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Title: Hazards

Date of first publication: 1930

Author: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

Date first posted: May 7, 2015

Date last updated: May 7, 2015

Faded Page eBook #20150517

This ebook was produced by: Marcia Brooks, Al Haines, Alex White & the online Distributed Proofreaders Canada team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net




POEMS, 1928-1930



COLLECTED POEMS (1905-1925). 8s. 6d. net.

SIXTY-THREE POEMS: A Selection for use in Schools and Colleges. 3s. 6d.






























The Peonies

The Broken Bridge

On the Quay

The Fused Wire


The Blind Stranger

The King goes to Bed

May Morning

The Flight


The Solitaries

A Poet

The Lull

The Happy Traveller

In Oxford Street

An Empty Day

Against the Grain


November Gold


January Nightfall

Gone, but not Forgotten

The Cheerful Sweep

When all is said . . .


He hears his Bell

The Generations


The Housewife

The Inquest


The Voyage

The Answer


In the Waiting-room, Euston

Winter Nightfall

The Nameless Headstone

The Indomitable

Against the Pricks

The Parson

Snow in May

The Windy Night


Full Moon

Adam’s Secret


The Enterprise





The Basket of Eggs



Look in Your Heart . . .

Shining Shoes

As the Day dwindles

To Michael


The Farewell Letter




To Michael

Golden Heart

A Fiftieth Birthday

Twelve Years Old


In After Years

Some other Day . . .

In Absence

The Unwritten Letter

The Question




The Luck

John’s Wife

The Bee-keeper

The Recognition


The Glorious Dead

The Broken Latch

Meeting in Wartime


Her Son

November 11th

The Silence—I

The Silence—II

The Silence—III

The Silence—IV

The Telegram

After Ten Years



Poet, beware!


The Smoke



Tongue and Pen

The Whistling Boy



The Encounter

So Early in the Morning . . .

The Lilac-tree

The Latin Inscription

The Quaker Botanist

The Reverend Richard

Her Epitaph

Birds and Men

The Last Words

The Old Sailor

The Human Cannon-ball

The Living Pendulum


His True Mate

On the Road from the Pit

Tattery Jack

No Graven Stone

Woolly-witted Joe

The Death of Mrs. Briggs

The Foul

A Mean Advantage

Angel Street

The Connoisseur

When William drove . . .

The Tidings

The Live-wire

The Tree

The Farewell

That’s Life, Mrs. Dodd . . .

The Women


Weak Heart

The Haggler

Rain in the Chestnuts

In a Restaurant

The Accident

Telling the Tale



The First

In Soho Square

Temporary Insanity

In Market Street

Planting Bulbs

Dandy Jack

Sal’s Husband


The Curate’s Chair

The Crystal Day

Oh, Who shall ever call a Halt . . .



Someone had set a bowl of peonies

On the white table where they caught the light:

And as he roused from slumber, more at ease,

Their dewy crimson flashed upon his sight.


Lying in languor on his snowy bed,

Islanded in that vast austere white room,

The little crystal bowl of living red

Brimmed his age-wasted heart with summer-bloom:


And, drowsing now, his body seemed to glow

Again with raptures of long-spent desires . . .

Peonies bursting from deep drifts of snow,

Flame upon flame, flashed their exuberant fires


Through his closed eyelids: bloom on burning bloom

Blazed his starved senses to an ecstasy

Of clear red life, until the unseen room

Burned all about him, one vast peony—


One flower of fire! Nay, but the very world,

Petal on petal, flushed to sheer blood-red,

A globe of living flame about him furled,

Within whose furnace-heart he now lay dead!


Under the long unbroken stress the bridge

Collapsed, and hurled the company to disaster

Into the black gulf of the roaring torrent . . .


The regiment of thoughts that over his brain

Had marched so long in orderly array

From ridge to perilous ridge

Was stricken with dismay,

And fell


In frantic disarray

Into the hurtling and abhorrent

Gulf of the swirling and insane

Furies of darkness, rushing fast and faster

Through labyrinthine corridors of hell . . .


And yet to us that bridge had seemed to be

Rock-founded and secure, a Roman way

On which in orderly array

From ridge to perilous ridge

Of eagle-haunted regions

His thoughts’ unchallengeable legions

Might march for ever and a day,

Might march through time into eternity!


Stifled all day by suffocating fluff

That filled the humming mill—at sunset free

She sauntered downward to the windy quay,

To clear her breathing of the choking stuff,

And rid her nostrils of the reek of jute,

Her senses, of the droning of the mill:

And she rejoiced to hear the eager hoot

Of the incoming whalers; and to fill

Her lungs with briny savours; and to see

The bearded, salt-encrusted venturers

Whose hearts had dared the sheer immensity

Of the whales’ playground; and whose life, to hers—

Tied to a rattling loom through all her days

In a sick humid smothering atmosphere—

Seemed life, indeed, in shattering bright ways

Of wind-sheared shivering waters, tossing clear

To limitless horizons . . .

To limitless horizons . . .And to-night,

Sparkling, aware and eager eyed, she saw

The still blue eyes of a young whaler light

As he looked into hers; and sudden awe

Filled her young heart, as though the very sea,

Darkling and dangerous, claimed her for its bride,

And salt tumultuous waters thunderously

Crashed drowning over her, tide after tide.


A wire had fused; and instantly

From sheerest brilliance he and she

Were dropped into obscurity

More pitchy than original night

To eyes accustomed to the white

Dazzle of incandescent light.

A moment since, they two had stood

Together in youth’s hardihood

In their own world and found it good,

The world their love had made. Alone

Each stood now in a black unknown

Region that turned the heart to stone

An instant, an eternity,

By night divided, he and she—

Till candles came, when laughingly

They chattered with eyes kindling bright:

Yet evermore their world of light

Was haunted by the dread of night.


As the plane banked in turning, far below

He saw the streets and houses of the town,

And felt like a new Gulliver looking down

On Liliput, toy dwellings row on row,

And tiny toy-like people scurrying round

In fussy little cars through street and square;

And on that thronged and smoky patch of ground,

Free of the blue serenity of air,

He looked amazed, and muttered—Can this be

My native place? Are they my fellow men,

Those midgets? Then his own house suddenly

He saw; and, as of all it held he thought,

With one desire his anxious heart was fraught—

To be with his own kind on earth again.


She switched her torch on in that shadowed place;

And, startled, saw a strained and staring face,

Dead white against a tree-trunk, where he stood

Stiller than any tree in that dark wood,

A stranger with the look of one whose sight

May never know the darkness from the light,

Whose blank unblinking eyes, though unaware

Of her existence even, appeared to stare

Right through her body till she seemed almost

To dwine beneath their spell into a ghost,

A wispy vapour floating in the air . . .


She dropped the torch: and daybreak found her there

Alone and senseless underneath the trees:

But soon the kindly light and freshening breeze

Revived her; and she rose to go her way.

Yet even in the ardent blaze of day

She shivered; and her heart could not forget

Those blind unblenching eyes upon her set

With an unseeing gaze that seemed to see

Sheer though the veil of her mortality:

And hour by hour life dwindled till she seemed

The ghost of her own self; and children screamed,

Suddenly coming on her in the shade,

And scuttled homeward trembling and afraid,

While she pressed onward through the failing light

To seek the stranger in the wood’s deep night.


Somehow to-night

Unending, the familiar corridor

That he must travel to his room—

Unending, and familiar now no more,

And strangely filled with gloom . . .


Flight after flight

Of stairs he’d climbed with gasping breath;

And now, ’twould seem, that, weak and faint,

He had to pause awhile before

Ancestor after painted ancestor,

The generations of his fathers gone

Before him down to death—

To pause and peer until the paint

Flaked off; and in each frame there shone

An incandescent skeleton of white

And naked bone that grinned him a Good-night!


But when he reached the end and came at last

To his own father’s portrait, it he passed

With eyes averted, fearing to discern

Even in that kind face

The grin of mockery:

For well he knew that never he

His faltering footsteps should retrace . . .

Though at a solemn, slow, unfaltering pace

Past each poor paint-and-canvas ancestor,

Frail fading relics of his once proud race,

He should return

Once more,

Borne shoulder-high, along the corridor.


A blackbird in the walnut, spilling crystal-

Clear drops of melody through unfledged branches

Into translucent cups of wine-bright tulips,


Into her quivering heart, too, spills his music—

Her heart, uplifted like a wine-bright tulip,

Till it is brimmed with joy to overflowing.


A near thing! But he caught the plane: ’twas well

He did not miss it . . . Yet, ’twere hard to tell

Why he should catch it, why so anxiously

He should have hurried, or why he or we

Should fret and fuss at all to hold a place

In the fantastic frenzy of the race

Man keeps up, travelling at fanatic speed

From nowhere to nowhere—or why, indeed,

We should persist . . .

We should persist . . .The plane soared to the blue;

And, as earth dropped away from us, I knew

The race is all in all, and not the goal;

That in the stress and strain man finds his soul:

Just to keep going gamely is the glory

Sufficient to itself, although the story

End with no fairy-tale felicity

Of living ever after happily.


He said—So far, life’s tricked and cheated me

Of all it promised; but life presently

Will find out its mistake

If it thinks I’ll give in so easily:

Nay, rather has its treachery

But served as challenge to awake

My soul to anger, stinging it to strife,

Resolved to get its own back yet from life.


I touched his shrinking shoulder with my hand,

As he turned home, and said “I understand!”

And he glanced back at me with gratitude:

And yet, what was it that I understood?

If he had asked me, what could I have said?

I just felt sorry for that stricken head:

All that I understood was his distress,

And not the wherefore of his wretchedness.

He was to me as much a mystery

As each man to his fellowmen must be,

Even the nearest and the dearest friends—

Each living his own life to his own ends,

But clasping hands in fellowship, and then

Withdrawing each into himself again

The moment after. Oh, could we but live

A mutual life, however fugitive,

One in each ecstasy of joy and woe

With one another, would not we forgo

The lonely years that we must travel yet

Till each must face alone the last sunset!


His was no easy eloquence—

Not his the volubility

Of volatile vacuity:

So much he had to say,

Such crowded news he gathered by the way,

That his tongue stammered, struggling with a sense

Of the unutterable opulence

And unimaginable magnificence

Of every day.


The casement gave at last; and the whole night

Poured into the little chamber: squalls of rain

Swept sheer from the Atlantic waste on blasts

That whirled all round the room and out again—


And in and out, until a wilder gust

Whipped the white coverlet from off the bed:

And then the storm dropped suddenly as though

Awed by the face of the untroubled dead.


Our lives but touched an instant, and a spark

Blazed the whole heavens for me: and then the dark

Shut down on me,

While onward, happily and heedlessly,

You took your way; and left me here alone

In midnight deeper than I’d ever known.


You go your way; and other lives to fire

Of momentary raptures of desire

Strike, as you go:

And naught, O happy traveller, you know,

While fresh flames ever blaze your way with light,

Of those you leave behind in deeper night.


Against the stream of shoppers whose eyes are set,

Regardless of all else, on the display

Of opulence behind the burnished glass,

And heeding naught of them, he takes his way—


An old man in a long and bulging coat,

His wardrobe and his larder all in one,

And a slouch-hat that for full fifty years

Has sheltered that bowed head from rain and sun.


In faithful dateless rags of weedy green,

Through the bright-coloured throng of women dressed

In faithless fashion’s momentary freak,

Indifferently he trudges, walking west.


