The Great War

from War: an Ode And Other Poems, an electronic edition

On the Death of John Davidson


SAD soul by fickle Fortune spurned,

Sad soul that burned,

And flickered in the dark,

Like a wind-troubled spark,

Had God but given thee a little rest

And sheltered thee a time to burn thy best,

We seeing thee afar

Had known thee as a star

Upon His Breast.

But Pain,

Like wintry rain,

Smothered thy fire with smoke;


Drove thee to Despair

Until thy proud heart broke,--

Not trodden in the winepress into wine,

By the white feet of Sorrow and Desire,

But trampled by the cloven hooves of swine

And cloven feet of devils in the mire.


O bitter smoke to come from such a flame!

O sordid ending of such dreams of fame!

O lowly ending of so high an aim!

Great! wert thou great, we know not, only know

That thou wert great in hope, and great in woe,

Too high to slumber in a grave so low,

Too rich to be compelled thro' lack of gold

To toil at shoddy--to be bought and sold

In the world's market; strong enough to die

Rather than living low to live a lie.


Would it have braver been to slay thine art,

And on the world to crucify thy heart,--

To work at lowly labour for thy bread,

Smiling, as brave men do, amid thy dead,

Letting none know the pain

Of a hope loved in vain,

Of a great thought unsaid?

Would it have braver been to wait for Death

Rather than call him with impatient breath?

Would it have braver been? Is it so brave

To live when love of life is in the grave,--

To live without a soul? Is it worth while

To make pretence of life, and talk, and smile,--

Is it so brave?


What man may judge? We know that thou wert strong,

With a heart full of song

And courage high.

It was no coward who went forth to die,

But one who bravely with despair had fought,

Who in the darkness noble things had wrought

In dream and thought;--

One who had loved the earth, and sea, and sky;

It was a Poet who went forth to die.

And O, what faith was thine to go alone

Into the dark unknown;

What splendid faith was thine to woo such Sleep,

Like a wounded thing to creep

Into the deep,

And close thy lids forever on the sun,

Thy "labour ended and thy journey done!"

Thy faith in death was faith in life meseems,

Thy faith in sleep was faith in lovely dreams,

And thy despair

Was but a prayer

To the Love that pardons and redeems.