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Title: The Outpost

Date of first publication: 1944

Author: Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)

Date first posted: May 8, 2015

Date last updated: May 8, 2015

Faded Page eBook #20150524

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

By the Same Writer


The Searchlights


The Alert

Coming and Going

(Oxford University Press)

Collected Poems, 1905-1925

The Golden Room




(Macmillan & Co.)

A Leaping Flame, A Sail!

(Privately Printed)













Oxford University Press


Amen House, E.C.4

London Edinburgh Glasgow New York

Toronto Melbourne Capetown Bombay

Calcutta Madras


Humphrey Milford

Publisher to the University











Conal o’Riordan



The Whales

The Unseen Rider

In the Small Hours

And Now He Stumbles On . . .

The Snake

The Islander

The Jaws of Death

Now He is digging Sheep . . .

The Can

The Morass

The Butterfly

The Craneman

The Dead Fish

Mountain Death



The Kill

Always an Easy Temper . . .

The Orange

The Ticking Watch

The Home

The Lava

The Goldfish

The Rainbow

Down from the Apennines


The Almond Tree

He Took Life Easy

The Calvary

The Wedding Ring

The Outpost

The Prisoner

The Tenement

The Sea Shell

The Song

The Plough

The Lizard

The Pillbox

The Rats

The Clerk

The Monk

The Kid

The Shadow

The Revenant

The Birds Return

The Face

The Respite

Down the Glen

The Summons

Embarkation Leave

The Match


The Broken Pipe

The Home Bird

The Leather Jerkin

The Dance

The Little Room

The Stack of Straw

The Old Love

The Hero

The Lustre Jug

The Little Copse

The Cancelled Leave

In the Dead of the Night

Desert Night

She Watches on the Shore . . .


The Silver Cup

Hill Music

The Night Grows late . . .

His Word

The Curtains

The Broken Tether

He came to her that Night . . .

The Waters of the Tyne

The Gift

The Chimneystack

The Letter

The Troth

It Always Was His Pride


The Last Flight

Border Watch

The Cheerful Blaze

The Watch

The Fluttered Doves

The Desolate Heart


The Link

The Blind Man

The Crest

And This, the End . . .



The Tarn

The Children

The Lime


The Spar

Scorched Earth

The Hour

Under the Rowan

The Fire


The Driver

The Victim

One Hour

Her Son

The Withered Branch

The Quiet Heart

The Family

The Test

The Adage

The Nurse

The Voyage

Heart of My Heart . . .

Sole Survivor

The Lesson


The Category

The Dragons

The Hit

The Weathercock

The Alabaster Earl


The Bland Face

The Vagrant

The Undertaker

The Spy



The Iron Days

So Brief a Life

The Heron

His Letter

The Miller’s Pond

The Homecoming


The Invalid

The Cottage Garden

The Summer Moon

The Medal


The Weeping Beech

The Cost

The Young Poet

The Magpies

Hareshaw Linn


The Woodpecker


And Still the Thrush Sings on . . .

The Folly

Dandelion Down


In the End

The Last Leave

The Canopy

The House Martins

The Golden Mile

For This?

The Broken Bridge

In Pride of Youth . . .


The Last Chapter

The Salmon

The Triumph

The Heart That Quivered

The Old Moon

O Wind!

The Raven

The Backward Glance

The New Washed Sheets

As the First Blackbird Sang . . .

England Aroused

Till Death . . .

The Change of Wind

Winter Wheat

The News

The Lull

The Victors

No Room in the Inn

The Happy Flight


Like Cage Bred Birds Released

Hill Waters

The Beech Logs

With lively flames of lemon and amethyst

That flutter, twirl and twist

The sizzling beech-logs burst into a blaze;

And, watching, I recall the days

When to the Ridgeway I would clamber

Above the tidy cornlands, trimly hedged,

And on the down’s edge, under branches fledged

With April emerald or October amber,

Would brood upon a world at strife

And mankind held

In an unparalleled

And universal agony;

Until the hanging woodland came to be

Sacrificed, too, to war’s exigency—

The boughs endangering

The aircraft taking off at night

For oversea

In retributive flight

To wreck arms-factories of the enemy.


And, as the beech-logs crumble, charred with fire,

Dreaming, once more

I hear those branches swing

Before the West wind, gaily flourishing

The gallant banner of their leafy life:

And that memorial music seems to be

A stormy threnody

For all the brave, whose ecstasy


Upsurged in heady fountaining desire;

Until they, too, in the full energy

Of their exuberant youth fell, also doomed

To be consumed

Within the holocaust of total war.

The Whales

Suddenly in his brain

With startling slam

Door after door claps to . . . and, shuddering,

He lifts his head and languidly

Over the bulwarks peers across the sea,

To find the boat surrounded by a gam

Of sperm-whale, cows and calves, that, merrily

Lob-tailing, slap the waves with flourished flukes,

Then sound the ocean glooms, to rise again

Spouting into the sun their spumy breath:

And, even as he looks

On the exhaustless energy

Of those gay gambolling

Undaunted creatures of the deep,

He, who, long derelict with death,

Had seemed to lie in his last sleep,

Feels youth resilient in his veins once more,

And with renewed vitality

Determines, come what may, that, even yet,

He will survive to set

His foot again upon his native shore.

The Unseen Rider

On the high down above the sea

I lie and listen to the talk

Of jackdaws roosting in the chalk

Of the cliff-face that from the surf

Of tumbling breakers rises sheer;

When, through the water’s monotone

And chattering of daws, I hear

A thud of hoofs across the turf.


I hear; but dare not turn my head,

Lest I should break the spell the sound

Of horseshoes drumming on soft ground

For evermore must hold for me;

I dare not turn, lest I see there

Some casual horseman all unknown,

And not the boy with tossing hair

Who rides the downs of memory.

In the Small Hours

Prey to all the evil powers

Of the small black-hearted hours,

Wakeful in her bed she lay

Longing for the blink of day

And the dawn-song of the lark;

Though yet fearful of what morn

Held for a world, battle-torn;

When there shivered through the dark

The sharp-edged and eerie crying

Of a lych-owl in the park.


And that crying seemed to her

Fraught with all the sinister

Cruelty that ever drives

Men’s hag-ridden hunted lives,

Till chance pounces, and they die:

Though again and yet again,

Clutching at the counterpane,

To allay the agony

Of her fluttering heart she murmured

“It is only a bird’s cry!”

And Now He Stumbles On . . .

And now he stumbles on, a boy once more

Among the slippery mangolds, crisped and hoar

With sparkling rime—the heavy gamebag slung

About his shoulder, and his nostril stung

With icy tang and reek of fur and feather

Warm bloody carcases and perished leather—

Then pauses, as, now overhead

A covey whirrs, and one by one

The partridge tumble dead

About him, slaughtered by his father’s gun. . .


He had always loathed that slaughter—and yet he,

A bearded stripling, dressed in jungle-green,

Seeking to outwit enemies unseen,

Now bears a gun, himself, as, blunderingly,

He slithers through the swamp in tropic rain;

Condemned by forces terrible and blind

To slaughter or be slain,

A killer of his kind—

He, whose dumb boyish heart could never find

The bitter words

To voice his pity for those stricken birds!

The Snake

Out of the lush green brake

The coiling snake

In its sleek panoply

Of rich reticulated bronze and jade

Slithers; and, scarce awake,

The soldier watches, unafraid,

Who for five years has been outfacing death

In all its violent variety.

The Islander

A lad, he had longed to leave

His native isle,

And venture out into the world that lay

Beyond the severing waters of the kyle:


But, now that war has borne

Him oversea

Further than ranges of his wildest dream,

His heart knows only one desire, to be

Secure at home within

The little isle,

Cut off for ever from a crazy world

By the swift races of the severing kyle.

The Jaws of Death

Barely has he escaped

The alligator’s jaws:

And now upon the margin of the swamp

He makes a pause

To gain his breath,

Glad to elude that brutal death;

And then

Into the jungle plunges, after all,

Only to fall

Trapped in an ambush by his fellow men.

Now He is Digging Sheep . . .

Now he is digging sheep

Out of a fellside drift where, crouching low

In the soft smother buried deep

They huddle under hummocked snow:

And, as he digs, the sweat

Streams down his face:

He digs and digs, and yet

Comes on no trace

Of his lost flock. . .

Then, in the tropic night,

He wakens with a shock

From troubled sleep;

And lies repining in the humid heat

For Northern icy airs and the cold light

Falling on dazzling folds of crystalled white.

The Can

An old tin can is glittering in the sun

Beyond the heaped-up corpses of the dead:

And, as it holds his eyes, into his head

Flashes the vision of some ancient man,

Long after the last battle’s lost, and won,

And all the slain have sunk into the soil—

Some ancient man, grown old in peaceful toil,

Turning the mould and digging up that can

Again to glitter in the morning sun.

