The Great War

from More Songs By the Fighting Men, an electronic edition

Con Amore

IF but my love were as my love should be.

And pen a fitting scribe unto my heart,

Even then your praise I could not worthily

In ringing rime chime forth: no earthly art

Could frame the incommunicable worth

That is all yours, purchased with many tears,

And patient bravery, and happiness of earth

Renounced to buy your children's future years.

Then on the little mound your toil made good

Against a merciless tide of circumstance

I'll stand, taking the breath of gratitude

To mind and heart their power to enhance.

That I may reach the ear of future times

And hint my Mother's worth in these poor


The world must know your greatness, little Mother!

I will not have it so to be confined

That it should dwell but in the heart of my brother,

My sister's and mine own, and in our mind

Invoke respect, tongue-tied however just.

O Heart! turn lyre within me! You are stirred

At her great contemplation, then you must

Shake into song, though be it as a bird

Whose artless iteration of his theme

Makes music without skill, by virtue of

The cherished sweetness of the Spring, his dream

Through bitter Winter. Sing but of her love.

Of her exceeding love, O Heart, then you

May render somewhat of the debt her due.

So great your love is. Mother, it may be

Nor held by words nor compassed by my rime;

It has o'erwhelmed the wide, disparting sea,

It has assaulted battlemented Time

To keep your guardian spirit round me when

Danger affronted or but lay in lurk—

Danger of death in this mad war of men.

Danger of sin in Life's worse war of work

And play, shadow and light, quick tears, brief joys:

You knew Life's sweetness when you gave me birth

And shared my infant bliss in stingless to)s,

Alas! that since then joy has been in dearth

And grief has loosed so many of those tears

Which grew your Faith and Love beyond the


I have been exiled now for two long years,

Known many dangers, many pleasant places;

I have been near to Death just when he rears

With terrible intent, and gazed upon the faces

Of stricken comrades after his dread leap;

In eastern deserts I have worshipped beauty

Austerely still, where Death and Life to sleep.

And Home is a strange dream, and stranger


Yet have your mother-hands reached out always

With some sweet draught for Mem'ry; your


Softened the couch of hardships; darkest days

Your brightest words did light who knew the sting

Of this cruel war most cruelly deep at heart—

Your love to sing then, what an Angel's art!

Stern War has caused my life's frail barque to ride

Some perilous seas of Death, made me warm friends

With cold Privation, and like Dante's guide,

Down doleful, dayless ways where this life ends

And deeds, desires, are woven in hidden looms

That pattern human fate, me has he led

With hand relentless on my hand. 'Mid tombs

My dragging and his careless feet did treadj

Echoing fear about my heart, and then.

With his contempt content, my hand he freed

And left me breathing still the air of men

On this sweet earth. Yet in my daily creed

Shall be deep thanks to War that touched my eyes

With sight to see in you my priceless prize.

Return is sweet to one who hath been far

On pilgrimage or war's stern business, and

Hath oft at evening watched the evening star

Beckon to him beyond the desert sand.

Whispering of those green lands of memory's home,

Fertile with bliss that was and is to be,

Until, no more inconstantly to roam

With a sweet pain at heart then voweth he.

But doubly happy in my happiness

Am I who to anticipate made glad

Drear days of trial, and find each cheerful guess

So true, I gained such glad days from such sad:

You are my home, and I find home confirm

The hopes most glad of my sad exile-term.

And yet if I unto my verse would wed

Fair Truth, who stands with grave unfaltering gaze,

Reading where late my labouring pen hath sped

In halting periods o'er my checkered days.

Let me not write so of the present jo}-

Of my home-coming that one could infer

A happiness complete, without alloy

Of my sad Knowledge, Wisdom's minister.

Do I not know the bitter tinge to Life

Which Fate hath in your chaliced mother-heart

Mixed with maternal sweetness—the sharp knife

That stabs your peace—the cloud that doth impart

A darkness to each day—a child's affliction,

*Bounding your every joy with stern restriction?

True, true it is I know your suffering, dear.

And that my knowledge never can attain

To utter understanding nor come near

With Sympathy your heights of holy pain.

Yet to be comforted you'll not refuse,

Knowing your Mother's heart can mine relieve;

So take this comfort: that your son will use

The gifts you gave him homage due to give

Unto your humble greatness—never pray

For richer boon than grace to sow these seeds

Of future fame, to tell a later day

All the eternal splendour of your deeds.

Thus may I crown a life of little worth

With the rich praise of her who gave me birth.

These gifts you gave on God's behalf, I wonder

How they are mine above all my deserving—

My life's path cluttered is with many a blunder

Nor Duty-guided in a course unswerving,

As lies your own in beauteous symmetry

Behind, beyond the rise of the distant hill

Where finds the daylight first all that of me

Does make the man, your son, heart, mind and will.

Then how must I, with firm-held reins, with bit

Drawn hard, hold in my spirited arrogance.

The lust of youth, the usufruct of it.

The power impetuous, seeking ever a chance

To break away into loose licence, when

'Tis needed so, to praise you, by my pen!

There is not beauty enough in the whole world—

Could it be brought obedient to my will—

No hues of budding dawn, no colours furled

After rich sunset, in the west, dim, still;

No melodies of brooks or birds, no tunes

Which breezes wake among green leaves that lay

Upon some summer's breathing breast—nor runes

Around a lonely lake which ripples play.

Falling on quiet shores—nor voice of shimmering


Whose anger sleepeth. Nay on all the earth

There is no beauty stirring sweet emotion

To paint, to sing, to monument thy worth:—

Nothing that can outbid in all of this

My pain-fraught joy feeling thy prideful kis?.

Mother! toward you my gratitude now goes

As to a goddess of some ancient fane.

Worshipped for fruitful blessings, incense rose,

While the stone altar held the dove just slain

In simple, penitential sacrifice.

And the great congregation, humbled, bowed,

Acknowledged thus the wondrous gifts whose price

They could not pay but in surrender proud

To gratitude's humility.—But you

Claim nothing slain in your cult, except

What I would less than value—all the true,

Enduring things in me have upward leapt.

Striving to do your honour. So do I

In humble pride my voice lift heaven-high.

FRANCE, Sept., 1917.