The Great War

from The Holy War, an electronic edition

The Vision

An average man was Private Flynn,

Good stuff for soldiering, no doubt;

Troublesome when the drink was in,

A quiet lad when it was out.

Too fond of gaming and the girls,

And given to "language" that would fright

His mother dreaming of his curls

And his soft boyish ways at night.

He had forgotten how to pray

The way she taught him at her knees.

Her prayers ran like a river all day,

And while she slept gave little ease.

The Calvary, by Souchez, holds

Wide arms to clasp the new-made beds,

Where lie, nor toss their browns and golds,

The precious, the beloved heads.

Flynn's Captain, who had proved a friend

At times a friend is needed most,

Slept there, and comfort was at end

Because Flynn's faithful friend was lost.

"Gassed." O'er that twisted grace and dumb,

Flynn swore a choking oath to give

No quarter when the day should come

And fed his hate to thrive and live.

Lest that his Captain feel forgot,

At night when all the trenches slept,

Flynn tended like a garden plot

The grave o'er which the night-dews wept.

He raised a little cross of sticks,

Pansies, forget-me-nots, amid;

Over him the gaunt Crucifix

Shed comfort -- or he thought it did.

Rank disobedience! No one knew

How Flynn, so devil-may-care and brave,

Courted destruction just to do

A little gardening on a grave.

One night the shells lit all the dark,

Burst in a million splinters of flame;

At morn, before the singing lark,

Flynn to his tender office came.

He smoothed the clay where it was rough,

With his hard tender hand he drew

As 'twere a quilt of silken stuff

Between the sleeper and the dew.

All done, he stretched his six foot four,

And yawning, in the dawn's pale glow,

Bent to the Crucifix once more,

Saluted ere he turned to go.

Then here's the marvel -- the dead Christ

Opened His Eyes, the very Eyes

That Mary loved, which through a mist

The saved souls see in Paradise.

Flynn, like Elijah, caught to Heaven!

Plain Private Flynn -- saw God revealed!

Unto a simple soldier given

The secret heart of Heaven unsealed.

Could he go back to common joys

After the joys of Heaven were won?

The quietness was rent with noise,

The death sprang from the hidden gun.

They shot Flynn's eyes out. That was good.

Eyes that saw God are better blind.

Flynn muses on beatitude,

His empty eye-sockets behind.

In a bare London hospital ward

He smiles and prays the live-long day.

He who has seen the living Lord

Has Light upon the darkest way.