gone for ever now, truth is come contenting us,

Night with all its tricks is gone and our eyes are clear.

Now in all the time to come, memory will cover us,

Trenches that we did not lose, charges that we made,

Since a voice, when first we heard shells go shrilling over us,

Said within us, " This is Death--and I am not afraid! "

Since we felt our spirits tower, smiling and contemptuous,

O'er the little frightened things, running to and fro,

Looked on Death and saw a slave blustering and presumptuous,

Daring vainly still to bring Man his master low.

Though we knew that at the last, he would have his lust of us,

Carelessly we braved his might, felt and knew not why

Something stronger than ourselves, moving in the dust of us,

Something in the Soul of Man still too great to die.