He hardly sees the throng; and naught to him

Are those resplendent palaces of glass;

And they whose eyes look on their hearts’ desire

Have not a glance to spare him as they pass—


That timeless figure trudging on, to whom

The world is but a road that every day

Brings the grave nearer—what is he to them,

The butterflies that flutter by the way?


A lonely gull,

Hanging above the sea with famished eye,

Searches the barren tide in vain, and utters

Its harsh and hungry cry.


Even so, desire

Has hung all day above my barren mind,

Seeking for something to assuage its hunger,

Something it could not find—


Desire, sharp-set,

Searching the lightless deep with eager eye,

Till into night it sink, too spent to utter

Even a gull’s harsh cry.


Dead-level—he could always plane the deal

Dead-level; ay, his work was always true;

For every trick and turn of tools he knew,

And little you could teach him about steel;

And, after all these years, he understood

Something about the vagaries of wood:

With timber, oak or ash or pine, the grain

Gave him no sort of trouble: but with life

Outside his business, somehow always he

Wrought dead against the grain, and jarred his plane

On unexpected knots incessantly . . .

And womenfolk—how simple life would be

If a man could but wed a timber wife!


When the fine metal of the brain

Has lost its virgin brilliance

And ringing keen resilience,

And, sleepy and brittle, cannot bear the strain

And sudden onrush of train after train

That life drives over it relentlessly

Again and yet again,

Till it may snap disastrously

At any instant—then comes Death, the ganger,

To tear us from the permanent way; and, cast

On the scrap-heap, we are free at last

Of the intolerable stress and clangour

Of traffic thundering down life’s thoroughfare:

And surely it is good to lie

Quietly rusting under the quiet sky,

Resolving gradually in sun and rain

Till we are one again

With our original element of air?


With bended back and nose nigh touching toes,

Down the unending mangel-wurzel rows

All day he goes,

Lifting the roots, and slicing off the tops:

And, even to ease his back, he seldom stops,

Although the copse

That borders the Ten Acre is aflare

In the pale flame of blue November air

With gold more rare

And richly glowing than the dreams that hold

The hungry heart of man with wealth untold

Of fabled gold.


With bended back and nose nigh touching toes,

Down the unending mangel-wurzel rows

Heedless he goes,

Earning a scanty wage with his sharp knife

To feed the hungry brood he and his wife

Have brought to life;

Heedless he goes of birch and beech that hold

For a brief season only wealth untold

Of fabled gold,

That only hold their pride of gold until

The night wind, sweeping down from Wilbury Hill,

Their treasure spill.


Beneath the elms through the long afternoon

He gazes over the meadow’s level tide

Of glistening buttercups, a surge of yellow

That breaks in a silvery hawthorn-foam beneath

The further cliff-like elms, whose cloudy masses

Seem but the shadows of the elm-like clouds,

Piling their snowy cumulus in the blue;

And, as his eyes drink in deep draughts of yellow,

Deep draughts of golden wine into his heart

Pour till his veins are filled with golden fire,

And all his body is one quivering flame

That ripples to the singing of the larks,

Fountain on fountain jetting in the air

And spilling in the sun a ceaseless music.


The draff and dross of man’s mortality

And age’s heaviness purged from his blood,

One golden afternoon again his heart

Glows as in boyhood with the singing fire

And golden fervour of immortal May.


A scintillating snake of jewelled light

Kindles the darkness as from forge and mill,

Free-wheeling gaily down the Letchworth hill,

The workers hurry home through early night.

Beneath the frosty stars, an endless stream,

One after one the little lamps shoot down

The long and gradual slope to Hitchin town;

And happy voices call and faces gleam

Suddenly from the shadows, as they pass—

Lasses and lads released from bench and loom,

From clanging foundry and from rattling room

Where all day long beneath the roof of glass

On whirring wheels the live belts strain and scream—

Released at last, for a few hours to be

Masters of their own time, a brief while free

To call the tune and dance, or drowse and dream.


“But not forgotten. . . .” On the lichened stone,

Sunk half-awry in the neglected grave,

The words are barely legible, the words

That, newly cut, once looked so stout and brave—


That meant so much that desolate day to hearts

Bereft of her who’d given them life: and yet

The very life she’d given, it was, that surged

So strong in them, and helped them to forget.


Caught in the swirl of life that with new lives

Affianced theirs, that newer lives might be,

They brooded less and less upon the dead

And the memorials of mortality.


“But not forgotten . . .” while the race is run;

And lives that from her life sprung keep the track,

Although her name must perish, she yet lives

In hearts that never falter or turn back.


From a deep pit of sleep

I rose, disgruntled, to let in the sweep

Who rattled loudly at the kitchen door;

And shuffling, slippered, down the stair,

Shivering in the nippy air,

Switched on the light

And turned the key,

And saw him standing there,

His black face gleaming in the glare

Against the tardy tarrying winter night:

When through the grime his smile broke merrily

As sunshine through a thundercloud, and he

Wished me “Good morning!”

Wished me “Good morning!”Back to bed I crept,

To snuggle once again

Beneath the counterpane

Among warm cosy blankets, while he swept:

And as I lay

Awaiting day,

I wondered, if it had devolved on me,

The job of sweeping others’ chimneys clean,

So that their hearthfires might burn cheerily,

If ever I’d have been

So single-hearted that all men might see

Through soot and grime the flame of life in me

Burning with such a crystal clarity.


When all is said . . . he gasped; and then his breath

Failed him, and falling dead

He lay with lips for ever sealed in death,

And still so much unsaid—


So much unsaid, it seemed, so much unsung:

Yet, as we mourned him dead,

Since stilled for ever was that golden tongue

We knew that all was said.


On one side of the wall, yew-shadowed graves, and on the other,

The blaze of buttercups beneath the sun, a meadow flaming

With the resurgent fires of the old earth’s unfailing fervour . . .


Do they feel naught who, under shadowed mounds, lie in dark slumber,

With but a wall between them and the full and fiery ardour

Of summer that once also through their veins a flaming fury


Of rapture surged? Do they no longer feel the quickening fever

Pour from their hearts in streams of lucent gold? Do they no longer

Feel the old urge that will not let them rest? Will they not waken


Yet once again from cold and crumbling mounds; and shedding gladly

The cerements of mortality, flame after flame leap lightly

The sundering wall to mingle with the meadow-flame of Summer?


Slowly the passing-bell tolls,

Tolls in the tower of All Souls,

Tolls, tolls, with an echo that rolls

Down the river and over the bar—

Over the bar and over the ocean

Rolls the tolling in time to the motion

Of foamless waters that gloom and glimmer

Under a lonely star . . .


And I am the bell that tolls—

The bell, the tower of All Souls,

The river, the bar,

The echo that rolls,

The foamless ocean, the lonely star,

As the light of the eye

Grows dimmer and dimmer;

And slowly the cold

Stiffens my old

Limbs as I lie

And hark to the tolling

Rolling . . . rolling. . . .


“Mother has always been like that,” she said—

“Timid and fussy—seems to fancy I

Am still a child!” The mother shook her head

For sole reply.


And then she smiled, recalling how she’d said

Of her own mother those same words wellnigh;

And how she, too, had shaken a wise head

For sole reply—


Recalling, likely enough, the day she’d said

The very same words to her mother—ay,

And how her mother’d shaken a wise head

For sole reply—


Recalling how girl after girl had said

Each in her turn those words in days gone by:

Then, each in turn a mother, had shaken her head

For sole reply.


An acre-and-a-half of hawthorn-thicket,

And all a sunlit billowy snow of blossom,

Whose foamy crests surge level with the window;

And in whose covert countless thrushes sing . . .


Come, overnight, through dark and unknown country,

And freshly risen from crystal deeps of slumber,

The boy leans from the casement, tranced in wonder,

Drinking the dewy morning with bright eyes—


Leans drinking in the song and snow and perfume

With every sense of his delighted body—

Blossomy light and scent and music mingled

In one clear-welling draught of ecstasy—


No longer a mere boy—the very spirit

Of Spring awaking out of crystal slumbers

To a new Eden, breaking into flower

And song and fragrance out of his own heart!


“I’ve got a tidy bit to do

Before dark—

Ay, and how ever I’ll get through

I cannot tell!”—

This was the burden of her song

The whole day long:

Yet was her day too short, and in the throng

Of household cares night fell.


O lucky wife, with much to do

Before dark!

Pity the luckless who get through

Before night falls,

Who listlessly must linger still,

With time to kill,

And no dear duty to fulfil,

Until the long day palls.


What need to hold an inquest!—suicide

In a clear-seeing moment of despair

After long years of ceaseless agony:

Small need to question how or why she died.

Rather your inquest, coroner, should be

To find out why a victim should be born

For sacrifice to such a destiny.


And so we’re hanging Robert Smith to-day.

We’re hanging him?

                    Ay, so the papers say.

But I’m no hangman.

                    No, to save your face,

You pay another man to take your place.

Mine? Nonsense! I know nothing of the case:

Murders are not in my line: I’d not heard

A thing about it—hadn’t read a word . . .

Why, till you spoke just now, I didn’t know

There’d even been a trial!

                              Ay, just so,

Murders are not in our line, as you say,

And yet we’re taking a man’s life to-day.


In sailing it were good to have a chart

To steer a course by, and keep us in good heart

Throughout the voyage, even if in the end

We founder on unnoted shoals: but we,

Pressed for life’s voyage, must venture recklessly,

Without a chart or compass, on and on,

Keeping precarious foothold on the slant

And slippery deck, o’er swallowing deeps, and run

Before the wind of hazard, ignorant

Even of the airt from which the wind is blowing

That drives us onward, and not even knowing

If there be any harbour to be won.


Give us security! to life we cry.

And would you, then, have death before you die?


They tell us there is no stability,

That naught abides for ever anywhere;

The everlasting hills dissolve in air,

Frittered by wind and rain incessantly;

The solid rock is but a whirling motion

Of perishing dust, the sun, a failing fire;

A fleet evaporation, the old ocean;

And love, a self-consuming brief desire.


And yet, if evanescence be eternal—

Change, the one constant, this body of our death

Exists not: death were immobility;

And change is life, the spirit’s very breath

Of being; and we are one with the supernal

Swirl of the ever-living ecstasy.


Midway between their old life and the new,

A company of Russian peasants, bound

For Canada, they sit and stare around,

Bewildered by the dream they are passing through—

This queer, incredible dream of sitting still

In trains or boats all day with naught to do

But sit—who even in childhood seldom knew

An hour without some duty to fulfil.


Too dazed for thought—they whose whole mother-wit

Is in their cunning hands’ activities,

So strangely indolent with hands on knees,

Sick for the old home jobs, and ill at ease

In a new world of alien luxuries

And purgatorial idleness they sit.


While in the last cold rays like birds of steel

The airmen poise and soar,

The ploughman, spinning homeward on his wheel,

’Lights at his cottage door,

Wearied of steering all the livelong day

His humming tractor through the heavy clay.


In highest heaven they move in eager flight:

But in the narrow lane

Already shadowed by oncoming night,

The lighted window-pane

Welcomes him to the heaven of his desire,

His own snug seat beside his own bright fire,


Where he—while they in restless fury fare

Under the frosty stars

Through the unfenced, unfurrowed fields of air—

Nodding beside the bars

Will drowse and dream, as still through heavy clay

His thoughts retrace the furrows of the day.


Above the time-obliterated mound

Still stands the headstone: but the graven name

Has all shaled off; and no man may recall

Who is the tenant of this little plot.