The Morass

His tank had stuck,

Bogged deep in the morass—

A stationary target—just his luck!

And, when the guns should get the range, like glass

They’d shatter it, or, leastways, knock it out,

Battered like an old kettle kicked about

From boy to boy across the grass

Of his old village-green . . . And he, well he

Was too done-in to worry; and, seemingly,

For evermore would be

Just part of the morass.

The Butterfly

Out of the swamp into the chequered light

Down the green jungle-glade

A huge flamboyant butterfly

Like the fantastic creature of a dream

Flutters in brilliant flight

Before his dazzled eyes:

And, as he gazes at it in surprise,

’Twould almost seem

To him that, from the reeking slough of war,

One day may yet arise

Some flame-winged vision of new loveliness

To lead men from the despond of distress.

The Craneman

The travelling crane halts, and into the mould

The tilting ladle pours

The molten steel;

And, as the whitehot glare

Scorches his face and hair,

The craneman’s heart turns cold

Within his breast as, in the glow,

He sees a wave-washed tanker, battling on

In swirls of icy spray and snow

Through Arctic waters to far Russian shores,

And his young son, so lately gone

On convoy-duty, even now

Half-frozen at the wheel.

The Dead Fish

About the boat

Upon the oily green

The dead fish float,

Killed by depth-charges when the submarine

Was shattered—fish, fantastic and obscene

Blind creatures of the ooze, from ocean-night,

After long ages of obscurity

In the primeval quiet of deep sea,

By man’s mad machinations brought to light.

Mountain Death

Forced to bail out above the Alps, they quit

One after one the burning plane, and float

Down through dense cloud, escaping death by fire,

Only on icy pinnacle and spire

Caught in their parachutes to wait for death,

Dangling in snowy solitudes, remote

From all they loved in life, and yield their breath

In sobbing gusts of agony


The inexorable chill

Freezes their youthful bodies, doomed to be

Congealed in icy immortality.


After uneasy tossing in the night,

On even keel the craft rides easily

The dwindling swell of the subsiding sea

Through little chattering waves that sparkle bright,

Rejoicing in the early April light:


And, as, down through the mine-sown straits we run,

Looking towards the opal-misted strand,

With brooding heart upon the deck I stand,

Forlorn in the cold brilliance of a sun

Creating a new world, from darkness won:


When over the dream-dim Sicilian shore

The veils divide and in the dawning glow

The peak of Etna, virginal in snow,

Above grey puffs that from her craters pour

In austere loveliness is seen to soar


In quietude, a lone aloof white crest

That only, when the clouds an instant part,

Consolingly to man’s war-tortured heart,

Stilling the lava-passions of his breast,

Reveals the vision of eventual rest.


Now he recalls

Tantallon Castle with its ruined walls,

Remembering how, an eager boy

Rambling that Northern shore,

Filled with the ecstasy of waking life,

He had wondered why in ancient strife

Mankind had battled, seeking to destroy

Each other’s homes and sap security

In senseless siege of the exultant towers

That other hands had built in soaring pride . . .

Yet now, he, too, caught up in war

And carried oversea,

Storming this Southern mountainside,

Is set on like destruction, to hurl down

The embattled walls of this Sicilian town.

The Kill

He saw a figure crouching in the crags,

And fired; then charged with bayonet fixed, to find

That writhing body, slumped behind

A boulder on the rocky shelf,

Was his own self.

Always an Easy Temper . . .

Always an easy temper—and so he

Even to battle went lightheartedly:

But, when his friend fell, he with furious breath

In whitehot anger hurled himself on death.

The Orange

He plucks an orange from a tree,

Plucks it, and marvels much that he

By war’s odd chance should come to be

In this strange land where oranges

Hang ripe on orchard trees.


And, gazing at that golden sphere,

His thoughts whisk back full many a year—

And, now, a boy, quite sharp and clear

He hears wheels grind crisp Christmas snow,

And draws an orange from the stocking-toe.

The Ticking Watch

He holds his wristwatch to his ear

And listens to time ticking out

The seconds, as the hour draws near—

The zero-hour, when he

May chance to be

Hurled into timeless and unmeasured


While still upon his pulseless wrist his watch

Ticks on regardlessly.

The Home

He looks upon the rubble that has been

Once a Sicilian home, with troubled eyes . . .

And then, in dream, he sees,

Beneath the Coolins in the Hebrides,

A little croft that crests a heathered rise—

A low thatched croft with whitewashed walls that hold

His heart’s desire still in security:

Then, turning from that brief

Vision of peace, he shares the bitter grief

Of this outcast Sicilian family.

The Lava

Watching the lava-stream

Out of Vesuvius pour,

In the hot lurid gleam

Of molten death that threatens

The hillside homes, he only sees one more

Tributary to the tide

That sweeps this Southern land from side to side.

The Goldfish

Beneath the flaring of the shell-shot sky,

In the stone basin of the fountain lie

The ageless carp with quivering gold fins,

Indifferent to the transient despair

In which man’s generations fight and die.

The Rainbow

The bloody battle many days ago

Swept to the mountain-passes; and the plain

Is strewn with corpses, rotting in the rain,

The huddled heaps of the untimely slain,

Spanned by the quivering cold lucency

Of timeless heaven’s evanescent bow.

Down from the Apennines . . .

Down from the Apennines the snow-fed waters

Roar, and the soldier now with quickening blood

Recalls the brawling of fell-burns in flood;


And, gazing on the turbid hurly-burly

Of tawny waters flashing into foam,

For a glad instant almost feels at home


Among his Northern hills—no more an exile

In a strange country, and no longer pines

For his loved Pennines, in the Apennines.


Until his death, she had never even heard

The name of that old town in Italy:

But now for ever that strange foreign word

For her is coupled in his memory


With Kielder, where her lover first drew breath,

And little thought to leave his North Tyne home,

And in outlandish mountains meet his death,

Battling with Germans on the road to Rome.


Yet now, since, sailing to that Southern coast,

He has fallen in the hazard of the war,

Her heart must flit with his uneasy ghost

’Twixt Kielder and Cassino evermore.

The Almond Trees

The almond trees against far peaks of snow,

First rosy flames of the quick-kindling Spring,

In vivid loveliness

Flicker and glow,

And to his spirit bring

A momentary solace as he gazes;

And waken in his heart, that long

Has blundered through the mazes

Of horror and distress,

A sudden burst of song.

He Took Life Easy . . .

He took life easy in the days of peace

And never of its worst made much ado:

So, when chance caught him in the thick of fight,

He took death easy, too.

The Calvary

He lifts his eyes, to see

Upon the craggy height

The tortured figure, crudely carved in wood,

That in the sunset-light

Seems now to stream with freshly-flowing blood;

When, even as he gazes, a stray shell

Shatters the calvary.

The Wedding Ring

The ring slipped from her finger suddenly

As she was drawing water from the well;

And, as down the dark shaft it fell,

Her heart fell with it—and she knew that he,

Her husband, fighting in far Italy,

Had dropped in death that instant; and their life

As man and wife,

Caught in the casual chances of the war,

Had vanished with the ring for evermore.

The Outpost

When the call came to them, from far and wide

They answered, leaving scattered homes—yet died

Together, when the outpost fell at last,

As brothers, side by side.

The Prisoner

He stands, exhausted and bewildered,

But still with hot heart on blind murder set,

While, grinning, his disarming captor

Proffers a cigarette.

The Tenement

He climbs and climbs the stair

To reach the room in the high tenement

Where she awaits him; flight on flight,

With lungs that labour in the stifling air,

He climbs and climbs through an unending night,

Climbs in despair

Of ever coming there,

Until, with spirit spent,

He sinks . . . and wakens on the mountainside,

Lying with shattered limbs; while far and wide

Ranging from hill to hill

The battle rages still

With roar and flare.

The Sea Shell

Crossing the Anzio strand,

He picked up a sea-shell of pearly hue;

And, as he held it in his hand

And looked on its fantastic whorls, he knew

How glad his little girl would be

To add it to her treasury

Of sea-shells gathered on the Northern shore,

If only he might live to bring

This fragile lovely thing

Home to her from the war.

The Song

Now in the gusty tent,

While the storm threshes down the mountainside,

The poet strives to write

The song that through the hubbub of the fight

Hummed in his head—

The song of early days of lost delight,

Before the battle-tide,

Sweeping the world, in crashing chaos drowned

All that he loved—the song that still shall sound

His joy in other ears when he is dead.

The Plough

Beside the smouldering farmstead he finds now,

Stuck in a furrow, an abandoned plough,

And longs to drop his weapons, and to hold

The stilts and drive the coulter through the mould,

Doing once more the job he loved of old.

