The Great War

from The Poems of Robert W. Sterling, an electronic edition

Historic Oxford

AH! Time hath loaded thee with memories

Processional. What could these piles unfold

Of war's lost travail, and the wearied cries

Of vexèd warriors, struggling to hold

Their hearth secure against proud Norman arms?

-—And yet the while thy quest was not forgot;

'Mid war and waste and perilous alarms

Ever thy purpose stood, and yielded not.

Noble in faith, gallant in chivalry.

Thou flung'st a radiant Word to all the land,

--Pluck'd from the wealth of thy philosophy,

And to the world upon the breezes strewn;--

When, great with loyalty, thou didst withstand

The kingly perjuror in battle brave:

While England's Lady by the Winter's boon

Fled from thy peril o'er the frozen wave.

What need to tell of all thy generous sons?--

The priestly Theobald, and in his train

Master Vacarius, mighty in old law,

And the great multitudes that now remain

But shadows flitting in dim pageantry

Across the low-lit stage. In life they saw

Service of toil and striving for thy gain:

The Muse's pensioners in death they lie.

They cherish'd thee through bitter strife and strain

Faithful. They fought the zealous heretic,

Rapt Wyclif, zealously to guard their Truth....

Nor worthy less were they who serv'd the sick

'Mid hopeless plague, and rifled Nature's store

To bless mankind: nor who for creed or king

Chang'd learning's mantle for the arms of war,

Their lives and treasuries surrendering.

Martyrs and saints have dower'd thee: one in Truth,

Old Faith, new Hope, have died to save or mar

The idols of flown ages; for Truth's sun

Shines glad alike upon all enterprise

That in the Father's eyes

Flatters the fledgling soul till the pure heights be won.

These golden memories sit round thy throne--

They are all thine; and thou art all my own.