The Great War

from More Songs By the Fighting Men, an electronic edition

The Harvest

SHADOWLESS lies the land

Under the sun.

Only the poplars stand

With moveless boughs in the heat

That broods o'er the blackened wheat

And the ground so hardly won.

No other tree in the waste.

They only stand

Where the straight white road is traced

Athwart the land.

And ever under the sky

Do the slow-winged birds go by—

The slow black birds of prey

That wait but the close of day

For the night to bring them food.

The curse of the heat is here.

And the curse of blood.

Cold-lipped, and with eyes of fear,

'Neath the sun's flood

More Songs by the Fighting Men

Wanders the spirit of death;

And e'en in the burning noon is an icy breath

And the red of the west is to me like the redness of


The village is still as the heat.

From the ruined houses start

The rats across the street.—

There is never another sound.

For the guns are silent to-day,

And the endless lines of men that are bound

For the place of death and the nameless mound

Have taken another way.

At the end of the ruined street

Roodless the church yet stands

To the God men praise with their lips

While they mock Him with their hands;

With hands that have scrawled for sport

Their jests on the altar-stone,

And their ribald words on the lips of Christ,

The marred Christ hanging alone.

Who has measured pain.

And who has a plumb for that sea

Where the soul shall know again

Its own immensity?

For the voice of the mind is dumb,

But the voice of the soul is heard.

Where the wild dark waters are come

And the face of man's sky is blurred.

Who shall say "Lo here

Shall the glory of war be found.

That a nation arose without fear

And smote her foe to the ground

For the wrong that he dared to dream.

And the hell that he wrought on earth;

That she pressed after Honour's gleam

Though it led to a land of dearth"?

Who has measured wrong.

And who shall assign it a bond?

Where the scornful might of the strong

And the cry of the weak be found—

Say, is the tale complete?

Ah! myriad wrongs spring up

Where one has set its feet,

And the earth is a poisoned cup

Where the goodly wine brings death,

And one drop of venom there

Shall poison- the very breath

Of the winds in the upper air.

What of the men who died

Stout-hearted and steadfast-eyed

For the good they might not share

And the goal to them denied?

For the lamp they strove to bear

Should light another's way,

And the boon that they might not share

Is the boon we hold to-day.

What of the god-like men

Who lie in the dust to-day

For the dreams that we hold so light

And the hope that we fling away?

Ah! shall we not vex their sleep,

We men of the lesser mould.

Who sully the name they bled to keep.

And the honour they died to hold?

A thousand ages ago

Man fought with the axe of stone

That the many might seize the thing they loved

From the few, and hold it alone.

For the will of the strong was law

And the right of the weak was death

When man was one with the beasts of the earth

And battled with them for breath.

And to-day with their coward lips

Men prate of love in their creeds.

And a thousand times to-day

Do they spurn her with their deeds.

For we talk of the law of truth

While our God is the law of might,

And the will of the strongest there

Is the thing we hold as right.

What have we gained with the years,

But the greater power to lie?

We, who speak of the truth.

Smooth-voiced and with side-long eye;

Better the axe of stone

And the feet on the weakest throat

Than the lying lips and the coward thrust

And the stealthy eyes that gloat.

Now for the one's desire

Shall the many be crucified

On the cross of a lawless power

With the nails of a soulless pride.

And the wrong goes deeper yet.

Aye, deep as the springs of life,

And has blossomed out at the 'hest of pride

In the deadly flower of strife.

And nothing shall purge the land

Where the curse of sin has stood

But the purge of the whetted steel

And the drench of blood.

While perchance at the end shall Peace

Her impotent pinions spread

O'er the ruined home and the smoking land

And the blank eyes of our dead.

Hark!—through the lazy air

Comes the sound of guns again.

Once more man reaps with a sickle of fire

The harvest of the slain.