The Lizard

With a quicksilver quiver through the stones

A lizard flicks in sight;

And he feels something of a boy’s delight

To see that little slip of urgent life

Going about its breathless business,

Unconscious of the deadly strife.

The Pillbox

Of old, behind a chemist’s counter he

Served customers with draughts and pills

And powders to alleviate their ills:

But now, as battle flares

To fury, he, among the snowbound hills

Of Southern Italy,

Within a concrete pillbox busily

Serves other customers with other wares.

The Rats

Their pinpoint eyes aglint in cold moonlight,

The brown rats scramble from their holes at night,

Rejoiced that man’s mad slaughtering should yield

So rich a banquet on the stricken field.

The Clerk

In civil life, he drove a patient pen

On smooth white ledger-pages, harmlessly:

Now up the rough road of a mountain-glen

He drives a fell machine to cancel men.

The Monk

Kneeling within his cell,

The monk was praying when the fire-bombs fell;

And so his soul, maybe,

Evaded tedious purgatory—

Rapt straight to heaven from hell.

The Kid

He hears a bleating, and looks up, to see

A tethered nanny-goat, wild-eyed,

On a green shelf of the steep mountainside,

Nuzzling the still white carcase of her kid,

Slain by the random shot

Of some far sniper, hid

Down in the rocky glen:

And now remorsefully

He wonders it should be the lot

Of that young innocent life

To fall, a victim to the insane strife

Of murderous men.

The Shadow

Reaching the crest, laved in the sunset-glow

He sees his shadow thrown across the snow

Of a far hillside; and it seems to be

The helmed shadow of the god of war

Defiling nature’s pristine purity.

The Revenant

The ceilings sag, the rafters, thrust awry

On tilted joists; through chinks in riven walls

Filters the bleak light of the Winter sky;

And fitfully the flaking plaster falls;


Casement and door, on hinges wrenched askew,

’Twixt crooked jamb and lintel idly flap

In every gusty draught, that shudders through

The desolated rooms, with startling clap:


While he who built this house, and little dreamt

Winged enemies should wreck its homely pride,

Who all his life still kept it trim and kempt

As on the day he brought to it his bride,


From the forgetful quiet of the tomb

Recalled to his old home by its distress,

Uneasily from room to shattered room

Rambles in memory-anguished restlessness.

The Birds Return

The cuckoos call and swallows slice the blue

On sickle-wings, returned anew

From Africa; but he, who sailed, before

Their Autumn flight, towards that Southern shore.

Comes back no more.


The cuckoos in her brain drum death’s tattoo,

And those sharp swallow-wings cut through

Her very being, cleaving her heart’s core . . .

The birds return: but from that fatal shore

He comes no more.

The Face

Over the bow in the wreckage he caught

A moment the glimmer of tangled gold hair;

And, stooping yet lower, he looked on a face

That gleamed in the flotsam, foam-cold and foam-fair—


A face that had come through the fury of storm

And the fury of fight and of man’s treachery,

To dream in the dawnlight serenely awhile,

Till it sank in the untroubled ooze of deep sea:


And, though bright be the glances and merry the smiles

Of the girls in the village, he passes them by—

Still held in his heart by the glimpse of a face

That floated in peace beneath the dawn-sky.

The Respite

Crouched at the coppice-edge with tommy-gun,

Closely he scans the bracken-covered brae

That basks and shimmers in the morning sun,

Alert lest sudden-tossing fronds betray

The lurking of an enemy in the dense

Green brake; his body tingling with suspense

In every fibre and each sense

Whetted by hazard to a razor-keen

And quickened apprehension: when, aware

Of a familiar fragrance in the air,

His nostrils quiver with delight, and he

Relaxes, as into the sheltering green

He thrusts a hand and eagerly

Draws down long dangling honeysuckle sprays

Still dewy, and breathes in with bliss intense

Recovered sweets of early innocence;

And, for a moment tranced in memory,

Forgets all the outrageous violence

And murderous madness of hate-harried days—

A moment; then, refreshed, with sharper sight

Searches the sun-glazed hill

Whose bracken-thicket still

Shimmers unstirring in heat-rippled light.

Down the Glen

“Why do you still go traipsing down the glen

Day after day?”


“I’m only following the pathway Ben

Took, when he went away.”


“Better to keep on working; so that you

Forget the dead.”


“Maybe—but what is left for me to do.

Since I’ve made up his bed?”

The Summons

In dream she seems to feel the clasp

Of his strong fingers on her own—

Then shrinks, to find her hand held in the grasp

Of fleshless bone


And hear a voice “Though lone you lie,

Bereaved, in the wide bed, more lone

Lies he beneath the Libyan sky,

Stript to the bone:


And he, who shared your sleep with you,

Flesh of your flesh, now claims his own

True love to share his slumber—true

Bone of his bone.”

Embarkation Leave

Arrived on leave too late the night before

To visit his old workshop, now he turned

The key of the shed; and, thrusting wide the door,

In the cold light of the Winter dawn discerned,

Propped up on chocks on the hard earthen floor,

The keel of the ketch he had laid in happier days,

Before the world crashed to catastrophe,

And he had been called up. And, as he caught

Again the chips’ keen tang of turpentine

With relish, his bright eyes with loving gaze

From swerving bow to sternpost of red pine

Followed once more the graceful sweeping line

From which the curved ribs branched, that, skilfully,

With sharp adze he had shaped, without a thought

That he might never even live to see

His dream-boat take the tide. And, as a gull

Greeted with sudden skirl the rising sun

Above the shed, he looked with deep distress

On the unfinished shapely skeleton

Of his desire, to think another’s hand

Should cut the strakes and warp them for her hull

And fix the booms and rigging; and that he,

Himself, might never launch her from the strand

And proudly step the masts and bend the sails

To take the breeze.

To take the breeze.And then warm thankfulness

Surged through his heart with hope that, anyhow,

His leave would let him work upon her now

For two whole days, and handle happily

His tools, instead of weapons; and, as he

Wrought at his bench, with the familiar wails

Of gulls and the loved murmur of the sea

Filling his ears, he might ignore awhile

The business of destruction and of death,

Doing his own true job. So, eagerly

Drawing into his lungs the living breath

Of dawn, he picked his plane up with a smile.

The Match

He strikes a match to light a cigarette;

And, at the flicker, something in his mind

Rekindles: and, amazed he could forget

One who had been so kind,

He now recalls how night and day,

When, sorely wounded, in the ward, half-blind

And helpless, swathed in bandages he lay,

She had served him hand and foot. And now again,

As through a surge of pain,

He sees her russet head

While she beside the bed

Leans over him to light

That first consoling cigarette—

Amazed he could forget,

Forget that night!

And yet,

Even then he had hardly been aware

Of the light glinting on her red-gold hair

And little flames reflected in her eyes

As they looked into his . . . Ay, he had been blind

Then, and until this instant, when the scratch

And flicker of a match

Rekindles his dull mind—

Blind, till this instant, blind!


Last year in sunshine she was plucking flowers,

Snapping the juicy stalks of daffodils:

Now in the factory-glare through endless hours

Case after case she fills.


The blooms she picked for market brought delight

And gladdened strangers with their golden bells:

For strangers, too, she handles day and night

Far other offerings—shells!

The Broken Pipe

He’d broken his good briar, his constant friend,

And one he had thought would see him to the end:

Blown by the blast against the warehouse wall,

Staggered by shock, somehow he had let it fall.

’Twas bad luck, surely—his familiar pipe,

Grown old with him, so mellow, brown and ripe—

Bad luck, bad luck . . . And something in his head

Burned like a redhot coal; and spots of red

Were sparking in his eyes . . . He must stoop down

To save the broken bits, though he should drown

In the red tide that surged against his chest . . .

He must stoop down; and, after, he could rest

When all the bits were safe . . . his oldest friend—

He’d known . . . he’d known ’twould see him to the end.

The Home Bird

She knew that he was home, that he was lying

Safely asleep in bed:

She couldn’t climb the stair, herself, to see,

Not these days, with her crippled knee,

Not even if he were dying

Or lay dead. . .

“Dead!”—that was what they said—

They said that he was dead,

Had died in battle: but, how could that be?

He’d never held with fighting, John—and he,

Always the home-bird! Such a tale to tell!

And to his mother, too! And shouldn’t she

Know if her son were sleeping safe and well?

The Leather Jerkin

Far from his home and all familiar things

The lonely stripling on the foreign shore

Keeps sentry, watching with bewildered eyes

The Aurora leaping in the Northern skies

In quivering flames of icy green and blue;

And shudders at the strangeness as he stares:

And then, though bitingly the snell wind stings,

The thought some comfort to his young heart brings—

Though home be far from him, at least he wears

The leather jerkin that his father wore

When he in old days did his duty, too.