Yet when he died the world came to an end—

The world whose centre was his consciousness,

A world of hills and rivers, fields and woods,

Sunlit and starry skies, a world of men,

Of loves and hates and dreams and ecstasies,

An individual world that only in

His heart existed—his heart that in its compass

Held a whole universe by God created

For him and him alone, by God who died

Within him as the light failed, and as all

The imagination of his heart was darkened . . .


Yet of the man and of the universe

That perished with his passing no memorial

Remains, save this blank shaling slab of stone.


Even as the body fails him and he dies,

Life, at all hazards! still man’s spirit cries.


Kicking against the pricks!—a foolish game

And mighty painful; and yet, all the same,

Isn’t it better than just sitting still,

Letting misfortune work its own sweet will

Upon your carcass? Kicking keeps the blood

Hot in your body, racing at full flood:

And who’d not rather be, when all is said,

A donkey, kicking, than a donkey, dead?


Not only as God’s house, but as man’s work,

The little church means much to him: he loves

Each stone dead men have handled, Saxon, Norman

And mediæval masons, men who took

Pride in their craft and laboured faithfully,

If not for love of God, for love of life—

Life that meant building something well and truly

To stand the weathering of time and serve

Their sons and their sons’ sons through generations,

When, the sharp clink of chisels long since silent,

The builders slept about the unshaken walls

Their patient hands had builded.

Their patient hands had builded.But not dead men

Tallied in archæological categories

As Saxon, Norman, mediæval masons

Are they to him, but men alive even now—

Men such as yet live in the parish bounds,

Husbands and fathers of large families,

Who faithfully fulfil the common task

Destiny sets them, building well and truly,

If not in stone, with what lies to their hands

As well as they know how their house of life—

Such men as Abel Dodd and Michael Shield

And Stephen Hall and Nicholas Hetherington.


A week before, the storm would scarce have mattered,

Or a week later, when the fruit had set;

But at that moment it was sheer disaster—

The blizzard swooping down upon the valley

Of orchards, one vast rose of sunlit bloom

An hour ago. The tragical wild beauty

Of whirling flakes among the blossomed branches

Could not appease the anger in his heart

At all that promise wasted, all those months

Of labour brought to naught, but touched with terror

The spirit in him that must fight for life

Against such hazards, gods that with a gesture

Of idle malice could blast all his hopes,

Outwitting careful craft and foresight—he

In his little orchard-plot of fifteen acres

Pitted against the forces of the sky,

The merciless blind furies that unhindered

Range the illimitable airs of heaven,

A man against the incalculable weather—

Drought, Arctic wind and the black blighting East

And ruthless pests and scourges—one man against

The unaccountable capricious gods!

Yet were there years of plenty, as of dearth,

Fat years as well as lean, when the fates seemed,

In indolent indifference, almost kind,

And played no havoc with the apple-harvest.

And, even at the worst, had he not snatched

Out of disaster something? As the blizzard

In terrible beauty whirled through blossomed boughs

His very anger kindled in his heart

A flame of life more fervent than a succession

Of easy harvests could bring into being—

The fighting flame of human fortitude

No malice or caprice of reckless gods

Has ever quenched since from the dust man rose

To take up the unequal desperate struggle—

The flame that quickens in adversity

And, blazing to fresh fury from defeat,

Victorious o’er the victor leaps to heaven!


The storm had passed; and now the sun shone out,

Smiling upon the valley’s devastation,

Boughs overburdened with the mocking bloom

Of shrouding snow, death to the living blossom

That one brief hour since under the same sun

Had glowed, one rosy promise of golden harvest.


All night the wind lashed at the pane

And slashed the glass with squalls of rain—

Wave after wave of tempest crashed

Against the little house in vain.


All night the man tossed on his bed,

And lost and found and lost the thread

Of intertwining thoughts that crossed

In mazy tangles in his head.


If but the wind would cease, he knew

He should lay hold upon the clue

Of all he now misunderstood . . .

But still the tempest blew and blew!


Not once the busy village-wife

Had time to pause and question life

About the why and wherefore of existence:


And yet ’twould seem life told to her

No less than the philosopher

Extracts with interrogative insistence.


Ay, that’s the moon: what of it? But the boy

Heard not the father’s question, as he flew

Through airs of diamond newly washed with dew

On eager wings above the tallest tree

Towards that sphere of dazzling lucency.


The moon—what of it? Surely you have seen

The moon before? But still no answer came

From that young spirit towards the sheer white flame

Of the full moon awing in homing flight

And rapt already in celestial light.


A snake of incandescent steel, the rail

As it was rolled out, with its searching glare

Seared his tired eyes. But this would be the last

To-day: his shift was ending. Rail on rail

Had slid from under the rollers, lightning-white

And blinding metal that but now had bubbled

Out of the furnace, till it seemed his brain

Was the sand through which they slid unceasingly—

Those scorching rails that he must cut in lengths,

Before they cooled into a dull red glow.


But all things ended, even shifts; and soon

’Twould be the home-shift—ay, the garden-shift:

And, in the garden’s green, the white-hot glare

His eyes would soon forget, as his feet sank

In the wet mould, his feet that seemed to feel,

Even through his thick boots, the cindery grit.

Ay, and the quiet, the quiet of growing things,

Things growing quietly in sun and rain,

Things growing from the soil, not made with hands—

The garden-quiet after the foundry’s clangour!


Trenching potatoes was the job for him,

Not chopping lifeless metal into lengths;

Ay, digging in the earth—to feel the spade

Beneath his hand slice deep into rich mould,

And snuff the savour of the soil through nostril,

Sore from the steam and smoke!—a healing smell,

The smell of earth! If he could only earn

His bread by digging: he was born to be

A digger in the earth, a very Adam;

And any garden would be Eden to him.

To own an acre, and know it, every inch,

From end to end—know it as intimately

As he knew his own heart—or thought he knew it:

For in a man’s heart every now and again

Strange things sprang suddenly to light; to own

An acre and labour in it from dawn till dark!


But Eden wasn’t for such as him to live in

In this world, seemingly: though some had luck:

And yet he wondered if they knew their luck,

The gardeners, any more than Adam knew his?

They’d never known, not they!—ay, that was it—

They’d never known aught else; they’d never felt

The searching glare of white-hot metal sliding

Through gritty brains, their heads one aching clangour!


Likely his relish was one half relief,

Coming from stifling heat and reek and racket

To the cool sweet savour and the green and quiet.


Was Eden Eden only to the exile,

And naught to Adam, who’s known nothing else?


The factory then ’twould seem had given him much—

The secret of the garden, the true zest

Of labouring in the light with living things,

Letting him into the very heart of Eden.


She’s just what I was at her age, they say;

For I was reckoned bonnie in my day,

Though you might scarcely think it now, said she—

And no one turns a head to look at me.


I glanced at her and found it hard to see

The lithe young sapling in the old gnarled tree,

To find the daughter’s birch-like suppleness

In that gaunt body with its clumsy dress,

So stiff and angular I couldn’t trace,

As she went hobbling about the place,

One line or gesture of the young girl’s grace.


Yet, as I looked into that wizened face,

With its worn features and its anxious eyes,

Grave and unsmiling, seeking to surprise

A gleam of her lost loveliness, I saw

Beauty that filled my heart with deeper awe

Than any laughing girlish liveliness

May waken, and I forgot the clumsy dress

And awkward limbs; and stood there marvelling

Before the beauty age alone can bring,

The Autumn beauty that outflames the Spring

In those whose life has been an offering

Burnt in the lustral fires of suffering.


Down the long street he limps with anxious eye

Upon the close-shut doors, as he goes by

Hoping to see them open to his cry—

Old rags and bones and rabbit-skins!


While in a tenement, as he goes by,

A baby, opening a dazzled eye

And uttering a first bewildered cry,

The enterprise of life begins.


The old man does not hear the baby cry;

And it, regarding life with puzzled eye,

Knows naught of the old hawker passing by,

To whom the journey it begins


Is but a limping down long streets with eye

Upon the close-shut doors, as he goes by

Hoping to see them open to his cry—

Old rags and bones and rabbit-skins!


Suddenly wide-awake in the black night,

He stared into the impenetrable darkness,

Wondering if this were not indeed the last

Long night of all, the night that knows no daybreak—

If from his eyes the light had gone for ever;

And all the world that lived but in the light,

The world that he had loved, since he so soon

Must leave it, with a desperate tenderness,

Was all gone now for ever—the first gleam

Of dawn on dewy hillsides; the blue noon

On windy waters; the rose and amber fires

Of sunset pierced by the first crystal planet;

The green of new-fledged larches; and the fresh

Translucency of young beech-leaves; the gold

And bronze and copper of the oaks in May

Above dark glinting hollies; and the foam

Of the cascades of hawthorn, pouring down

Sheer cliff-sides; and the stream of hyacinths

That sweep in one broad tide of purple, under

The tossing yellow foam of windy gorse

Down to the beryl of the western wave?


Was all gone from him now, the flowers, the faces—

Loved faces and the light of loving eyes,

The light wherein the world he loved had being . . .

Let there be light! God said; and there was Eden

For him in children’s eyes, and in the eyes

Of her . . .

Of her . . .Just at that instant his trembling hand

Touched her warm-breathing body. She yet lived

For him: and hark, the far clear melody

Of the stream’s falling waters, interlacing

The interweaving music of the murmur

Of the incoming tide!

Of the incoming tide!He had not died then:

The darkness was no darkness of the grave;

For touch and hearing still were his; and colour

But slept within the heart of night, to kindle

At the first gleam of day, and fill his eyes

And heart with fresh delight.

And heart with fresh delight.The night would pass

Yet once again for him: once more the darkness

Break into flower of light, and in his eyes

Eden awaken from the dews of sleep.


Though time shall wreck the pitiful pretences

That are our sole defences

Against the onset of the enemy,

Yet in the hazards of the siege have we

Not found within ourselves security—

A danger-tempered courage to withstand

The last shock of mortality?



His boy drowned, Philip drowned—drowned in the lock . . .

A dozen and a half—he’d counted them,

Himself, into the basket—golden brown

For the most part, though some chalk-white, and still warm

To the touch, and heavy, nigh four ounces each:

None better in the whole of Oxfordshire,

He’d swear!—and as his lips had formed “eighteen,”

Laying the last frail oval top of all,

It flashed into his mind then, the old saw,

The proverb against putting all your eggs

Into one basket. . . . Strange it should have come

Into his mind that once of all the times

He’d filled the basket for the boy to take

To town of a morning—ay, and stranger still

He shouldn’t have understood then what it meant,

Just what it meant to him, the saw—his eggs

All in one basket!—but had called his son

With no foreboding; and the lad had mounted

His wheel; and on the handlebar had slung

The fatal basket all too carelessly:

When he had bidden him sharply to take care,

Meaning he should be careful of the eggs.

Eggs! God, if only he had smashed the eggs,

Smashed them all there and then, and not set out!

But Philip had answered with a laughing word,

And shot off down the tow-path towards the town,

As on so many mornings. All your eggs . . .


He’d watched his son a moment as he rode

Whistling alongside the canal’s grey stream

Of slowlier-moving waters: and just then

A young drake, finished preening his snowy feathers,

Half-rose and flapped his wings as though he meant

To take flight like his wilder kindred straight

For some far unknown seashore—his tame heart

Stirred for a moment to unwonted wildness—

Only to turn once more to tail-up grubbing

Among the weeds and marigolds that fringed

The sluggish waters. And he, too, had turned,

Clashing the gate behind him, and taken his hoe

To do his grubbing in the garden-patch;

While naught but hopes and fears for his potatoes

Troubled his mind, until he heard . . .

