The Great War

from More Songs By the Fighting Men, an electronic edition

At a Wayside Shrine

THE column halts before a wayside shrine

To change formation into battle line

From double file. 'Tis even, and the sun

Its daily circling race has wellnigh done.

Behind me in the West, a dying glow

Of gold still gleams, to cast a pale halo

Upon the shrine.

How many men before

To-night have halted at this spot, and wore

The same grim, ready look that I see now

Painted on every face from chin to brow.

And in each eye? One and all are ready

For come what may; each man now stands steady

Waiting command.

And now the line will pass

The shrine—itself as steady as the mass

Of England's sons slow moving to the fray.

Their Destiny now in the hands of—say.

The dim Divinity within that shrine—

A loving God (the stricken Christ His sign

Of Love)—or what?

The shrine is rent and drilled

With bullets—aye, and some of them have killed.

Passing right thro' the thin mud walls, and past

The Hanging Figure in the plaster cast,

On to some human target, trudging by,

(Dropping it low with sharp surprised cry)

Even as I trudge by.

So have some died

For Right—bravely as Christ the Crucified

Died on Calvary's Cross; just as brave

And just as sacrificially. To save

The world He died, or so the worn-out creeds

Of Church would teach—but they^ but men, dared deeds

And died as men.

Because of Greater Love—

That Love of Loves, all other loves above—

The love of Home and Friends and Native Soil.

That these might never be the Foeman's spoil,

They gave their lives, their youth, their golden dreams

And airy castles, built where Siyilight gleams.

And Roses bloom

And gave them willingly

As Christ gave His, that day on Calvary.

A stricken Christ a broken shrine and men

In khaki marching by. How little less

Divine these khaki-clads in their worn dress

Than He, the Christ of God? For in each man

The same soul burns.

And ere I leave the shrine,

I look upon the Christ—then at the line

Of men back to His face and those closed eyes

So open when one lingeringly looks

As if into their depths. These men . . . those eyes

Loving, pain-haunted eyes, hard gazing down

They seem,

On these—these other Christs in thin disguise

Of khaki-brown.