The Dance

Lads and lasses in service-dress

Dancing, dancing,

With lively limbs and gay eyes glancing

Dancing to lilting rhythms, entrancing

Minds overworn with the strain and the stress

Of shattering days and nights,

Into a dream of unchallenged delights

Dancing, dancing!

The Little Room

The wings of doom

Hover above

The little room

That holds our love:


Yet, though death fall

From out the night

And shatter all

Our life’s delight,


Calm and strong-willed

We’ll meet our doom,

Whose love has filled

The little room.

The Stack of Straw

On his last leave, though he was tired,

He had turned to with the rest and helped to build

The stack of straw; and, in his battle-dress,

Forked the dry rustling gold and packed it tight—

The stack of straw that, on the very night

When he was killed,

Patrolling the far Libyan wilderness,

Went up, self-fired,

In a wild blaze of furious heat and light.

The Old Love

I fancied I at last

Had wooed him from the sea,

To hold him happily

For ever safe and fast

At home with me.


But when the curse of war

Fresh hazards to the sea

And seamen brought, then he

Could rest in peace no more

At home with me:


And to the calling tides

Of his old love, the sea,

He answered eagerly;

And only heartbreak bides

At home with me.

The Hero

Life broke all promises: and gave, instead,

Death for his daily bread;

And he with every breath

Drew in the reek of death:

Life broke all promises; yet, as he died,

He snatched in triumph all life had denied.

The Lustre Jug

To-day my duster caught his favorite jug

And sent it smashing to the floor;

And, as its lustred splinters, littering

The flagstones, held my eyes, I thought—No more

From its broad spout he’ll pour

The amber frothing ale into a mug—

And, listening to his linnet twittering,

I stood, still dazzled by the glittering,

And murmured to myself half-crazily—

“No more, no more his hand will pour

The amber ale when he . . . if he

Should come back from the war.”

The Little Copse

So, it was gone—they wrote—the little copse

Of silver-birches by the singing stream,

Shrivelled to ash by chance incendiaries—

The little copse, so full of memories

Of childhood’s games and laughter! Yet, in dream,

Driving through swirls of blinding searing sand

Of this hell-burning land,

Still through its April leafy flickering

He sees the white boles in cool sunlight gleam,

While startled squirrels set the boughs aswing.

The Cancelled Leave

I watched the passengers alighting

From the belated train;

And anxiously my glance kept flitting,

Kept flitting to and fro

From face to face, in vain:


No eyes met mine in recognition;

And, when all had gone past,

I realised his leave was cancelled—

That Death, the new C. O.,

Had taken charge at last.

In the Dead of the Night

Lying awake

In the dead of the night,

He hears the far roar

Of aircraft in flight


And the skirl and the thud

Of bombs plumping down

On the houses and shops

Of the old market-town;


And, troubled, recalls

How he, as a boy,

Set out each September

With heart full of joy


To spend a great day

At the Michaelmas Fair,

When the stalls and the swings

Filled the old Market Square:


And, living again

That early delight,

He grieves for the town

In its pitiful plight—


The town that of old

Was his city of dream:

And now through his head

The bombs hurl and scream;


And his heart is consumed

By the fury and heat,

As the old houses crumble

In every loved street,


And it shrivels to ash,

Forlorn in the glare

Of the terror that rains

On the old Market Square.

Desert Night

What do you see as you pace the night

To and fro

On sentry-go?

The full moon trancing with light

Cheviot silvered with snow!


What do you smell as you pace the night

On sentry-beat

With burning feet?

Redesdale in morning light

Foaming with meadowsweet!


What do you hear as you pace the night

Of breathless fear

With straining ear?

The roar of the frothing white

Lasher of Otterburn weir!

She Watches on the Shore

She watches on the shore,

Blinded by spindrift, though no craft could ride

The swirling surf of the rampageous tide;

And, at the ending of the bitter night,

Finds at her feet in daybreak’s callous light

Only a broken oar.


The drift, a good three-feet at the doorsill—

And she must dig herself out now! How he

Had always loved to clear away the snow,

Driving the shovel deep and heftily

Heaving it over the half-buried wall

With easy swing and sweltering cheeks aglow!


Ay, she must dig herself out presently—

A job she did not care about at all,

A slow backbreaking job for her . . . while Will

In a far sunscorched land

Was even now, maybe,

Digging his tank out of the silted sand.

The Silver Cup

She burnishes the silver cup

He won for the half-mile;

Then carefully she sets it up

Beneath the shade of speckless glass

That seems to twinkle mockingly,

As with a smile

To think that she

Should still be limping after death

With troubled breath,

While at the goal her son

Already rests beneath the grass,

His race well run.

Hill Music

He climbs the benty brae

Above Crag Lough where, rambling many a day

In boyhood, he had rejoiced to hear the crake

Of mallard and teal alighting on the lake

That lapped the pillared basalt, and the call

Of curlew in the quaggy slacks that lay

North of the Roman Wall—

Curlew whose fluting seemed to utter all

His young heart’s inarticulate ecstasy:

And now, on his last leave, again he hears

Those voices of old years

That pierce him to the core

As, with a new intensity

He listens, lest it chance that he

Should hear that wild hill-music nevermore.

The Night Grows Late . . .

The night grows late;

Yet he does not return:

And, crouching by the glowing grate,

She strains to hear the clanging of the gate

Above the brawling of the burn in spate—


She strains to hear

Above the brawling of the burn

The yard-gate clanging sharp and clear:

And, as the dark hours pass and day draws near,

The hope within her bosom chills to fear.


The night grows late;

Yet he does not return:

The cinders smoulder in the grate,

And lower sounds the swiftly-dwindling spate—

Yet only the wind rattles the shut gate.

His Word

He swore he’d never leave me, come what might;

Yet broke his word.

If he were captured, or fell in the fight,

I never heard.


He went; and comes no more—but from my heart

He has not stirred,

Who, bidding me farewell, yet, for his part,

Has kept his word.

The Curtains

As his hand draws apart the thick curtains to let in the light,

He looks for the last time, it seems, on his own countryside

And watches a kestrel that hovers in glittering height

Over the fells where, but for the war, he would ride

Through gossamered dew-sparkled bracken and blossoming ling;

And though he rejoices at first to hear the lark sing

As of old on such mornings, a shadow swoops over his eyes

As a presage of quick-coming doom steals into his heart;

And it seems that already in slumber unwaking he lies

In a chamber whose curtains of darkness no hand draws apart.

The Broken Tether

He had mended it again, the silver chain—

His earliest token

Of love for her, that she so carelessly had broken—

His skilful hand had mended it again.


But now that death had snapt the living chain—

The golden tether

That through untroubled years had held their hearts together—

What mortal hand could make it good again?

He came to Her that Night

He came to her that night

Of wind and sleety rain

When gust on gust the tempest

Assailed the pane.


With dark eyes glinting bright

He stood beside the bed,

A wan unearthly glimmer

About his head:


And suddenly his lips

Moved, and he seemed to speak;

When the wind lashed more wildly

With frantic shriek


Against the house, and drowned

His accents as they fell:

And she but caught the murmur—

“I always meant to tell. . .”


As, rushing down the dale,

Yet louder raged the storm:

And now she saw no longer

That shadowy form:


And when the morning broke

Behind the blinded pane

She listened to the patter

Of pelting rain


Wondering if in the end

His heart to her were true:

But what he came to tell her

She never knew.

The Waters of the Tyne

When last he watched the waters of the Tyne

With a boy’s heart fulfilling its delight

In the tumultuous singing and the shine

Of choral hillborn waters, amber-bright,

How little he

Imagined through what spates of misery,

Crashing in swirling horror day and night,

His soul must plunge in the ensuing years—

How little his heart conceived what cruelty,

Latent within the world’s heart even then,

Should shatter in an hour the ecstasy

Of living, while his frenzied fellowmen,

Hag-ridden by dark dreams and frantic fears,

Lured on to self-destruction, headlong hurled,

In a blind fury wrecking their own world!


Yet, still the amber waters of the Tyne

Greeted the day with singing and with shine. . .

The Gift

And she had given him

The little nickel torch

That he had carelessly,

As he approached the porch,

Switched on that he might see

The steps—the nickel torch,

Her birthday gift, whose light

Drew death from out the night.

The Chimneystack

He sees the old familiar chimney-stack

Flourish its reek aloft

Above the little croft

To welcome him from foreign-service back:


And, as he climbs the last stiff heather-brae,

The tang of kindled peat

Is wafted down to greet

The old campaigner on his homeward way:


And he recalls how often in far lands

In dreaming mirage he

Had seemed to smell and see

The home-reek rising from the burning sands.