Troubled his mind, until he heard . . .His eggs—

“Eighteen”—his lips had formed the unbreathed word,

All in one basket! Eighteen—three more in number

Than Philip’s years—Philip, his son, fifteen

That very morning . . . and now naught at all,

As though unborn . . .

As though unborn . . .The white drake with his ducks,

Still feeding in the marigolds—and yet

Philip . . .

Philip . . .They’d found his body in the lock

Beside the unharmed cycle, and the eggs—

Most of them still unbroken: but the basket

From which they’d spilled had floated down the stream:

The basket floated—the basket that as the wheel

Had jolted, swinging from the handlebar,

Suddenly slewed with all its weight of eggs—

Four times eighteen was seventy-two—somewhere

About five pounds, he’d reckon at the least—

And sent the cycle skidding down the bank,

Or so ’twas guessed. No one had seen the end,

The end of fifteen years, the end of all . . .

No one had heard a splash or the least cry—

If he’d had time to cry at all in that

Dread plunge to watery death! His corduroys

Caught in the pedal, he had been held down . . .

He’d been held down among the weeds and mud,

While his young life went up in airy bubbles

To where the basket floated—fifteen years

Of happy life went up in fifteen bubbles,

Maybe. . . . Ay, he could see them, even now,

Rise slowly from the bottom and then race,

Nearing the surface, as though they were eager

To escape the clinging element and mingle

In the free atmosphere. One after one,

The bubbles, Philip’s life-breath . . . ten, eleven,

Burst in the sunshine . . . thirteen, fourteen, fifteen . . . .


Fifteen that very morning—and then, no more!

Yet, there were eighteen eggs, all in one basket . . .

But Philip, sixteen, let alone eighteen,

Would never see: fifteen, and then, no more.


The basket floated, the empty basket floated,

When Philip sank to the bottom: and he, too, floated,

An empty basket on a sluggish stream

Idly drifting—and Philip, in the grave!


All in one basket! and yet, why fifteen?

Fifteen, and then . . . Why should the boy have lived

To fifteen, if he’d never see sixteen?

Three score and ten, that was man’s proper span:

But fifteen years, that was no time to end—

No time at all! The boy had just begun

To ripen into manhood; and now all . . .

In him, the Redes must end, it seemed: with him

What unborn generations perished! Why—

Why had God let him live for fifteen years,

Only to die for ever?

Only to die for ever?If he’d died

With her, his mother, who’d died in giving him life,

Who’d died in vain it seemed now—if he’d died

Then or had even never breathed at all,

Surely it had been better! Fifteen years

Of living in the light, and then to lie

In darkness everlasting: fifteen years,

His son’s life, lying wasted in the grave;

And his own thirty-five, too, dead beside them:

For had he not died, too, when the word came?

The white drake still among the marigolds

That fringed the margin of the grey canal,

Whose waters still, though sluggishly, flowed on—

The white drake still with all his snowy dames

Scuttered and splashed among the yellow flowers

And glittering green—while he and Philip lay

Dead in the grave. . . .

Dead in the grave. . . .And now around the bend

A pied horse trod the tow-path; and on its back

Rode a young laughing lad—his happy father

Slouching along beside the horse’s head

With hands in pockets and his heart at ease,

While the taut rope towed the slow-moving barge,

Blazoned in rainbow hues—the mother steering,

With calm untroubled eyes.

With calm untroubled eyes.Nigh thirty ton

There must be in that barge, it rode so low

In the water with its cargo of cement:

And yet it rode, it floated, while his boy

Had gone to the bottom with his fifteen years—

But half the number. . . . Strange that fifteen years

Should sink, when thirty tons—just double . . . But then

His own years, too—fifteen and thirty-five

Made fifty; and it seemed that fifty years

Weighed heavier than the cargo of cement

A barge could carry.

A barge could carry.Now the bargee lifted

His boy down from the horse: reluctantly

The lad slid off—(how Philip had loved horses,

For all his wheeling!) Round another bend,

Hidden by drooping willows, they disappeared,

Walking together; and now a shout of laughter

Burst from them; and the mother raised her head

To listen as the barge too disappeared.


And they’d go on together, go through life,

Father and son together, side by side;

While he and Philip, laid in death . . .

While he and Philip, laid in death . . .Nay! he

Must go on, and alone . . . yet not alone;

For by his side a lad of fifteen years—

Still fifteen—though he, himself, should live life out

And touch three-score-and-ten—a happy lad

Of fifteen would keep step with him, till he too

Beyond dim whispering willows disappeared—

Though scarce with laughter: and the grey canal,

Still flowing sluggishly beneath the sky,

Should never know them more.



Look in your heart, and write . . .

I looked, and saw the infinite

Universe wheeling through unbounded space;

I looked again, and saw, race after race,

The endless and unwearied caravan

Of star-enchanted and death-haunted man;

Again, and saw a single star burn bright

Above a little home in the black night—

All in my heart, that holds, a fluttering breath,

Time and eternity and life and death.


Your shining shoes

As you went gaily through the morning dews,

Flashed gleams of gold, reflecting the cold bright

Young day’s delight.


But dulled and mired

Were they when slowly you returned home tired,

And caught no glimmer of the starry light

Of early night.


Dears, when your shoes,

That now I shine, flash through to-morrow’s dews,

May your sleep-burnished spirits too flash bright

With fresh delight.


As the day dwindles and the senses tire

’Tis good to drowse within the ingle-glow:

Yet gladly would we not, O Love, forgo

The curtained evening’s cosy golden ease

But once again at break of day to know

Dawn’s hopes and fears and sharp anxieties—

The match’s flare, the eager flame, the prick

Of stinging smoke in nostrils and the quick

Fierce crackle of the freshly kindled fire!


I’ve taken my own way through life; and so,

If you don’t follow in my steps, dear son,

But blaze your own trail, ’twill be good to know

At least you’re doing just what I have done.


Life keeps us busy, lest with time

Upon our hands we feel the weight

Of destiny, and sink too soon

Beneath the burden of our fate.


I’d meant to come, you write: that every day

You said I’ll go to-morrow without fail:

But something always happened to delay

Your farewell visit; and to-day you sail.


Already wave on wave the distance grows

Between us every hour; and presently

We shall be severed by the whole salt sea,

To meet again, if ever, when, God knows!


You’d meant . . . I know you meant it in your heart,

As we all mean so much we never do,

Allowing chance to play a tyrant’s part

In our affairs, and cheat us of our due,

Until the hour of sailing comes, and we

Must quit the shores of earth regretfully.


I envy men who can assert I know!

And never hear God’s laughter in the thunder:

But when they would assure me It is so!

I can but say I wonder!


Wisdom I sought laboriously

By day and night:

Yet ’twas a lucky lunacy

That filled my life with light.


We never write; what need have we of words

Who hold each other’s hearts within our own?

Who neither, while the other lives, with all

The world between, can ever be alone.


And shall death deal more harshly with us, then,

Whom life-long severance could not estrange?

Shall love not know a new security,

Freed of the accidents of time and change?


Dear little son, when you

Fulfil at last your heart’s desire to fly,

Forget not that of old your father flew

Before you through the sky.


On no mechanic wing

Your father soared, but on exultant words

In sheer celestial flights his heart would sing

Higher than any bird’s.


So, when you have your will

And scour the crystal airs, even though no more

He trudge the ways of earth, his heart will still

Be with you when you soar.


I crossed her palm with silver, and she told

My fortune, giving, for my silver, gold:


And the old wife’s foretelling has been true

Beyond all dreams, dear heart, since I have you.


I am not old while yet in me

The edge of expectation is undulled,

While in my heart, for every hope annulled,

A new hope quickens instantly.


Keen, as the blade that scythes the sedge

This gold October morning, my delight;

And it would seem that till the fall of night

Life still may keep a cutting edge.


A birch-tree quivering with delight

Of opening buds in April air—

Slender and fair

Her fresh young spirit drinks the rare

And crystal dreams that from the height

Of youth’s enchanted heaven shower,

Hour after happy hour.


And though storms come and dim the bright

Young eyes beneath the cloudy hair,

Again more fair

From momentary gloom, aware

Of deeper dreams, with fresh delight

Her spirit quivers into flower

To greet the golden hour.


Dawn was still tardy, and the wind was surly

As, getting up, I went down early

To light the stove and clean the shoes,

With mind sharp-set for any news—


For any news of anything

Outside the little beaten ring

My thoughts kept in their daily round

Within my dull brain’s narrow bound:


When, as I cleared the grate, I heard

The well-known singing of a bird—

Familiar, and yet, fresh with dews

Of dawn, it filled my heart with news.


My dears,

In after years

If you should think of me,

Recollect not too bitterly

Some momentary fretfulness or brood

On harsh words uttered in an angry mood;

But in your charity

Remember that your father, even as you,

Trying to hold his own in life’s affairs,

Had dreams and disappointments and despairs—

(Though he found rapture in the conflict too—

Ay, and such happiness as falls to few!)

And keep in mind the truth

That, even in the bitterest hours he knew,

Trying to reconcile

His heart to failure, ’twas the thought of you

In all the eager promise of your youth

That ever made the struggle well worth while.


You did not come to-day: we met the train;

And you were not a passenger: in vain

We sought your face in the indifferent throng.

“He’ll come some other morning before long—

Some other day. . . .”

Some other day. . . .”Thus on our homeward way

The words beat in our hearts like a refrain—

“Some other day . . .”

“Some other day . . .”Awaiting us at home,

A wire that told us why you had not come

To us to-day; and that no other day

Would ever dawn for you: and never again

Need we set out to meet you at the train . . .

Yet still defiantly beats the refrain

In my incredulous heart—“Some other day. . . .”


Half-waking, I stretch out a hand

To touch you. . . . And you are not there!

And still bemused by anxious dreams

My heart is helpless with despair

Of ever finding you again,

You who are all my love and care—


A moment deeming you are lost,

Are lost for evermore to me—

A moment, yet to my numb heart

That moment is eternity . . .

Till my requickening mind recalls

That you but sojourn oversea.


You will return. . . . Yet I knew all,

That moment, death will mean when I

In my last bed beneath the doom

Of everlasting night must lie

Alone without you—yea, dear Heart,

I have known what it is to die—


I have known what it is to die—

To die, and come to life once more,

Remembering. . . . Oh, when the grave

Holds me at last and all seems o’er,

May my dead heart recall that you

But sojourn by another shore—


My heart, requickening, recall

That you but sojourn oversea,

Reluctant to relinquish yet

The home we loved so tenderly,

Till at death’s bidding you must come,

And, coming, bring new life to me.


I did not write. I always meant to write,

But somehow never did, from day to day

Obsessed by all the trivial business

That seemed excuse sufficient for delay;

And yet there was so much I meant to say.


I did not write; and now I cannot write—

Or, rather, it were useless: no king’s head

That pence or pounds might purchase may secure

Delivery in the regions of the dead—

And all I meant to say remains unsaid.


Well, I don’t know: it doesn’t seem to me

A question you can answer easily—

At least for some few thousand years or so

Sons have been asking it day after day;

And even now your father can but say—

Well, I don’t know.


Some have found answers, ay, and seemingly

Were satisfied; and it may even be

You’ll find your own solution: yet even so

When your son comes to question by and by,

If he’ll be satisfied with your reply—

Well, I don’t know.


