The Great War

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




Of a monstrous dawn

Bleary and blind,

Spindrift and spume

Adrift in the gloom

Torn from the surf of the sun

As by teeth of a wind,

So was the Earth begot and begun--

Earth and mankind.


Still in our Armageddon burn the old creative fires.

Still with a sword, a flame, a dream. Life works its

fierce desires,

Still the world is smelted and wrought as in an athanor--

Swelters and sweals in the roaring blast of the furnaces of War

But how can we whose paltry life is pent in a petty hour

How can we in faith foresee that Hate in Love will flower?

How can we know what the fiery Woe smelting the bloody clay

Moulds and fashions, with pains and passions, for æons as far away

As the lava and lime of bygone time when the young Earth panted flame,

And out of its wondrous thund'rous heart the burning mountains came?

How can we know that the soul will grow? Seen have we the past

Seen have we the slaggy scree in a blazing furnace cast

Seen have we the fingers of flame, and water, and tempest mould

Things as a lily petal fine, as a granite mountain vast;

Seen have we a filmy cloud in voids of space unfold

As sapphire seas, and emerald trees, and meadows of yellow gold.


We who have seen white Peace come forth thro' the fiery gates of Strife,

We who have seen wise Death at work at the magic loom of Life,

We who have seen the living bones of our living bodies built

Of the porcelain shells of the dainty dead piled in the deep-sea silt,

We who have seen the atoms dance into bird, and beast,and flower,

How shall we doubt Death's Wisdom, how shall we doubt Love's power?

Out of the fiery tumult there thrilled the vibrant creative Word,

Out of the moaning thunder there leapt the joyous lilt of a bird,

Out of the lurid lightning there shone the light of a woman's eyes

And we know tho' Death may come and go yet Beauty never dies.


Bodies and souls from a furnace came, and lo, in a furnace still

War is moulding the human heart, smelting the human will.

Things of the spirit, things of the mind, these are the things at stake.

Not bodies only but faiths and creeds the bomb and the bullet break,

Not mortals only but mortal sins the fire and the shrapnel slay

And aspirations, ideals, hopes perish and pass away.

These are not swords but living souls that clash in the trenches there

Not battle-planes, but battle-dreams that fight in the azure air.

Foolish may be our war-desires, blundering, blind our aims

But still the shoddy and sham of life are burned in the battle flames.

By tempest, by fire, by talons and teeth, by war, and disease and lust

The hand of Death and the hand of Life have wrought at our wondrous dust

But ever above, the hand of Love our destiny controls

Moulding to beauty and to truth our bodies and our souls.


But why should we destroy

A body like a temple full of joy

A temple yea, a Hecatompuloi,

With golden gates

Mighty and broad,

Made not for little Fears and Hates,

But for the fiery Chariots of God.

Why must we slay? We know not why.

With holy pleas we go to kill;

With noble aims we go to die;

But ever still,

Behind our dreams, behind our will,

There work inevitable Fates

Whose far desires our swords fulfil.

We know not why!

Our words are vain!

No gleaming words can glorify

So much of sin so much of pain.

But we are driven by the Soul

That with his Beauty maketh whole

Even the wounded and the slain.


Caæsar and Tamurlaine and Rameses

Martel the Hammer, Attila the Scourge,

Sardanapalus and Miltiades,

Cyrus, Sennacherib, yea all of these

Were but the surge

Behind the urge

Of boundless seas,

Were but the ripple and the spray

Of far-away


That which they did they know not, neither knew

What fair far things they fashioned as they slew,

But Death and Life were wise,

With prudent prescient eyes,

And still eternally Man's spirit grew,

And still the Lord,

Keeping a watch and ward,

Shapes man's immortal soul by man's own foolish sword.


Cause and cause behind cause

Root and root beyond root

Laws and laws behind laws

Ripen war's bloody fruit

But the bloody ripened fruit of the tree of Strife

In a core of love has the seed of eternal Life.

These are the throes

That make the rose,

These are the precious pangs of birth,

These are the woes

Whence ever grows

The myriad Beauty of the Earth.


O seismic souls of men, the shaken world

Won peace and beauty after wild turmoil.

The flowers their silken bannerets unfurled,

The meadows comforted the tortured soil;

And now while still the craters trickle blood,

While still the ground is scourged by fiery rains.

The cornflowers and the poppies burst in bud

From the warm ichor of Life's genial veins;

And in the ulcerous gashes of the shells

In fœtid hells,

In leprous thickets full of death and shame,

Twinkle the starwort, and the pimpernels,

And gorse, and charlock, and laburnum flame;

And while the raucous cannon belch and roar,

In sudden silences amid the thunder

We hear the skylarks singing as they soar

Of beauty and of wonder;

And in the trenches, cheek by jowl with Death,

(O heart of Youth indomitably strong!)

We hear the muddy boys with merry breath

Chorus a mirthful song.


And all these cataclysms of the soul

Will end in light, and harmony, and peace :

The battle-thunder will no longer roll,

The roar of guns will cease.

Only the embattled legions of the mind

Spirit with spirit will in love contend

To comprehend

The Soul behind

Beauty and Power--

The Love that sighs in every wind

And buds in every flower.


Time is so brief, Eternity so long,

Life is so low, Infinity so high,

Our bodies are so weak, and Death so strong,

So soon we wither and so soon we die,

That only things of spirit will endure

And love itself only of Love is sure.

Yet if we clutch the Eternity in Time

The Infinity that lurks in finite things--

If still we soar and still we climb

With wounded feet and weary wings

Still higher in the realm of thought--

If we have agonized and fought

For Truth and Beauty day by day

The little things that we have wrought

Will never fade and die away

But grow and spread

As from the dead

Evolved our bodies' magic clay.


O, brave the banners flowing

Inscribed with holy names,

O, bravely men are going

Into the battle-flames!

And bravely men have striven

For this or that high prize

Yet they are drawn and driven

To ends they have not wrought for

To good they have not sought for

To goals they have not fought for,

By Love that never dies--

By the same Love impassioned

That filled the Earth with fire,

And fiercely finely fashioned

In Beauty its Desire--

By the same Love whose sighing

Is Pity's gentle breath

By the same Love who dying

Conquered Death.


Not conquests of great cities

Not mastery of great seas

But little loves and pities

Will be their victories,

Yea little loves and pities

And children on their knees--

Fair children to inherit

New soarings of the soul,

New faculties of spirit,

As centuries unroll,--

Not arrogant ambitions

For Empire rich and broad,

But ever brighter Visions

Of the wise heart of God.

From every crater bloody

Will bloom a kindly thought;

From every tortured body

Some beauty will be wrought.

Love will again awaken,

Truth will regain her crown;

Men's seismic souls have shaken

A million Dagons down.