The Letter

Over mine-sown, torpedo-shuttled deeps,

Undaunted by dive-bombers swooping low

And all the old storm-perils of the sea,

Some ancient tub has laboured hardily,

And, winning into haven, brought to me

In this frail envelope as white as snow

Word of your welfare and your thought of me—

Over dark wastes where danger never sleeps

And death for ever ranges day and night,

Safe in this envelope so frail and slight

Has brought your heart to me.

The Troth

She had broken with him just before he sailed:

Yet, though he had never heard

From her a single word,

When the last desperate attack had failed,

And he lay riddled-through,

Clearly beyond the surging gloom

He saw her, sitting lonely in her room;

And in a flash he knew

Her heart to him was true.

It Always Was His Pride . . .

It always was his pride to be

The first to hear the curlew call

At blink of day or evenfall

When April brought them from the sea.


The curlew call unceasingly

Day after day, for him in vain. . .

O come September quick again

And send them flying back to sea!


Through all his days, as boy and man

From door to door he’d driven his van,

Delivering bread for folk to eat;

And he had earned through many a year

Barely the means enough to rear

His family of boys. . .

His family of boys. . .Now they

In some strange country far away,

Some starving stricken land, maybe,

For all he knew of them, lay dead,

Or dying, even now, while he

Still went from street to street

Delivering bread.

The Last Flight

At last the broken body slept

Beneath the shattered plane;

And straight the starry spirit leapt

To take the air again

On wings of flashing light and swept

Beyond the bounds of mortal night.

Border Watch

All night the roaring of the force

That threshes down the narrow ghyll

Has thundered through his head until

Half-dazed he drowses on the hill:


And he is scarcely startled when

In the full moonshine there appears

A band of reivers, armed with spears

And swords and bows of other years:


And, as an instant through his veins

Runs the old Border-blood, full-spate,

He turns to rouse before too late

The dales to meet the hordes of hate:


Then laughs, to think himself a ghost

Of his forebears who, man by man,

Kept watch and ward, when, clan on clan,

Scots thieves the Border over-ran.

The Cheerful Blaze

With sleepy eyes and drowsy minds adaze

The farmhands sat about the cheerful blaze

Within the ingle, relishing the heat

After long labour in the soaking sleet

Throughout the bitter February day;

And little dreamt the log-flames, leaping red

Up the wide chimneystack, would serve to show

In the black night a tell-tale glow

To the lone raider, prowling over head,

And so to sudden death give them away.

The Watch

The watch I had given him he lost

The night before he left; and he

Was worried, thinking what it cost—

The money wasted that I’d spent;

And how, without it, he would be

Always uncertain how time went

And never sure if he were late:

And, as I saw him to the gate,

His last words were “I cannot think

How I mislaid it!”

How I mislaid it!”Yesterday

I found it, slipped into a chink

Between the bed-head and the wall—

Too late, too late! for, where he lies

With slumber-sealed unworried eyes

In a strange country far away

Time never troubles him at all.

The Fluttered Doves

When the bomb fell, the fluttered doves

About the dovecote circled in affright,

Tossing and tumbling in the starry night

Whose glitter on their flashing pinions gleamed;

Then one by one took courage to alight

And go to roost once more; but little dreamed

The whistling boy who scattered golden grain

Would never call them from their cote again.

The Desolate Heart

Now she must see to the black-out, before

She switches on the light, though she,

If only her own safety were at stake,

Would scarcely take

The trouble to draw down a blind,

Even though the sky were full of flying death,

To save her useless body, now that he

Can come to her no more.


What matter, though a random bomb should break

Her limbs and stop her breath . . .

And might not she, perchance, awake to find

That death had torn apart

The curtains of her mind

And stripped grief’s black-out from her desolate heart?


As, in the derelict boat

That idly drifts in the soul-parching glare,

He gazes overside

With crazy stare

And burning throat,

He suddenly sees glass after glass

Of good ale, amber-clear,

Upon the sea afloat,

And frothing tankards ride

The salty swell: but when, with trembling fingers,

He stoops to snatch them from the tide,

One after one they pass

Beyond his reach and vanish into air;

While in his nostril lingers

Only a ghostly whiff of phantom beer.

The Link

She set the door ajar

And watched with memory-lighted eyes the star

Burning in beryl air above Hawk Scar:


And, as the lucency

Transfused her spirit with serenity,

She felt within her heart that oversea


He, too, in alien skies

Was even then watching the planet rise

With dark and quiet home-remembering eyes


And they, though severed far,

Were linked still by the solace of the star

They loved to watch of old above Hawk Scar.

The Blind Man

Beneath collapsing skies,

Half-stunned, with sightless eyes,

Awhile he stands;

Then seeks with groping hands

And numbly-fumbling feet

To find a safe retreat

From smashing bomb and shell—

Puzzled that men with sight

Whose eyes were blest with light

Should turn the world to hell;

And that their hearts should be

Stone-blind with treachery.

The Crest

He had always meant to climb

Helvellyan and from its high scarp look down

On the grey houses of his native town,

Huddled in its green dale: and, as the train

Steams from the station, and he sees the sun

Gilding the naked ridges after rain,

He knows his eyes have looked for the last time

On that familiar steep; yet vows, when war is done,

His spirit, enfranchised in peace newly-won,

Shall seek its lasting rest

On that austere hill-crest.

And This, the End . . .

And this, the end—to lie

Under a brazen sky,

Adrift in a boat, while one by one

His mates about him die—

His shipmates one by one

Perish, cursing the sun—

The sun that in a brazen sky,

A lidless white unblinking eye,

Watches with pitiless stare

His mates that one by one,

Their lips burnt black in the salty glare,

With wordless curses die!


Flesh of my flesh

And bone of my bone,

In a far country

He fights all alone.


Blood of my blood

And mind of my mind,

He fights with good comrades,

But none of his kind:


He fights with good comrades;

Yet fights all alone

’Mid strangers who know not

The things he has known—


The home of his heart;

The light on the lawn

When gossamers quiver

With dews of the dawn;


The way the flames dance

On the Winter hearthstone

And gladden the faces

Of folk of his own;


His bonnie bay mare;

The dog he loves best;

The voice of the river

That sang him to rest.


Flesh of my flesh

And bone of my bone,

In a far country

He fights all alone.


I fill the shells all day,

While somewhere far away

He mans a gun to keep

The enemy at bay:

And, even when at night

I snatch uneasy sleep,

I share with him the fight;

And in my heart I pray

That in some desperate stand

On the sheer brink of hell

Some shell filled by my hand

May serve him well.

The Tarn

He dives in a mountain-tarn,

Bottomless, cold as death;

Then struggles once more to the light

With fluttering breath;


And, shivering, with limbs of ice

In the tingling Northern air,

Towels his body and shakes

The wet from his hair. . .


And then he awakes, to find

Himself in a nightmare land

Still battling against the hot blast

Of the scathing sand.

The Children

The children on the Common, gathering

Blackberries on a gold September day,

Pluck ripe fruit from each curving bramble-spray,

Laughing and chattering happily. . . .

When suddenly

On swooping wing

A Heinkel dives towards the ground

And spatters bullets all around;

Then, zooming, soars and goes upon its way. . .

And now no happy chattering

Gladdens the golden day.

The Lime

He always said, when he’d the time,

He’d lop the boughs that overhung

The window and shut out the light:

And it would worry him at night

When in the squalls of wind and rain

Against the house a low branch swung

And scrabbled twigs against the pane. . .


When he’d the time. . . when he’d the time. . .

Now with all time upon his hands

He’s sleeping somewhere oversea;

And worries naught about the tree,

Although on nights of wind and rain,

Unlopped, with lashing boughs it stands

And scrabbles twigs against the pane.


With shrill delighted cries

And sparkling eyes

And kindled cheeks aglow

The child plays in crisp crystalled snow—

The child whose heart is yet too young to know

Aught of the war, or how the Winter lies

Heavy as death on that strange Northern land

Where even now, maybe, in a last stand

With frozen limbs his father fronts the foe

In overwhelming drifts of fatal snow.

The Spar

Spent with the struggle in an icy sea,

He had almost given up when, luckily,

His fingers struck a drifting spar that swung

Within their reach, and tightly to it clung

Till he was rescued. . .

Till he was rescued. . .And now drowsily

He lies between warm blankets, wondering

In what far country grew the living tree

From which the baulk was hewn that chanced to bring

Life in his grasp again—in what far land

Had it been shaped, by whose unconscious hand,

Cunningly wielding axe and adze, that he

And it should come together in mid-sea?