To Robert Frost

Without, the October chestnuts’ still gold flame;

Within, the lively flicker of the logs

Of the first Autumn fire, as once again

We sit beside the hearth—the four of us

Who once were nine, and by another hearth

Than that we knew of old in Gloucestershire

Before war overwhelmed our world and scattered,

As sparks before the wind, our little circle

Of friendly spirits broadcast. . . .


Of friendly spirits broadcast. . . .Fourteen years

Of silence lie between us—fourteen years

The windy wilderness of the Atlantic

Has severed us with wave on wandering wave

Of ever-changing changelessness; and we,

Over whom time’s waves have washed, and who are left

Changed to the world and to each other’s eyes

Maybe—are we, too, not unchanged at heart?


Disastrous years have had their way with us:

Terrors and desolations and distresses,

That put a sudden period to our youth

Just when our powers were ripening, left us aged

Before our time: yet now we sit at peace

Talking once more together, as we talked

With Abercrombie, Brooke and Thomas then

Of the old craft of words.

Of the old craft of words.We talk of words,

And pause, and talk again, and pause; and they

Are with us in the silences, our friends,

The absent living and the living dead. . . .


The hour of parting nears: and soon once more

The windy wilderness of the Atlantic

Will separate us, for how long, who knows?


Yet, though we meet no more, what wave shall ever

Divide old friends whose faith is Solomon’s,

Singing defiance of the many waters?

6th October 1928.



If I’d not got him, he’d have got me:

If I’d not shot him, he’d have shot me. . . .


Over and over in my head

Each night before I go to bed—

Half-dozing in the cosy glow,

And thinking of twelve years ago—

The rhyme keeps turning and re-turning.


In No-Man’s-Land we met—a flare

Went up, and showed him crouching there—

The luck was mine; so in my chair

I sit and watch the beech-logs burning.

I sit beside the hearth; but he

In No-Man’s-Land is ’waiting me;

And every night his bony hand

Beckons me back to No-Man’s-Land.


And by my side my mother knits,

Happy to have me still; she sits

And knits and knits contentedly:

And somewhere, too, in Germany

Another mother sits—but she,

What does she think of as she knits?


If I’d not got him, he’d have got me:

If I’d not shot him, he’d have shot me.


No, no, I shouldn’t call old Esther mad,

Though she would seem at times to think her lad,

The one that died at Loos, is living yet.


Only the other night she set a plate

For him, and wondered why he should be late

For supper: but at whiles we all forget


The dead are dead. How could I carry on,

If I must always bear in mind that John

Will never cross the threshold any more?


Why, only now, if I must tell you true,

I heard a step, and . . . well, it wasn’t you

That I ran down to welcome at the door.


I send out broods to India—quite a feat

To pack them so that they survive the heat

Of the Red Sea. . . . The Isle of Wight disease?

No need at all to fear it for your bees,

If you re-queen your hives each year. I get

My queens from North America. He set

The stripped comb in the whirling drum. Of course

You see it is the centrifugal force

That draws the honey out; and the clean comb

Goes back into the hive. . . .

Goes back into the hive. . . .As I turned home,

I thought of the last time that I had seen

The keeper of the bees, when he had been

Struggling thigh-deep across the Flemish mire

Towards the German trenches, under fire—

He whose whole soul’s delight it was to spread

With luscious honey our dry daily bread!


And so—he said—

You hadn’t even heard that I was dead?


Yet, since I died,

We’ve always marched together side by side.


And now you swear

You never had a notion I was there!


Well, well, maybe

You couldn’t know till you were dead like me.


You’re not, you say?

Not dead? They dropped you sure enough to-day.


Ay lad, it’s true.

Though your skull’s thick, they got a bullet through.


You always were

Slow-witted, but that should have caused a stir—


Ay, A lick, man,

That should have caused a stir in your brain-pan.


Come, come, thick-head,

Don’t tell me you don’t even know you’re dead!


France, what had France been to her but a name

That she might hear by chance,

Till John was taken from her, and news came

He’d been the first to fall in the advance—

And now her heart is just a grave in France.


He talked about “the glorious dead,”

And how we always should remember them;

And then she turned on him and said—

If you mean Willie, Dick and Jem,

The living lads they took from me

To blow to pieces with artillery—

Much good to them ’twill do

To be remembered by the likes of you;

And as for “glorious memory,”

What’s that, think you, to me

When out of sleep I start up in my bed

Remembering my little lads are dead?


As the big yard-gate swung with broken latch

All night on creaky hinges to and fro,

Her mind swung with it, creaking with the thought,

If he’d not gone, and fallen as he fought,

That latch would have been mended long ago—


If he’d not gone, if there had been no war,

Or if his company had held its ground,

Or someone else had fallen in his stead,

How soundly I’d be sleeping in my bed

This windy night!—but only he sleeps sound.


I hadn’t thought it strange that we should meet

As we had met so many times before,

When, as I sauntered idly down the street,

He passed me and turned in at his own door,


Till, as I crossed the Strand, it flashed on me

That he’d not been in khaki, when few men

Were out of uniform, though I knew he

Had fought at Passchendaele; but, even then


I failed to gather the significance

Of our encounter in the street, till I

Chanced on the news that he’d been killed in France

The very afternoon he passed me by—


He passed me by, as one who walks in dream,

Without a smile or word, to my surprise:

And then I knew the meaning of the gleam

In those strange still unrecognising eyes.


All night I sat beside the bed

And watched that senseless moaning head

Backwards and forwards toss and toss,

When suddenly he sat upright

And fixed his eyes upon the light

With sightless glassy stare and said—

We filled the ditch up with the dead

To get the guns across.


No one remembers—only in my heart

He lives, and dies; though solemnly they said

We never shall forget the glorious dead!

The dead are dead for them, and have no part

Or lot in life’s activities. The race

Is to the swift, the battle to the strong;

And they who fell. . . . Who shall remember long

The light and laughter of a dead lad’s face?


She wakened in the night to hear

Her son’s voice moaning in her ear—

I cannot rest, I cannot sleep . . .

Day after day I hear you weep,

And even in deepest slumber, yet

Your heart remembers. Oh, forget,

Forget your son, dear mother! I,

Till you forget me, cannot die,

I cannot wholly die, for still

About the battle-shattered hill

My ghost must wander restlessly

While anyone remembers me. . . .

Long since the living folk I knew

Have all forgotten, all but you;

And sore I long to rest, to die

Once and for ever, long to lie

At peace, and sleep and sleep . . . but I,

I cannot sleep till you forget.



Two minutes’ silence! Nay, but there has been

For fourteen years a silence in my heart

Since first I heard. . . . Two minutes, and a gun

To tell his mother when she’s got to start

Remembering her son!


Two minutes’ silence—then a gun again,

And free to gabble and forget are we

Another twelve-month! . . . Yet no gun has stirred

The silence that must hold my heart till he

Shall greet me with a word.


They stopped the screeching saws,

And in the pause

A queer uncanny silence seemed to fill

The idle mill


Old Bill—

Who, just twelve years since under Vimy Hill

Had hung for forty hours, caught in the wire—

Yelled suddenly My God, why don’t they fire

And end it! I can’t bear . . . and dropped. The gun

Sounded, the silence done.


The saws screamed out once more;

But old Bill still lay quiet on the floor.


Two minutes’ silence—(Jock, do you remember

The day they got me, some time in November—

The tenth or thereabouts, if I’m not wrong?


Well, I was gay that morning, for I’d heard

From Hetty Cooper; and she’d said the word,

The word she’d kept me waiting for so long:


She’d given her word at last to marry me

When the war ended; and it seemed to be

Just petering out—and me without a scratch,


When something got me clean below the belt—

What, I’ve no notion: I just know I felt

A red-hot pain, and went out like a match.


Well, you were friends with Hetty—ay, I knew

That you liked Hetty and she liked you too;

She liked you, Jock, because you were my friend:


And so I want to whisper in your ear

A message for her . . . Say, lad, can’t you hear? . . .)

Two minutes’ silence—Will it never end!


I’m deaf, and may not even hear the gun;

So at eleven give a sign to me

That I may know the silence has begun,

And not be breaking it before it’s done.


I’ve always kept the silence quietly

Repeating over and over in my heart

The last few happy words he said to me

Before he went to fight with Germany.


But vain my signal, when the sudden gun

Shattered the quiet of the little room,

To her for whose old heart, its travail done,

The everlasting silence had begun.


No, lass, you can’t fool me—the War’s not over

Or Robert would be home.

He said he’d telegraph to me from Dover

The minute that he landed: it’s not come,

The telegram. . . . No, no, you can’t fool me;

For I’ve known Robert twenty years, you see.


Coming on leave he is . . . What’s that you say?

Eleven years ago!

Havers, my lass! ’twas just the other day

I had his letter; and if I don’t know

My husband’s ways, I’d like to know who should.

What Robert promises he aye makes good.


I’ve never known him say he’d do a thing

And fail to do it yet:

And you will see another day will bring

That telegram to say . . . But I forget

Somebody had a telegram that said

Some other man of the same name was dead.


At first, just for a moment, it is true

I fancied it meant him. . . .

Not really, of course; for well I knew

He’d keep his word, ay, if he’d got to swim

Across the sea to telegraph from Dover!

No, lass, you can’t fool me—the War’s not over.


He came to-day, our whilom foe—

An enemy ten years ago—

At least our country’s enemy,

Even as I was forced to be

An enemy of his: he came;

And by the hearth we watched the flame

Flourish the logs with gold, as we

Together talked of poetry,

Or sat, each silent in his seat,

Rapt in the healing, quiet, sweet

Companionship of kindred minds

And human fellowship that binds

The broken spirit and makes whole

The horror-lacerated soul.


We, who’d been forced by fate to dwell

Four years in opposite camps of hell,

Were liberated now, and free

Of the sweet heaven of poetry,

After long years of exile come

To our true native country, home.

October 1928.




Beware the pedestal; and keep your feet

Familiar with the common earth—

The earth your fellows tread, that you with them

May ever share their grief and mirth.


Who quits the living earth, to perch alone

In hierophantic robes, from all

His kind cut off, in barren eminence

Must crumble on his pedestal.


Veil not your soul in vague and baffling verse:

Obscurity is not profundity:

Rather, O poet, let each poem be

A crystal through which all may see

Your soul’s integrity.


Men may not sing as easily as birds

Whose April notes are fresh and dewy-clear

For each new singer of the virgin year,

Since time and use have burdened all our words

With multitudinous associations,

And even the lightest carry implications

Of passionate primeval histories

And shadows of dark brooding memories;

So, Poet, you must labour sore and long

If you would pour your soul out in a song

To rival the clear-welling melody

Of yonder blackbird in the apple-tree.


Who cheats himself with transcendental dreams

And vague abstractions, moony vapourings,

Shirking life’s clear-cut issues, scared to look

Unblenching on the naked truth of things,

Can mutter but vain words and fugitive,

And never speak the word by which men live.


When the black mould

Quickens with crocuses and lights

With daffodils,

Soon we forget the cold

And dismal endlessness of winter nights

And winter’s aches and chills.


So, when the numbing gloom

That holds my heart, to sudden song

Awakes one day,

The black moods that consume

And waste the spirit fruitlessly, too long

My masters, flee away:


And, as of old,

Quickened with crocuses and lights

Of daffodils,

Kindles my heart’s black mould;

And the dumb frost of endless winter nights

Its hoarded treasure spills.


