The Great War

from More Songs By the Fighting Men, an electronic edition

The Downs, Looking from Savernake Forest

WITH eager steps I climbed the hill

Ploughed with deep, age-old furrows, till

I reached the forest's edge and gazed

Across the low red town smoke-hazed.

Upon the downs, windy and bare.

Ridge upon ridge unending. There

No sound is heard save only these,

The wind's wild song 'mid lonely trees,

The echo of sheep-bells, and the cry

Of peewits circling in the sky.

Back in the dawn of time on earth.

Before she brought her sons to birth.

You stood the same- as now you stand—

Untroubled, vast, majestic, grand:

Only you had not heard the tramp,

Old Hackpen Hill and Barbury Camp,

Of many an army passing by

Under a blue and cloud-flecked sky.

And happy they who fell in fight

Upon your clear and wind-swept height:

With thunder for their requiem

And the dark clouds to weep for them,

They dream the centuries away

Through changeless night and changeless day.

O Downs, I think it good that you

Have given your secret to the few

Who love you and can understand.

You are not as this other land

Trodden by all who chance to pass:

Only we tread your close-cropped grass

Who love to feel the beat of rain

Washing away all town-born pain:

Wind: and the heights whence one may see

The littleness of man: and we

There feel at last that we are free.