Scorched Earth

The wheat that in his little patch he had sown

And watched in April springing green,

And with his hoe

Row after row

Had weeded clean,

Until, full-grown,

Long-strawed and plump of head,

He had rejoiced to see it stand,

The richest crop in all the land—

The wheat that he had cherished as his own

And hoped to garner—others came

And harvested with flame:

And now his treasure, charred and grey,

A waste of smoking ashes lay,

While he went hungry for a crust of bread.

The Hour

When the hour struck for him, although

’Twas tinkled and boomed out

From belfries all about,

I did not know—

I did not know that it was his last hour;

And, as it tolled from steeple and from tower,

I only grieved that time should go so slow—

Time that, for him, was gone for evermore,

Too fleetly flown!—and in impatience rose

To set ajar the door

For his return, the door

That his hand nevermore

Should open or close.

Under the Rowan

Under the rowan

He bade me farewell

When the berries were ruddy

Against the brown fell.


Under the rowan

I heard of his death;

And the sweet creamy blossom

Half-stifled my breath.


Under the rowan

Again burning red,

A year since we parted

I tryst with the dead.

The Fire

Now she, herself, must fetch the wood and coal

To start the kitchen fire, which always he,

Leaving her drowsing still, each morning lit

To make for her an early cup of tea.


Dear knows, she sorely missed that morning cup:

And she was but numb-fingered when it came

To fires; and always now the wood seemed damp;

And, damp or dry, ’twas hard to start a flame.


Ay, he’d a hand with fires, and other things—

Things she’d scarce noticed till they came to part:

And, lying wakeful in her lonely bed,

She longed to feel his hand upon her heart.


Well, it was over and done—

Over for him, at least:

For the battle still raged; and never he’d know

Who’d lost and who’d won

When it ceased—

And yet, could the heart in his breast

In cold indifference rest

If the triumphing feet of the foe

Trampled down all he loved best?

The Driver

Last year he drove in the Five Acre Field,

Glowing beneath unclouded English skies,

A tractor, reaping amber grain for bread—

The bread of life. This year, instead,

He drives a tank across strange lands that yield

Another crop—a sterile crop that lies

In dark swathes splashed with red.

The Victim

She worried sore lest he should fall

In a far-distant fight

And never come to her again:

And yet, that very night,

The victim of a raiding plane,

Crushed under a bomb-shattered wall

She lay; while he came safe through all.

One Hour

In time of peace afar

They dwelt apart, unknown;

But, when in total war

Nations were overthrown,

Together, from the strife

Caught up in chance’s net,

Beneath a wild red star

At last they met;

And, blending blood and breath,

One hour of reckless life

They snatched from death.

Her Son

She had to let him go,

Although the rending pain

Of his first coming tore her life again,

She had to let him go.

The Withered Branch

In the full-foliaged tree a withered branch,

Snapt by the tempest, droops its shrivelled leaves

That rustle overhead:

And, hearing them, the father quietly grieves,

Remembering his son, in battle dead.

The Quiet Heart

And now her heart was quiet, nevermore

To be torn, anguished, betwixt hope and fear:

For now she knew; and neither hope nor fear

Might trouble her dead heart for evermore.

The Family

A log whose rings record a century

May in a hundred minutes be consumed;

Yet even in briefer time this family

That had outlived tree after forest-tree

To perish in war’s holocaust was doomed.

The Test

He often wondered how he would meet

The test: yet, when the instant came,

All doubt was shrivelled in exultant flame

As he stood up to death

And rallied the retreat

With his last breath,

And, dying, kindled victory from defeat.

The Adage

Over and over again

The adage runs through her mind,

Beating a tune in her brain—

“Fast bind, safe find!”


For, though, when death wrenched them apart

He was lost to her at the last,

In the sanctuary of her heart

She holds him fast.

The Nurse

While bombs crash all about

And night is terror-torn,

Within the shattered home

She tends the labouring wife

And calmly fights for life

Till, in the house of death,

A child is born.

The Voyage

“I’ll see you without fail

Before you leave”—

He wrote; and little reckoned he,

Before the morning I was due to sail,

Should be embarked upon a lonelier sea;

And I, bereft,

The one life left

To grieve.

Heart of My Heart . . .

Heart of my heart, though you lie

In a grave unknown

Under an alien sky;

Though heavy your slumber and deep,

Know this, that you never may sleep,

Heart of my heart, alone.

Sole Survivor

“You were the sole survivor? All the rest,

When the ship struck the floating mine, went down?

You should thank God, who rescued you. . .”

You should thank God, who rescued you. . .”“And left

My mates to drown?”

The Lesson

God save us, when, the bread of life to earn,

To forge death’s weapons boys and girls must learn!


In wartime no one need be unemployed—

At least while aught is left to be destroyed.

The Category

A 1—and fit for anything—

Fit to live out man’s three-score-years-and-ten,

And then, again,

Fit to be killed within this very hour,

Caught in the murderous shower

Of a machine-gun’s random spattering.

The Dragons

’Twas “Once upon a time. . .” But now the war

Brings back again those fabled days of yore

And men may see with unastonished eyes

Fire-belching dragons roaring through the skies.

The Hit

Though many bombs were dropt on Little Dene

Before they fled our fighters hurriedly,

They only left behind one casualty,

The war-memorial on the village-green.

The Weathercock

Over the hill the sunlight on the vane

Had always held his eyes;

And loveliest it glanced when rainy skies

Let through a shaft to strike it gold again,


Pluming with light the challenging bright bird

Who gallantly would veer

To face the blast of Winter without fear,

Or idly twirled when Summer breezes stirred.


But now nor sun nor moon at any hour

Shall turn to silver or gold

The proud cock, lying broken in the mould

Beneath the rubble of the shattered tower.

The Alabaster Earl

The alabaster earl who lay

Beneath a gilded canopy

For century on century

Within the rich cathedral gloom,

Now on the wreckage of his tomb

Lies all exposed to common day.


He saw a sleek dark head

Beside him in the sea,

As, in the bombed ship’s wake,

He struggled pluckily:

And “What cheer, mate!” said he—

“So, you’ve been made to take

An extra bath, like me!”


“We’ve both been dipped” he said

“Together, you and me,

Though it’s not our bath-night—

A cold dip, too!” said he. . .

When, swiftly out of sight

The seal dived silently.

The Bland Face

The bland face in its frame

Of tarnished gilt still beamed

From the sole segment of the parlour-wall

That yet remained,

Smoke-smirched and water-stained,

When as bombs plunged and screamed,

The house went up in flame,

And in that fury all—

All else had perished—all

Save the bland face that in its frame

Of tarnished gilt still beamed.

The Vagrant

They have broken him in

With duties and drill,

Who all his life long

Has wandered at will;

And he marches in step

With the rest of the line,

Who rambled and shambled

Through shower and shine:

Yet, though with a bayonet

They teach him to kill,

With the hawk over Carter

His heart hovers still

Or lollops fleet-foot

With the hare overhill.

The Undertaker

So often, following his father’s trade,

Snug elm and oaken coffins he has made

To keep his fellowmen, when they were laid

To rest in earth, at least for a brief term,

Secure against the all-devouring worm:

Yet, unprotected on the desert stones

His own corpse lies, while vultures pick his bones.

The Spy

Reptiles he’d always feared; and, as he crept

Among the desert-scrub and chanced to lay

His fingers on a clammy coil that slept

Against a boulder, he let out,

Unwittingly a stifled shout—

When straight a bullet singing through the air

Shattered his temple; and he bit the grey

Hot desert-dust; but only half-aware

That his own kind had given him away.


When the house flared, it was too late to search

His treasures out; so, seizing the first thing

That came to hand, he rushed into the night:

And by the ashes in the morning light

He stands, his sole possession, a fluttering

And angry parrot screeching on its perch.


The unwanted poet’s works, in sheets unbound,

Stacked in a London warehouse, quire on quire,

At least did something to increase the blaze,

Even though they had failed to set the Thames on fire.

The Iron Days

The iron days, that, with sharp prongs of pain

Harrow our lives relentlessly, may serve

To break the clodded mould; that once again

The soil shall bear the green and living grain.

So Brief a Life . . .

So brief a life, and yet

Lived to the full, till death

Fired it to heaven-soaring ecstasy

With flaming breath!

The Heron

’Mid silver shallows of the moonlit mere

With plumage silver-chased the heron stands,

The spirit of that watery solitude,

Still in his memory, as on that old night;

And the calm image slakes with liquid light

His parching fear,

As now he marches on through torrid lands

With courage unsubdued.

His Letter

She takes his letter from its envelope

And reads his words with eyes that burn,

The cheery letter, full of hope

Of his return—

The letter that has only reached her since the brief

Official message came

To burn her heart up in a shrivelling flame;

And, as she reads his jesting words, she hears

His voice, that to her breast brings the relief

Of easing tears.