How dull and grey the words in which I write

The tale of my delight,

Obscuring, not revealing the desire

That burns my heart up with its lambent flame:

Yet may the smother to the world proclaim

Once more the truth—No smoke without a fire!


I looked into a book of verse, and learned

The very latest news—that Troy was burned;


And as I idly scanned the rhyming tale

It seemed to me the poet’s news was stale—


Nay! rather false than stale: for all his learning,

He’d got the rumour wrong: for Troy’s still burning


In quenchless conflagration that began

When life first kindled in the heart of man


With ever-toppling towers that cannot crash

Until the last man’s heart is burnt to ash.


In accident can be no tragedy,

For there’s no struggle against destiny,

Protagonist against protagonist,

No hero fighting against desperate odds

In man’s unceasing warfare with the gods;

The victim’s but the victim of blind chance,

And no predestined warrior. . . .

And no predestined warrior. . . .Maybe,

And yet, who knows? Who can with certainty

Say what is chance and what is destiny?


I said that, did I? Then it was not I,

Not my essential self, that spoke just then;

For this my body is infested by

The spirits of a dozen different men,

Most of them fools or rascals more or less,

Who use my name and claim to speak for me,

Twisting my tongue to utter traitorously

Unjust and angry words or foolishness.


Yea, most are traitors, though they use my tongue,

These superficial selves, so volatile

And voluble, who keep on all the while

Chattering of this and that to old and young,

Shaming my real self that broods alone

And inarticulate, to all unknown.


To all unknown, or all but all: yet, though

My babbling tongue betray, at times my pen,

Seeming to speak the thoughts of other men,

Declaring their hearts’ secret joy or woe,

Reveals the true self, the essential I

To all who read the little rhymes I write—

At least to those who more in them descry

Than printed words on paper, black on white.


For I in lives of others truly live

My own life, and most surely can express

Through theirs my own heart’s grief or happiness,

When, self forgot, I mingle in the stress

And struggle of my brothers’ lives that give

My rhymes their life, however fugitive.


When life was but a twilit empty street

Of shuttered houses, the blithe whistling boy

Turned down it, searching its dumb gloom with sweet

Heart-piercing trills of joy.


Now all the houses are astir, and light

Floods every window; and a happy throng

Makes my long-silent heart by day and night

A thoroughfare of song.



Out of the rimy fog they suddenly loomed,

The steamy chestnut and the cart piled high

With steamy gold manure. The lumbering grind

Of horse and cart along the iron ruts

For some time past had sounded in her ears:

But she’d not guessed, or, leastways, had not dared

To hope ’twould be his cart. Yet, there he strode

By Dickon, as she always pictured him,

With grey curls straying from under the tilted cap,

And grey eyes staring stonily ahead—

Eyes that yet caught no glimpse of her, where she

Stood, breathless, under naked dripping elms

Whose unseen tops already felt the sun’s

First melting touch.

First melting touch.If she should speak to him,

He would stop, startled, doubtless, but would he melt?

Would the grey ice of those still staring eyes

Melt as of old to laughing tenderness?

And yet, why should they—why, at sight of her,

When she it was who’d frozen that warm heart,

And touched with winter the chestnut curls, and fixed

That icy gleam in Randal’s kindly eyes?


Yet, the sun touched the elm-tops: tinkling showers

Of icicles fell round her; and the fog

Parted; and in a sudden burst of sun

Chestnut and cart were all one steam of gold.


But Randal strode on, staring straight ahead,

Unthawed, unseeing: and the fog closed in

Upon her heart: and he was lost to sight.


She stood a moment, trembling; then turned back

The road she’d come, knowing that never again

Home would be home for her in Hertfordshire.


Rising at three o’clock the summer through

To raise his garden-stuff for marketing,

Punctually on the stroke in winter too

He wakens, though there isn’t anything,

Until the daylight comes, for him to do.


So, handy by his bed he keeps his flute

And book of airs; and in the candlelight

Forgets awhile his vegetables and fruit

In making music, while, without, the night

Lies sleeping still, save for the lone owl’s hoot.


Toot-tootle-too, he pipes his melody;

Tu-whit-tu-whoo, the owl’s shrill answer rings

Upon the frosty air, now from a tree,

Now scouring the dark on soundless wings:

And so they keep it up, the owl and he.


Time had not left her soul unscarred:

Earning her bread

At twelve, and wed

At eighteen, she had had to struggle hard

To rear her thirteen children and to keep

Her ever-ailing husband, never free

An instant from anxiety

Or getting a full night’s untroubled sleep—

Yet, as she scoured her little yard,

That morning when the lilac-tree

In crystal airs of Spring

Shook out its purple blooms, she turned to me

And said with eyes that sparkled happily,

“I’ve always loved to work beside a living thing.”


A scholar and a gentleman, his life

He lived aloof, ay, even from his wife;

For she, though when they wed a pretty, young

And ardent wench, knew but the vulgar tongue;

And as for his parishioners, why, they

Were privileged upon the Sabbath Day

To hear a discourse set with many a gem

Of classical allusion, Greek to them:

And when, translated to celestial spheres,

He left them in the plenitude of years,

An epitaph no vulgar eye could scan

Proclaimed him even in Heaven a gentleman.


(For Reginald Hine)

My chief delight, said William Dawson, is gathering moss in gentle rain

And he, whose heart for things to cherish on earth was never at a loss,

Surely is wandering down some heavenly, and not-too-unlike-Hertford, lane

Through soft celestial sunny showers, gathering paradisal moss.


Couched in the clicking couplets of the time,

A stilted epitaph in modish rhyme,

Inscribed with flourishes extravagant,

Proclaims his virtues with an elegant

Bland artifice of praise that to the ear

Of modern readers scarcely sounds sincere. . . .


And yet, for all the faded rhetoric,

While he yet lived and laughed among the quick,

No man or wife in Little Bottlewick

But worshipped old pot-bellied Parson Dick.


Weep not for me, my friends so dear, for I am only gone to see

That precious house my dearest Lord is furnishing for me.


      Dear Betsy Brown, remembering how all

      Your chairs and tables shone with such a gloss—

      They seemed to smile a welcome—I feel sure

      You chose the verse that’s cut upon your cross;

      For in a heaven without furniture

      To polish you’d be sorely at a loss;

      And your idea of paradise would be

      A mansion furnished in mahogany

      To be spring-cleaned throughout eternity.


As quarrelsome as pigeons in the Spring,

Just fret and fuss the whole long blessed day,

Rookety-cooing and flap-flap of wing

As the cocks fight each other—’twas the way

That they enjoyed life seemingly, birds and men,

Just pausing whiles to preen their feathers, then,

Strutting and ruffling, at it once again.


If they’d but leave her to herself and not

Drag her into their quarrels, ’twouldn’t be

So bad; a girl of seventeen had got

Enough to mind without their tricks—and she

With the whole dairy on her hands! But then

There’s no accounting for the ways of men . . .

And here came Peter bothering her again!


What was it Jacob said before he went?

Some silly thing, no doubt.

’Twas hard to know sometimes just what he meant—

He’d talk such nonsense, then go laughing out

And leave her wondering what ’twas all about. . . .


She had been waiting with the table spread

And kippers for his tea

When someone came and told her he was dead. . . .

But who, or how . . . ’Twould help if only she

Could call to mind the last few words that he

Had said, however foolish they might be.


I’ve sailed the whole world round and round

And everywhere a welcome found;

For everywhere there’s women, you see,

And the women are always good to me,

Said old Dick Palmer at seventy-three.


Now hush, said his wife, now hush! she said,

It’s time you were getting your bones to bed,

Ashamed of yourself. . . . Not me, said he,

For everywhere there’s women, you see,

And the women are always good to me.


Being a human cannon-ball don’t take up all your time—

And few the turns I couldn’t do when I was in my prime;

But now the folk I talk to seem to marvel most of all

To think old Dolly Dobbs was once a human cannon-ball.


’Twas only for a year or two, and then just twice a day,

And, circus-bred-and-born, to me ’twas nothing out of the way:

I couldn’t stand it now of course, with aches and pains and all;

But where’s the young wench wouldn’t be a human cannon-ball?


Though, mind you, I’m not saying that I ever shall forget

How dizzy-like I felt when first I landed in the net;

But, sure, the jolts life gives you, not expecting them at all,

Upset you ten times worse than being a human cannon-ball.


I’d never think to mention it, if I could have my way;

But then folks wouldn’t listen to what I’ve got to say:

That I’m the mother of six sons don’t interest at all

The fools that gape to hear about a human cannon-ball.


He thought, as, hanging by his toes, he swung

Her body by the ankles through the air,

So it has come at last to this, that we

But hang together of necessity,

But hang together nowadays to earn

A living, partners only in a turn

That we’ve been trained to since we both were young—

The Living Pendulum, the Peerless Pair!


White faces heaved towards him, as they swayed

From side to side above the crowded ring,

Full fifty feet below, at seeming ease,

As though, in unison with the trapeze,

They moved in perfect concord, man and wife,

True mates, one body and one soul, through life

Swinging light-heartedly, and unafraid,

In their agility, of anything.


Yet all his thought was, as with panting breath,

He struggled with his jealousy, and gripped

Her ankles still—there are worse things than death;

And we’d be one for ever, if I slipped.


Nothing I see in them town-shows, nothing at all, said Old John,

I’d rather be looking across a meadow

To see how it’s getting on.


Yet off they go to the pictures of a night, my son and my daughter;

But I’ve always loved best of an evening

Looking down through the trees on the water.


She knew, of course she knew; yet how could she

Give up her husband to the gallows-tree?


Her husband! . . . Was it true that she had wed

A body with a soul already dead?


Yet, was he hers at all? Might it not be

That he’d long since betrothed the gallows-tree?


And who was she, mere makeshift legal wife,

To keep him from the love of his whole life?


Into the icy glitter of the day

Shot sharply from the deep pit’s sultry mirk,

He blinks and shivers as he takes his way

Wearily with his mates towards the town,

Till suddenly among the girls at work

Lifting the swedes and slicing off the tops,

He catches sight of Nelly stooping down,

And whistles on his fingers, when she stops,

Straightens her aching back, stiff with the cold,

Breathes on her hands, almost too numb to hold

The knife, then turns to Angus with a grin;

And he grins back at her: and so they stand,

Forgetful of the wind that through their thin

Scant clothing seemed to pierce them to the bone

A moment since—they stand, they two alone,

A lad and lass with happy eyes alight,

Together in a new and unknown land

That in the North wind glitters jewel-bright.


A vagabond scarecrow of seventy-five,

The raggedest, sorriest mortal alive,

Trudging the turnpike day after day,

He whines, as he goes on his aimless way,


Over and over the whole day long

The burden of some old music-hall song,

Whines to the tune that killed the cow—

If only my mother could see me now!


If only his mother . . . but long and sound

His mother’s slept under an unknown mound,

And little she recks in her worryless rest

Of the baby she suckled at her young breast.


No graven stone

Marked her last bed;

But at her head

A lilac-tree.

Where all alone

She’d made her bed

A lilac shed

Its fragrancy

Above her head.

No stone, she said,

No stone for me:

When I alone

Lie quietly

Set at my head

No lifeless stone;

But plant instead

A living tree.


Woolly-witted Joe would go

About his business to and fro,

Harmless as a lamb,

Till, how, no one seems to know,

Dropt a spark into the tow

Of his simple brain—


Dropt a spark into his head,

And he suddenly saw red;

And with antic leaps insane

Started butting like a ram

Everybody that he met

In the Lovers’ Lane,

Till they flung the pigcart net

Over him and threw him, dead.


