The Great War

from The Volunteer and Other Poems, an electronic edition

Ares, God of War

UNDER the stars the armies lie asleep:

Between the lines a quiet river flows

Through brakes of honeysuckle, and of rose,

And fields where poppies droop in languor deep:

The night as with a mantle now enfolds

The muffled forms upon the pasture low;

The scent of thyme comes down across the wolds,

And on the roses of the dark hedgerow

The summer starlight falls in flakes of silver snow.

Here, from the wooded haunt of nymph and fawn,

The hidden guns peer forth across the hills,

Their wheels are on the trampled daffodils,

And so they wait the coming of the dawn.

In dappled shadows, where the fairy weaves

On grasses tall his web of sparkling lace,

The gunners lie, their heads upon the sheaves:

White falls the moon on many a sunburnt face,

That ere the day shall feel another God's embrace.

Among the barrows of the sunken plain,

Where sleep the soldiers of another day,

On misty meadow and on upland gray,

On many eyes, that close but once again,

The peaceful earth her benediction throws,

The waves of healing music from the streams,

That though the willows softly comes, and goes ;

And now the face of all the country seems

A mirror consecrated to an army's dreams.

From far away is borne a woman's pray'r

To Ares, restless in his iron crown :

"Sleep, Ares, Sleep ! For, once the dice are thrown,

Empires to thee are leaves upon the air !

Ere all the homes go smoking to the skies,

And men are swept upon the battle-blast,

Ere all the tears are wept from women's eyes,

O Queen of Love, hold now the Lover fast,

And let him taste eternal anodyne at last !"

But with the dawn there comes a soldier's song:

"When all the guns have fired their last salute,

And the tongues of all the world are mute,

And life is dearer than to right a wrong,

Then may he weary of his burnng wine,

And rest forever in the arms divine

Of Aphrodite passionate and pale-

But Hark ! He comes ! Hail, Ares ! Lord of Thunder, Hail !

"He rides above the ocean and the snow,

His trail is on the curtain of the skies :

Brighter than dawn, his young eternal eyes

Shine in the eyes of Valour far below :

Now Mammon hides beneath his trembling halls,

While Honour marches singing into war ;

On strange forgotten hearts a radiance falls,

As ever nearer, burning from afar,

The sword of Ares gleams above the morning star."

"The other gods are weaker ; thou alone

Dost break the king and bend the emperor's knee:

Lower than unto Christ they bow to thee,

Lord of the slave, and guardian of the free,

Steel-hearted Ares, shaker of the throne ;

Young god of battle, restless lover, hail !

For, once a man has seen thine eyes aflame,

And mounted on the horses of the gale,

Death is a nothing, life an empty name:

Arise and lead us ere our blood be tame,

O lord of thunder, Arcs of the crimson mail !"