The Miller’s Pond

Had she the heart to go

Down to the Miller’s Pond, now she would see

The waterlilies in full blow,

As on the day when he and she,

Together, happily

Looked on those chalices of lucent snow;

And once again, maybe,

Out of the reeds in flashing flight

The kingfisher would dart,

The dazzling spirit of their young delight

Flickering to and fro

Above the dreaming pond’s tranquility

Of green and white—

Had she the heart to go,

Alone, had she the heart. . .

The Homecoming

The raft has stranded on the shingled beach

And in a shroud of foam

The dead man lies, who never thought to reach

Again his native shore—

The seas that held his living heart in thrall,

The seas to whose stern service he gave all,

The seas have borne him home,

Have brought him home once more.


On his last leave he planted in the lawn

A thousand bulbs: and in the light of dawn

She sees a thousand gold upthrusting spears

That stab her heart to tears.

The Invalid

It seemed that he through lingering years must lie

And give up life with slowly gasping breath;

When all at once wings swept the midnight sky

And cut life short with swift mechanic death.

The Cottage Garden

This little plot of soil

Held his heart’s love through all the evening hours

When he with patient toil

Won from the rich mould vegetables and flowers;

And now with faithful will,

Though in remembering eyes the quick tears start,

His widow turns to till

The garden into which he dug his heart.

The Summer Moon

He little thought that he

Should ever dread to see

The Summer moon ensilvering the tide

On a still stormless night,

Or that its lovely light

Should ever seem a treachery

Betraying him to slinking foes that glide

Beneath the glittering tranquility!

The Medal

A son they had, begotten of their love

To carry on their blood-stream, and to know

A fuller life than theirs, more free of risk—

A son they had, so short a while ago;

But now, a metal disk

Is all they have to show.


I think of that young life destroyed

In its high-flying youth that ranged the sky

In exultation. . .

In exultation. . .and hear, passing by,

A tapping stick, where, bent beneath the load

Of years, an old man dodders down the road.

The Weeping Beech

In the green gloom beneath the weeping beech

Of the college-garden with abstracted eyes

The convalescent soldier lies

In seeming peace—yet still he hears the screech

Of hurtling shells and the relentless roar

Of tanks, and sees on that far hostile shore

His comrades fighting still, and fervently

Longs once again to be

Sharing with them the hazards of the war.

The Cost

Only six planes,

In all were lost—

Official brains

Assess the cost,

As night by night

Flight after flight

On reckless raids

Across the sky

Our young sons fly

To death propelled

By whirring blades. . .


Only six planes,

In all, were lost—

Official brains

Assess the cost.

The Young Poet

Born to express his urgent sense of life

In living words whose breath

Should outlast death,

While yet he strove to utter the delight

Of earth-enchanted eyes,

Caught in the senseless strife,

Baffled he fell; and now he lies

Dumb in the night.

The Magpies

One for sorrow,

Two for mirth—

The magpies fly

Across the sky;

And, as she sees them passing by

Beyond the far hill-brow,

In the new desolation and the dearth

Of shattered life she knows that now

No omen may restore

Hope to her widowed heart for evermore.

Hareshaw Linn

At length the din

Of battle dulls in dying ears. . .

And now his spirit hears

Once more the well-remembered roar

Of Hareshaw Linn—

Of Hareshaw Linn at flood,

In snowfed torrent dashing down

From the high fells: and now the blood

From his young body seems to pour

And mingle with the gleaming brown

Untrammelled waters that ere long shall be,

Merged in the sweeping current of the Tyne,

Borne on towards the bitter brine

Of the oblivious sea.


He picks the bellows up and indolently

Puffs the expiring fire

Into reviving flame;

And wishes that he might as easily

Rouse with a breath

His dead desire

Of life, that crumbled instantly

To ashes, when the message came

Of his son’s death.

The Woodpecker

Waking at dawn within the ward, he hears

The sharp staccato rattle

Of a woodpecker on the hollow elm,

Like a machine-gun’s brattle:

And, as that tapping fills his ears,

He knows that nevermore

May he escape the memories of the war.


A moment since, the Winter sky

Was a serenity of starry light:

But now it roars with fury, as a flight

Of bombers booms towards the sea

And squadroned stars of red and green

Fantastically fly,

Ephemerally bright,

Across the startled heavens—till, presently,

The war-planes pass; and once again

In majesty serene

The eternal stars resume their ancient reign

In the cold azure of untroubled night.

And Still the Thrush Sings on . . .

And still the thrush sings on

That sang an hour ere dawn,

Before the messenger, with hasty feet

Spilling the dews

That glimmered on the lawn,

Brought the dread news—

The thrush sings on, to greet

The day, newborn,

The day that in a breath

Brought her heart’s death.

The Folly

On a high knoll was built

A picturesque sham ruin in old days

By the first owner, who could little guess

That even crasser foolishness

Should blast his lordly mansion to a blaze,

And that its pride should fall

In more fantastic ruin, after all.

Dandelion Down

She watches dandelion-down,

Seed-laden, drifting through the air. . .

And sees in agony acute

Her son drop with his parachute

Amid the barrage of a hostile town.


With model tank and bomber-aeroplane

The little boy plays in all innocence

Of how mankind destroys

All that makes life worth living, in insane

Infatuation with such deadly toys.

In the End

Throughout his days death seemed to be

The one inveterate enemy;

Yet, when life failed him in the end,

He found in death a bosom-friend.

The Last Leave

He nearly missed the train,

As he returned from leave

To go to sea again:


And, watching the cold rain,

She, who is left to grieve,

Murmurs in dull refrain


Again and yet again

Murmurs from dawn to eve—

“He nearly missed the train. . .”

The Canopy

Billow on languorous billow, the water about the frail craft

That, derelict, lazily drifted in the wash of the tropical sea

Broke, spraying in irised brilliance, as idly it wallowed and swung,

Over the motionless slumberers sprawled on the salt-lustred raft,

While in the blue incandescence of a heaven that blazed without breath,

Flashing on flickering pinions the shrill laughing herring-gulls hung

Weaving and interweaving a wavering white canopy

Above the nigh-foundering indolent waterlogged craft of death.

The House Martins

Wing-weary and with failing strength

After their stormy flight

By day and night

From Africa, the martins reach at length

Their English home, where, under cottage-eaves,

Year after year they built their nest of clay

And reared their little brood

Among thick clustering creeper-leaves,

Only to find the site

A fire-charred ashen grey

Bomb-devastated solitude.

The Golden Mile

As down the Golden Mile I strode

Between the ranked laburnums, all the while

My heart was with the men who’d walked that road

And watched those fountains of rejoicing gold

Tossing in sunlight of old April days:

And wondered, now, as over parched

Sun-blinded desert ways

Day after day they marched,

If still their hearts might hold

Some grateful vision of the Golden Mile.

For This?

Was it for this our love

Brought him to birth,

And toiled to feed his frame

With the good fruits of earth?


Was it for this we charged

His questing mind

With all the quickening lore

That poets have divined?


Was it for this we watched

His spirit’s fire

Kindle to flame and soar

In golden-winged desire?


For this—that he might yield

His eager breath

In desperate fight, and go

Before us down to death?

The Broken Bridge

The old bridge that for centuries

With slender bow had spanned the glen,

And whose smooth highroad served to ease

The back and forward journeys of

Far-faring and homecoming men

Among the boulders of the stream

A useless heap of rubble lies,

Destroyed in one night, as the dream

Of peaceful ways by which man hoped

To fare one day to paradise.

In Pride of Youth . . .

In pride of youth he stormed the ramped hillbrow,

Valiant for victory on the embattled height:

Yet now

His body, that rejoiced to feel the sun

Filling his veins with vigour, caught in death

And forced to yield its quick exultant breath

In that old half-forgotten fight,

Is but a skeleton

Clutching a rusty gun.


Down pours the rain;

And, as I hear it lashing at the pane,

I almost pray

That it may never cease

Until it flood all lands, and every shore

Be drowned in a new Deluge; and the old

Diseased world be washed clean and sweet again

Of human evil; and, in the clear and cold

Light of the virgin day,

The Ark of Righteousness shall rest at peace

On Ararat once more.

The Last Chapter

So quietly

The book had opened, and the story

Seemed but to promise a monotony

Of ventureless tranquility,

Laced here and there with comedy:

And little did he guess that he,

Before time’s hand should lay him on the shelf,

Should in the final chapter find himself

Involved in a world-tragedy—

That in the end his life should prove to be

A tale of terror, not untouched of glory.

The Salmon

Dazed by the thunder, dazzled by the glitter,

He sees them leap the lasher of the weir;

And muses how each year

The salmon leave the ocean’s salty surges

In silver-shining schools

And breast the waterfalls, to breed in quiet

Of still freshwater pools—


Musing, he watches, longing for the season

When men, too, weary of the battle-strife,

Will give up death, for life;

And quit the bitter seas of self-destruction,

To seek again the ways

Of peace and labour gladly in the quiet

Of full and fruitful days.