To and fro and to and fro

A dull eighty years or so

Went poor woolly-witted Joe

Till a spark, dropped in the tow,

Flared to frenzy through his brain,

And he ended his drab days

In a sudden scarlet blaze.


A fat old body in a sham seal-coat,

Chic hat and feather boa, she dodders by

Indifferent, till her almost sightless eye

Lights on a patch of buttercups and daisies,

And the clear colour kindles once again

The light of childhood in her darkening brain. . . .


No longer poor old doting Mrs. Briggs—

Once more, bedazzled by the flowery tide

Of glancing gold and silver, with eyes wide,

Knee-deep among the buttercups and daisies,

She stands entranced with outstretched baby hands

In her old home’s forgotten meadowlands. . . .


Not childish now, with child-like glee she stoops,

Forgetting age and its infirmities,

To gather all the treasure that she sees—

But down among the buttercups and daisies

Sinks, overstrained, with gently ebbing breath,

Too young at heart to dread or dream of death.


And there through the long afternoon she lies

Among the flowers whose glancing happiness

Had filled her baby heart—the dismal dress

Dusted with golden pollen—the snowy daisies,

Her life’s first loves, a glory round the head

Quietly resting on that queenly bed.


He’d never said a word of it to her,

And it was not until he died, and all

Came out, she’d even known he’d had a fall—

Fouled by her brother as he snatched the ball:

Though he’d been stunned and had to come away,

Shaken and dazed before the end of play.


Why, until this, if but his finger ached,

She’d had to know about it; naught could he

Keep back from her—as nervous as could be

About his health, coddling himself till she

Would lose all patience. . . . Yet about the fall

He’d said no word, he’d said no word at all.


I wondered at that twinkle in his eye,

And guessed that it meant mischief: he was sly,

Was Silas; but who could have guessed that he,

Because we said that he had starved his wife,

Would put us in the wrong so utterly

By taking his own life?


Happily drunk, she plods no longer

With dragging feet,

But treads light-footed as a dancer

The sodden street.


Forgiving life that he has beaten

Her to her knees,

She rallies him with long-lost girlhood’s




The pains that come of endless scrubbing

Of endless stairs

Forgotten, as she trips and ambles

With gracious airs


Down dismal Angel Street, unconscious

Of mocking faces—

A careless, proud, high-hearted creature

Of airs and graces.


Her hard-earned pence at least have purchased

Old Sally Lee

A momentary blest oblivion

Of drudgery.


The greasy copper coins transmuted

To liquid gold

Have fired her old veins with an essence

No longer old—


No longer thin and old and feeble

The blood of life

That surges in the billowy bosom

Of that old wife


As, dizzy with a golden rapture,

She sails along

Celestial pavements in a glory

Of light and song.


A connoisseur is florid Father Biddle,

In self-indulgence grown obese and old;

And at his silken-vested paunch he dangles

A crucifix of gold—


A pretty trinket that for thirty pieces

Of silver none would sell, save at a loss,

Nor even for twice the price of Him who perished

On a cheap wooden cross.


When William drove the pig-cart down the street,

She never gave a glance at him, although

He was a proper lad and clean and neat

And earning every week a pound or so.


But when she saw him perched so proud and prim

One day upon the box-seat of a hearse

She fell in love with his top-hat and him

And married him for better or for worse.


She did not hear the postman at the door:

The letter tumbled through the letter-slit

And lay with others on the lobby floor

Until at last the staircase gas was lit.


She picked it up, glanced at it carelessly,

Not recognising any hand she knew,

Dreaming of him and wondering why he

Had sent no word, although his boat was due.


And then, half-absentmindedly, she ripped

The envelope, and dreaming still, she read

The tidings set out in a clerkly script

That told, yet did not tell her, he was dead. . . .


At least, not dead as other men might be . . .

She would have known. . . . It couldn’t come, the news,

Like this, just in a letter, casually

Dropped through the slit with bills for gloves and shoes . . .


She would have known. . . . Why, all the afternoon

She had been practising the latest thing

In foxtrots, such a ripping, rattling tune—

The kind he liked . . . she had been practising . . .


She had been practising. . . . And how could she

Have strummed so happily if, even then,

He had been lying, laid out quietly. . . .

Doubtless men died—but they were other men.


He chanced to touch

A naked live-wire, and it dropped him, dead.


’Twas queer that he

Who knew so much—

All that is known of electricity,

Should be so careless! that was what they said.


Yet, if they’d guessed the thoughts that filled his head

That night, would they have found it strange that he,

Who knew so much—

All that is known of electricity,

Manipulating it to earn

His daily bread—


That he should turn

In that dark hour

When he,

By life brought to the touch,

Had lost control,

That he should turn to that dread unknown power,

Invoking it to free his soul

In its extremity?


There’d be some money in that elm—so he

Sold it: the sawyer came; and presently

He’d money in his pocket, but no tree—


No living tree before his threshold-stone;

And, well, he missed it, living there alone,

The bonnie tree that he had always known.


’Twas queer to think the living tree was dead,

Just dry white planks now in the sawyer’s shed,

While he still lived: and yet, when all was said,


He’d got the money: brass was always brass,

And never came amiss. That flesh is grass

He’d overlooked, until it came to pass


He slept too long one morning—didn’t wake:

And he was missed; and they were forced to break

His bolted cottage door in with a stake.


The brass was spent upon his funeral: he

Between the coffin-boards lay presently

And close in touch again with his old tree.


So that was what Pete meant! I hadn’t guessed

He’d taken it so hardly. It just shows

You cannot judge folks’ feelings by their clothes,

And that not every broken heart is dressed

In a full suit of mourning. But, if I’d known


He, in his way, was bidding me good-bye

For evermore, and going home alone

For the last time, I might . . . yet what could I

Have said or done, when in his heart Pete knew

That there was nothing left to say or do?


“I fancied I’d be settled when I married Abey,” said

Abraham Dodd’s young wife,

“But it’s just one worry on another instead.”

That’s life, Mrs. Dodd, that’s life.


“From the first blink of day when I’m driven from my bed,

It’s little but trouble and strife;

And whiles I’m that fretted I wonder why I wed.”

That’s life, Mrs. Dodd, that’s life.


“And long before darkening I’m ready for my bed,

With a pain at my heart like a knife,

And a buzzing in my brain and my feet like lead.”

That’s life, Mrs. Dodd, that’s life.


“Yet you, Mrs. Aiken, though you’re seventy,” she said,

“And the Lord knows how many years a wife,

You never even seem to have a worry in your head.”

That’s life, Mrs. Dodd, that’s life.


Dry-eyed, they walk the beach at dawn, awaiting

Their men’s home-coming with the tide—

Their menfolk who’ll sail gaily home no more

In the Endeavour, that the storm already

Has tossed up, ripped and splintered, on the shore.


Dry-eyed, they walk the beach at dawn, unblinded

By useless tears that would but dim the keen

And searching eyes that through the spindrift peer,

Dreading to see among the breakers something

Heartbreakingly familiar and dear.


Dry-eyed, they walk the beach at dawn; and lightly

They bade their men farewell when they put out,

Too proud to make a show of fear or grief—

Dry-eyed, and braving life with still set faces,

Seeking in easy tears no quick relief.


Lean as a rake was she—

But he,

As stout a strapping lad as you could see.


She gave him all she had,

And glad

To give her little all to rear her lad.


Outworn at last lies she;

But he

With plump young Jenny walks out lovingly.


Yet, in the dim half-light


He turns to look on Jenny in a fright. . . .


Lean as a rake stands she,

And he

In her his mother’s image seems to see.


A weak heart, she! She died of a weak heart?

Well, if you say so, I suppose it’s true:

But forty years of field-work on a farm,

Ay, and a family of twelve children too,

Must need a gey stout heart to pull you through,

Still smiling: and she never passed this way,

Coming or going, but she had some jest

Or some titbit of news to tell with zest—

And yet she died of a weak heart, you say?


No one has ever bested me

In all my life, said he,

Though ’twasn’t for the want of trying



No one has ever bested me,

He cackled cunningly

With toothless jaws as he lay dying—

Tee-hee! Tee-hee!


No one has ever bested . . . He

Dropped backward suddenly,

With set jaws grinning, still defying

The Enemy.


Rain in the chestnuts, a still, steady drench

Through the great blossom-lighted domes of green

That stand about the little red-roofed church. . . .


Rain in the chestnuts: does he hear it now,

Who always loved the noise of heavy rain

Falling through foliage, pattering on the leaves?


Rain in the chestnuts, dropping ceaselessly

From leaf to drooping leaf above his grave—

His new bed, but a few yards from the old.


Rain in the chestnuts—in the big bed set

In the open window, of a summer’s night

He would lie listening in a waking trance.


Rain in the chestnuts—and his window shut

In the dark parsonage, and a steady drench

Pattering, through the chestnuts, on his grave.


He dipped a stick of celery in salt,

And bit it crisply, cranching it with zest;

And then he muttered—It was her own fault

I left her; and perhaps it’s for the best.


Then with a smirk of satisfaction he

Sat listening to the band that tried, in vain,

To drown the clatter of the cutlery

And voices in a sentimental strain:


While watching him behind a flowery screen,

And deaf to all, she sat with bright eyes set

On his complacent face, by him unseen,

Her teeth clenched on an unlit cigarette.


It wasn’t my fault: any one could see

That I came round the corner carefully.

He must have heard the horn, I’d swear, yet he—

Well, he just staggered right across the way.

He must have been blind-drunk. . . .

He must have been blind-drunk. . . .Blind-drunk, you say?

They hanged his son at Durham Gaol to-day.


So that is all there is to it. He ended

His story; tapped his briar on the hob

To clear it; filled it once again with shag,

And then sat smoking contemplatively.

And though I knew that he had not intended

To hold back aught essential, or to rob

His hearers of the clue, I watched the hag

Who’d sat with eyes fixed on his face, while he

Had told his tale: and as he stopped she drew

Again into her corner with a leer

Of satisfaction. Then I surely knew,

Although his lips had moved, and his slow tongue

The solemn words had uttered, it was she

Who’d told the tale that she would have us hear:

That, while she lived, no man would ever learn

Aught but his mother’s version of how his young

And newly-wedded wife had come to die—

That he was but a puppet to twist and turn

With life-like motions and talk mechanically

Under the evil spell of her one eye.


Sweetbriar at the gate—a real welcome,

A welcome home; for there had always been

Sweetbriar at the gate of home for him

Since he could recollect. The poignant scent

Searched his whole being with tingling memories

As, hand on latch, he mused awhile, before

Entering his new home, the secluded cottage

That was to be his last abode on earth.


Sweetbriar at the gate—a little lad,

Playing beside the lodge of his first home,

The home that had been his from everlasting,

Or so it seemed, the piercing leafy fragrance

Puzzled him as he drew it slowly through

Quick quivering nostrils with sharp relish, until

He called to mind the raftered apple-loft—

The keen ripe odour of the yellow Keswicks,

Ranged on the floor at equal distances,

Row upon row of succulent temptation,

Till the dim loft seemed an Aladdin’s cave

Of treasure far beyond the computation

Of his five-fingered reckoning: the briar-scent

Had something of the eager tang of apples. . . .

But, as he’d mused, his father, from behind

Had stooped out of the sky, and lifted him,

And set him on his shoulder, perched, it seemed,

As on a tree-top: and beneath the elms,

That seemed scarce taller, up the avenue

He’d ridden like Launcelot to where his mother

Awaited them on the doorstep with a smile.


Sweetbriar at the gate—the welcome home

From many happy journeys, junketings

And holidays, when coming home had seemed

The holiday of holidays after all—

Till that last day, when he’d been summoned back

From Otahiti by an urgent cable,

And only the sweetbriar had welcomed him

To the desolated house. How he recalled

The sudden surge of perfume through the rain,

The soft June rain that drenched the leafy quickset,

Familiar, and yet shot with a new sharp

Heart-piercing pang, since in his absence they,

His father and mother, had passed through the lodge-gate,

Oblivious of that scent on their last journey,

To come again no more to their old home.


Sweetbriar at the gate—with what delight

That golden summer day of quivering heat

She’d paused to breathe the heady odour in

With tilted chin and eager lighted eyes—

The golden summer day he brought her home,

Home to his home, no longer only his,

But theirs, and to be theirs for everlasting

It seemed! Yet, all too soon, she too had passed,

After a brief score of enchanted years,

Oblivious of that fragrance, through the gate

Of no return.

Of no return.And now upon the threshold

Of his last harborage the familiar perfume,

Rapturously and heartbreakingly familiar,

Welcomed him once again, so sweet with happy,

So poignant with regretful, memories

Whose aroma would be with him till the day

When even the quick smell of the drenched leaves

Should fail to set his nostril quivering.


And yet, who knows? When he should come at last

To the dark unknown portal, might he not find

Sweetbriar at the gate—a welcome home?


A thrush was singing; and a thrush had sung

Unseen among the elm-tops when he first

With tingling baby nostrils had sniffed that scent—

And song and odour in his memory

Were mingled in one essence of delight . . .

A singing thrush—sweetbriar at the gate!


She did not kill his body, or depend

On arsenic

To do the trick,

And bring about his end.


Not, grain by grain mixed with his food, did she

With cunning care

His death prepare,

But worked more craftily;


And drop by drop her own mind’s poison poured

Into his brain,

Until, insane,

He did the deed abhorred.


And so his body lives, yet hale, although

His young soul died,

A suicide,

Just twenty years ago.


But, what to do with it, when it should come!

They both had work enough to keep them going—

Ay, keep them going all the blessed day,

Without a baby getting in the way.


It came, in spite of them: and then, somehow,

They wondered what till then had kept them going,

And how they’d managed to get through the day

Without a baby getting in the way.


An old outlandish figure, gaunt and wried,

In Soho Square he jigs on his old pins,

Shaking a tambourine with ribbons tied.


His hat bedecked with streamers blue and red,

Over his straggly locks and ragged beard

Fluttering feebly as he nods his head,


He jigs forlornly with his thin lips set

In a wide grin, and as he jerks his limbs

Like a stiff-jointed, battered marionette,


A pitiful old clown, a sight for tears

He seems: and yet, who knows? His heart may still

Be dancing as it danced in other years.


Who knows but still in his dim consciousness

He cuts a gallant figure, debonair

And dashing in a dazzling gala dress—


A gallant figure dancing in the sun

To the gay jingling of his tambourine,

The very soul of frolic and of fun?


The jury brought the verdict in—she’d taken

Her own life in a fit of—well, you know

The phrase they use to soften the smart blow

To their own self-esteem that it would be

To think ’twas aught but sheer insanity

To take this precious life of ours: and so,

Because she thought two company and three

None, and could see no other kind of way

Out of the situation . . . Well, they took

Her body from the weeds of Wimble Brook . . .

And Jacob weds his second wife to-day.


Amid the jostling crowd and in the flare

Of naphtha the two bargain eagerly—

The blowsy old saleswoman and the spare

Young anxious housewife, until suddenly


The huckster’s sharp old eyes light on the child,

The baby sleeping in its mother’s shawl;

And the hard gleam in them grows soft and mild,

And the fat greedy grasping hands let fall


The remnant she was haggling over, while,

Motherhood waked once more in her old heart,

She questions the young mother with a smile;

And, rapt in tender talk, they two apart


Stand, all unmindful of the roaring street

Of bargains and of bargainers; and then,

Their hearts poured out, they quietly complete

Their business, and are strangers once again.


Work slack at his accustomed job, old Nick

The coffin-maker tills

His little plot, and sets it thick

With bulbs of daffodils

And crocuses and squills.


He smiles, as in rich mould he sets each dry

And wizened bulb with care,

As though already to his eye

The flowers were blooming there,

And flourishing and fair:


For, looking past December’s sleet and snow,

His heart already thrills

To see his cottage garden glow

Alive with daffodils

And crocuses and squills.


Whitmonday—he must take the usual stroll

He’d always taken on Bank holiday

For fifty years and more; though now that he

Must go alone, it wasn’t quite so gay.


Ay, and his clothes, though they were decent black,

And still his best, weren’t quite what they had been

When he had donned them first in ’87

For the first Jubilee of the old Queen—


Not quite so rich a black now, it was true,

And not so suited for festivities—

A trifle shabby at the seams they’d gone,

And shiny at the elbows and the knees.


And he’d been always something of a beau

When he’d strolled in the park at Whitsuntide.

What could he do to smarten himself up?

Well—it was not so easy to decide.


If he’d had coppers for a buttonhole,

He would have been as happy as a king.

A buttonhole worked wonders. . . . Then his eye

Lit on the safety-pin—the very thing!


The gilded safety-pin that he’d picked up

Last evening in the gutter; ’twould look gay,

Stuck in the lapel of his coat—ay, ay,

Quite rich and dressy, you might almost say!


With trembling hands he fixed the glittering pin

In his worn broadcloth: but it shone less bright

Than his black eyes beneath his napless tile

Twinkling with proud and innocent delight.


It wasn’t till the moment came for him

To turn his back on her grave that he quite knew

What had been happening to him these last days:

Till now, there’d been so much for him to do,

With one thing and another—his wife in bed

For a whole week; and, even when Sal died,

There’d been the funeral to arrange: he’d tried

To do his best for her—her sister’d said,

Sal would have been gey proud, could she have seen

The lovely hearse he’d hired, ay, and the wreath,

So sweetly pretty with its white and green. . . .

But now,

What was there left for him to do but go—

Go, where? Why, home, of course. Where else was there

For him to go but home? He wiped his brow,

Standing upon the grave’s edge in the snow;

But could not turn his back upon her yet.


Somebody touched his arm. “Come, Stephen, come.”

“Come where?”

“Come where?”“Why, home, of course.”

                                  “And leave her here?”

“Why, Stephen, lad, there’s nothing else to do.”

“There’s nothing else to do—ay, true, ay, true:

There’s nothing else to do; and I must go,

I must go home—I must go home, you say?

True, true. . . .”

True, true. . . .”He stumbled; then sank down, and lay

Quietly on the grave’s edge in the snow.


“There’s just one thing I cannot thole,

And that’s monotony,”

Said Sam, at ninety-three.


“So, whiles I have a sausage, whiles

A kipper with my tea:


And whiles I toddle up the brae,

And whiles beside the sea:


And catch me lying in one spot

For all eternity!


So, don’t you fancy, when I’m dead

That you’ll be shot of me.


I’ll walk if ever ghost walked yet,

And may you live to see,”

Said Sam, at ninety-three.


Reseating a dilapidated chair,

He sat outside the curate’s garden gate,

Manipulating the lithe yellow cane

With cunning fingers. At a special rate

I always work for curates—so he said—

The poor unlucky beggars, whose hard fate

It is to have to earn their daily bread,

Year after year, all weathers, sun and rain,

By plucking infants from the burning coals,

And swilling tea, and what’s worse, taking care

Of flighty female souls.


And, through such hazards he had come to this!

Come scatheless through four years of war, and all

The countless chances of disablement

That lurk for any lad in any pit—

Not reckoning the disaster when his mates,

Ay, almost to a man, had been entombed,

Beyond all hope of rescue—he who’d come

Untouched through all, who’d almost seemed to bear

A charmed life, on a bit of orange-peel

To slip, and tumble into an early grave

Where he must lie all day in living death—

This bed, so often sought so eagerly

After long shifts: but now an aching prison

He’d never leave until they lifted him!


A bit of orange-peel—and all his world

Shrunk to a space of ten-by-twelve, shut in

By four drab walls, a ceiling and a floor,

With no escape, even for eyes, save where

The little window, two-and-a-half-by-three,

Gave him a distant view of the pit-head,

The cage-wheel and the ever-smoking stack.


A bit of orange-peel—he’s aye been fond

Of oranges: after a long shift in the pit,

The colour to his eyes, and the cool juice

To dusty lips and throat brought rare refreshment.


But oranges! only talk of oranges,

And in a twinkling he was back again

Off Jaffa in the third year of the War—

A blue unbreaking sea, and little boats

About the troopship, piled from stem to stern

With golden cargoes of ripe oranges,

Ripe to the bursting! Folk in England here

Never knew what sun-ripened oranges were:

You’d easily squeeze the whole delicious pulp

Through the tiniest hole and leave a clean-sucked skin:

But ’twas the colour, blue sea and amber cargo

Burning in the sheer crystal of the air!

He’d never guessed this world could be such colours,

That men might live their lives out in the light

In such a gay clear-coloured world—their world

Of every day!

Of every day!From the pit-head the stack

Ceaselessly vomited its pitchy smoke

In endless convolutions over the grey

And blasted fields . . . And yet at night a tinge

Of orange flared into those murky coils:

And as he watched them drowsily it seemed

They glowed yet ruddier until all the sky

Was thronged with huge sun-ripened oranges,

Rolling and rolling, spheres of amber flame,

Over a sea one flame of blue. . . .

Over a sea one flame of blue. . . .He’d slipped—

A bit of orange-peel had brought him down,

Of orange-peel some careless hand had dropped:

An orange, fetched from Jaffa likely enough,

Had brought him to disaster. How little he

Had guessed that day, seeing the laden boats

Rowed by those screeching hawkers, that any orange . . .

And he so fond of oranges! But that

Was where the joke came in, as you might say:

Ay, that was life: you never knew your luck,

Or where the bit of orange-peel might lie

That should end all. Little use now to think

What dreams had tumbled, broken, when he fell.

A burden on his mother—he, who’d hoped

To wed and rear a family of his own:

A bit of orange-peel—and one home less. . . .


One home! nay, countless homes, a long succession

Stretching through time till doomsday—his sons’ homes

And homes of his sons’ sons! The chain was snapped

That stretched from the beginning of the world—

And he, the broken link. . . .

And he, the broken link. . . .The day was dying;

And the black rolling smoke was shot with flame.

Would those great pitchy coils resolve themselves

Once more to rolling spheres of ruddy gold

Over the sea’s blue flame—and he once more

Sail through cerulean noons and silver nights,

Sail ever on and on . . . ?

Sail ever on and on . . . ?At least his heart

Held all unsullied that incredible day

Of crystal colour, his for evermore.


Oh, who shall ever call a halt

To this unending march of men

That tramp the highways of the earth

Beneath the unregarding stars,

Whose footsteps echo ’neath the vault

Of steely heavens. . . .

Of steely heavens. . . .This march of men

Foredoomed to woe or joy from birth

That tramp the highways of my heart,

The hills and hollows of my heart,

Whose songs of sorrow and of mirth

For ever echo through my heart—

Oh, who shall ever call a halt!

Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.

In several cases where poems crossed page boundaries, it was impossible to determine whether a stanza break had occurred.

[The end of Hazards by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson]