The Great War

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



WHAT Chalybes

Are these?

A million fires, a million furnaces

Flicker and flare.

The maw of Earth disgorges

Fuel for mighty forges;

Antediluvian trees

From Carboniferous bogs

Sublimed to fiery fogs,

Pollute the golden air.

The flames upleap and flash,

The hammers swing and crash,

What Chalybes

Are these?

What are they forging there?


The fiery chimneys belch Fear's mordant breath.

The noisy forges beat the tune of Death.

Hate swings his hammer on the trenchant steel.

Untiringly with bony bloody heel,

Death works the bellows: at macabre looms,

Despair and Wrath are weaving tragic dooms;

And all men's art,

Wisdom and skill,

Courage of heart,

And force of will,

Their love of good, their faith in God,

Their power to crave, and to abhor,

Are grown to crank and piston-rod,

In the grim red machine of war.


Like belt, and wheel, and blade and shaft,

They ply a dull mechanic craft;

Their hearts beat in the hammer blow,

And with the roaring furnace draught

Their breathings and their sighings go.

Outside are wings and summer winds,

And sunlight dancing on the sea,

And woods, and hills, but they are blind

With hate and fear, and cannot see.

Outside is singing and a thrush

Calls through the lilac to its mate;

They only hear the roar and rush

Of the insensate wheels of Fate.

With bodies weary, souls outworn,

They watch the wondrous years go by.

Toiling that Freedom may be born,

Turned into dead machines they die.


And who are these

Who march amain

From Cossack steppe, and Belgian plain,

From heathlands of the Hebrides,

And lily gardens of Touraine,

From little happy villages,

Mid Roman roses, Saxon vines,

From minarets and palaces,

By Delhi palms, and Danube pines.

These are the cohorts Fate has hurled

Armed with a sword, a soul, a dream--

These are the warriors Fate has hurled

To slaughter and redeem

The world.

These are the fierce primæval fires,

Of God's desires--

His furnace flame, His breaker-surge,

His graving tool, His pruning knife, His punitory scourge !


Great slogans drive them forth, great battle-cries--

"Liberty," "Fatherland!" The bounding blood

In their own fearless hearts is as the flow

Of an insurgent flood, and in their eyes

The wild auroral lights of battle glow.

Yea, and they know

The gentle, low,

Pleading, persuasive voices of the dead,

The far forlorn

Sweet baby-whispers of the yet unborn.

By all these are they called, and lured, and led,

And overhead,

Unsoiled, untorn,

As their dreams golden, as their passions red,

Flutter the broidered banners of the Morn.


As in a dream I watch them go,

From Seine to Aisne,

From Mons to Meaux;

I see them in a blazing hell

Of poison-gas, and shot, and shell,

At Vimy Ridge, and La Boiselle,

At Pozières and Neuve Chapelle,

At Ypres, and Fler, and Le Cateau;

I see them march by Meuse and Marne

Trudging along through mud and clay;

I see them camp in field and barn,

In stable and estaminet.

I see them on the Anzac beach,

On Balkan hill, on Tigris sand,

Armies of divers creed and speech,

Each with destruction in its hand,

Each true and brave,

Dying to save

The Honour of its Fatherland.


O eyes with dauntless courage lit

Enamoured of the fierce Unknown

Where dreams of splendid glory flit,

And bugle-calls are blown!

White limbs so lithe

Red hearts so blithe,

Bright souls so true,

The sword will harvest like a scythe

Long bloody swathes of you!