The Triumph

“That I should live to see such times” he said—

“The world collapsing in barbarity!

Well may we envy now the lucky dead

Who in a semblance of security

Lived out their lives and never knew the worst!”


Just then with flare and roar and crashing burst

The battle in fresh fury overhead:

And now he pondered “Ay, they never knew

The bitter worst—yet, something else missed, too,

Who drowsed, secure; and did not live to see

The spirit’s triumph in extremity;

’Mid stress of the last conflict flaming higher

Even than destruction’s all-consuming fire!

The Heart That Quivered

The heart that quivered at the touch of sorrow,

Now under blow on blow

Of tragedy no longer even winces,

Numbed to quiescence by the weight of woe—


Numbed by the worldwide misery that burdens

These black and bitter years—

And yet the sudden lilt of children’s laughter

May quicken it to tears.

The Old Moon

The old moon, haggard and cadaverous,

Hangs in the iron vault of Polar sky

That domes the snowy plain where corpses lie

Frozen to passionless frigidity,

Fallen enemy by fallen enemy,

Who late,

Locked in hot-blooded hate,

Shattered the icy peace with furious

Onslaught of mortal anger; till again,

Their frenzy spent, the old moon rose, to see

Immortal quiet reign

Once more unchallenged on the Polar plain.

O Wind!

Though I have always loved

Your murmur through the leaves,

Golden with quivering lights

On Summer eves;

And on black Winter nights

Rejoiced to hear you roar

Through threshing boughs, O Wind

Take pity now on me,

O Wind of Memory,

And blow no more!

The Raven

Stationed at the hill watching-post alone,

Amid the slush of snows that slowly melt,

He hears a raven, croaking on the stone

That marks the site

Of some half-legendary fight

Betwixt long-perished tribes of Pict and Celt:

And, though he knows

The bird is only welcoming

The coming of the Spring

And the near passing of the Winter snows,

Yet, now that war

Threatens the dales and hills

Of his beloved countryside once more,

That raucous croaking fills

His heart with cold foreboding and seems to be

The very voice of all calamity.

The Backward Glance

Pausing amid war’s bloody business,

He gives a hasty backward glance;

And for a moment stands as in a trance,

Staring into the old incredible years

When only ordinary hopes and fears

Troubled his usual happiness:

And then once more

He turns and desperately

He strains with anxious eyes

To peer into the future; but can see

Nothing of what yet lies

Beyond the fume and fury of the war:

And yet that backward glancing has instilled

His heart with hope old dreams may be fulfilled.

The New Washed Sheets

The new-washed sheets hang in the sun,

To virgin whiteness freshly won;

And she who toiled to make them white

Watches them flapping in the light

And wishes she

As easily

Might wash the old world clean and bright.

As the First Blackbird Sang . . .

As the first blackbird sang,

Into the deep dark well

Of his heart’s wordless grief

The clear notes fell

One after one, and, echoing,

Between the dank walls rang,

Until his heart to brief

Forgetfulness was stirred,

And with the happy bird

Began to sing.

England Aroused

Serenely sails the swan in proud pretence

Of bland indifference

Towards her fluffy brood

Of cheeping cygnets; yet, should foot intrude

On the lake’s marge, she bridles in defence;

And even the fox is eager to be gone

Before the icy fury of the swan—

Plumes arched in anger, and far-darting bill

Whipping and snapping on the snaky neck;

And slashing pinions lashing to a froth

The tranquil waters. . . .

The tranquil waters. . . .So, in the lassitude

Of armistice, it seemed that England still,

Forgetful of her dreams, indifferently

In foolish pride of cold placidity

Brooded, till danger threatened all, when she

Arose in swan-like wrath

And plumed embattled majesty, to check

The insolent menace of barbarity.

Till Death . . .

“Till death. . .”—but it was life,

Suddenly flaring into worldwide strife,

That parted us: and now each lonely heart

Wonders in separation whether

It may be death that in the end shall bind us

Eternally together?

The Change of Wind

The rain-charged wind had shifted in the night,

With instant icy breath transfixing all

The drenched and dripping coppice; and in dawn-light

It glittered like a frozen waterfall—


Pendent from saplings bowed and sheathed in glass,

Long tapering lustres drooping over the brake

Of spangled fern and brittle-bladed grass

And crystalled bramble bordering the lake—


Transmuting the dark season’s dank distress

That long had held us in despondency,

Fevered and fretful, to a quietness

Of cold pellucid immobility


Forecasting to hearts conflict-torn and tossed

The ultimate dark hour that brings surcease,

When, at a change of wind, perpetual frost

Shall seal earth’s trouble in unpassioned peace.

Winter Wheat

Between the new-turned tilth’s rich gleaming brown

And the bleached tussocks of the open down

Glitters an emerald slope of Winter wheat—

The low November sunlight scintillating

On each dew-sprinkled blade of living green—

Even in the old year’s rout, betokening

That earth knows no defeat;

That still from seed unseen

Urge of renewal quickens unabating

With the fresh promise of resurgent Spring.

The News

“Here is the news” proclaims the calm announcer:

Yet he might spare his breath;

For it is news no longer, this old story,

This day-by-day reiterated tragedy

Of the world’s endless agony

And young men’s lives annihilated by

Indifferent, undiscriminating death.

The Lull

The sea-green beanfield tosses with the breeze

A scarlet foam of poppies in the sun;

And now the soldier, momentarily at ease

Beside his A.A. gun,

Recalls the surf of the Atlantic seas

That sweep the skerries of the Hebrides;

And in his heart he longs to be

Far from war-ravaged Normandy,

In the old life where he need only brave

Perils of wind and wave.

The Victors

Ploughing the waste, we turn up from the clay

The bones of warriors in some old affray

Fallen: but, what they fought for in their day,

Or who the victors were, now none can say.

No Room in the Inn

No room in the inn this starless Christmas night

For fugitives from Herod’s soldiery

Who ruthlessly

Slaughter the innocents in every land—

No room, no shelter in the inn

Whose rent walls roofless stand

Amid the havoc and the din,

Blasted and charred; while, flight on flight,

Hell’s squadrons sweep the sky,

Hurtling destruction through the air

And scattering

Cascades of devastating fire—

No room, no shelter anywhere

For the homeless Mother in her travailing,

And for her Son no welcoming,

Not even from the kindly beasts, who lie,

Carcases, smouldering

Within the burnt-out byre!

The Happy Flight

A multitude of starlings fly

Above me, flecking the blue sky

As far as eye can see

With dark swift-shuttled patternings

Of whirring and exultant wings:

And all the crystal morning rings

With their wild whistling glee.


With sudden soft explosive sound

They rose as one bird from the ground

Where in the new-turned earth

They followed the loam-cleaving share,

Moved by one impulse to declare

Their life’s delight and fill the air

With frenzy of shrill mirth.


And I, who plodded slowly by,

Brooding on war’s long agony,

Felt my heart flutter, too,

With instant urge to scale the height

Of heaven with them in happy flight

And revel in the glittering light

Of Winter’s windy blue.


Even though the fates condemn

Man’s heart to Calvary,

Still may his spirit face unflinchingly

The final agony,

Recalling on the cross his Bethlehem.

Like Cage Bred Birds Released

Like cage-bred birds released by accident

Into the unknown hazards of the night,

Our long peace-sheltered spirits in affright

Fluttered in darkness laced with livid light

When the world shattered in tempestuous strife,

And our home-loving hearts by panic rent

Longed to resume the old secure sweet life

Behind the accustomed bars:

Yet, in the tempest tossed, our wings at length

Have gained fresh strength

To ride the terrors of the unknown skies,

And through torn thunderclouds our eyes

Have kindled to new vision at the sight

Of unfamiliar stars.

Hill Waters

As the skeins of sleep unravel

And, from slumber slowly waking,

Light in golden glints is breaking

Through his mind, so long benighted,

Now he hears with heart delighted

Crystal streams that swiftly travel

Over shoals of amber gravel—


Crystal streams, in cold airs springing

From snow-mantled mountain-shoulders

That have tumbled over boulders

Down steep braes of bent and heather,

In celestial April weather

With their amber light and singing

New life to his spirit bringing:


And his heart, that, in the slaughter

Felt death’s pang, once more rejoices

As again he hears hill-voices—

He, who even now lay dying,

Waked in paradise, and lying,

Far beyond the field of slaughter,

By the streams of living water.


Mis-spelled words and printer errors have been fixed.

Inconsistency in hyphenation has been retained.

It was hard to determine across page breaks whether there was a stanza break or not.

[The end of The Outpost by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson]