TURMOIL

VERSES WRITTEN IN FRANCE
1917-1919

BY

ROBERT A. DONALDSON
AMERICAN FIELD SERVICE AND U.S.A.A.S.

BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

1919

TO

MY MOTHER AND FATHER

My own hope is, a sun will pierce
The thickest cloud earth ever stretched;
That after Last returns the First,
Though a wide girdle round be fetched;
That what began best, can't end worst,
Nor what God blessed once, prove accurst.

ROBERT BROWNING

 CIVILIZATION
 THE HARVEST, 1914
 NIGHT ROAD
 FOG AT DAWN
 EARTH'S COMPENSATION
 WAR RUINS
 AD INTERIM

 THE THROB OF BEAUTY
 GOLD
 CHAMPAGNE HILLS
 ON PASSING THROUGH AMIENS, MAY, 1918
 OLD CASTLES
 THE STAR-SHELL FLARE
 TOILERS

 TEDIUM
 WHEN I GROW OLD
 DOWN ALONG THE AISNE
 ON THE OISE
 THE GUNS!
 A WISH
 FOR FRANCE TO-DAY

 ETERNAL LIFE
 SILENT STARS
 EPIC YEARS
 TO THOSE WHO SHOUT FOR HATE
 "SOUVENONS-NOUS"
 TRIBUTE
 POSTE DE SECOURS

 ROAD TO THE HOSPITAL
 ON PERMISSION
 ONE YEAR
 PLOUGHING AT SUNSET
 LONELY LAND
 LONGING
 HOME

 STRANGE SHIPS
 THE RIVER
 ISLANDS OF THE PAST
 DOWN THE PATHS
 GENESIS
 LIFE AND LOVE
 THE PRESENT SCENE

 IN SOME WIDE PLACE
 ROOSEVELT DEAD
 THE ROSE
 CRATERS
 PEACE
 ON THE RHINE
 ENVOI

 

TURMOIL
VERSES WRITTEN IN FRANCE

 

CIVILIZATION

I AM the most powerful thing in the world;
For me men will give up their homes, their loves;
For me they will forsake peace,
And endure hardship and suffering;
For me they are willing to lie wounded,
For me they will die.
They see me in the glory of the sunrise,
And in the splendor of the sunset;
They see me as a great flame mounting to the skies,
Higher and higher,
Until I extend to the universe.
Their hearts are afire with me,
Their souls thrill with me,
And feel the touch of infinity.
I am not victory;
I am not a nation,
Or a people, or a flag:
I am an Idea.

 

THE HARVEST, 1914

THE fields of scarlet poppies stretch away;
The scent of apple blossoms fills the air;
The azure sky, the breeze, the calm blue bay,
All speak of peace, of spring forever fair.
The trees, the grasses, and the greening land
All pulsate with a great desire to live,
To turn the wondrous cycle that was planned,
To grow, to bloom, then autumn fruits to give.
But war clouds fill the sky; a hail of steel
Sweeps half the earth, uprooting fertile soil,
Scars all the land with wounds that never heal,
Leaves but destruction, waste, and ruined toil,
And marks of death, and aching hearts, and pain,
Where belching cannons reap the yellowing grain.

 

NIGHT ROAD

A PITCH-BLACK road, and rain;
Mud underfoot;
No lights;
The crunch of wheels;
The jangle of a chain;
The noisy bumping of a camion train.

Dim forms;
The shuffling steps of men;
The slush of mud;
A vivid lightning flash,
A rocket's flare,
A shell's slow droning through the air.

Black dank woods;
An endless wagon line;
A spurt of fire,
A crash --- then blackness;
Endless rain;
The noisy bumping of a camion train.

Chemin des Dames
October 16, 1917

 

FOG AT DAWN

DAWN;
Gray, heavy fog;
Dripping branches;
Swirling glimpses of a crumbling wall;
Down in the sea of mist
The thud of guns.

Vague objects:
A looming bank of earth beside the road;
A crooked railway track;
Shell-holes by the way.
Down in the valley
The faint smell of gas;
A jangling noise ahead:
"A droit!"
A lumbering cannon caisson
Plunges from the fog, and, rattles by.

A hill;
A bumpy road;
Shielding walls of burlap
Covering in the fog.
A horn;
A ghost-like ambulance rolls by,
A waving hand --- " Good luck!

A long blank hill
And curves;
Down in the sea of mist
The thud of guns!

Chemin des Dames
1917

 

EARTH'S COMPENSATION
(1914 battle-fields near Lunéville)

UPON these rolling Lorraine fields
The autumn sun shines warm and clear;
Garnered the summer's ripened yields;
Ended the harvest of the year.

Yet these same peaceful fields have known
War's bitter struggle --- long ago,
When first the call to arms was blown,
When first France checked the maddened foe.

Here flowed the eddying battle tide,
Here was France victor once again,
Here on these fields her soldiers died,
Here buried were beneath the plain.

Again the autumn sun shines down
Upon each simple cross-marked grave;
In peace now o'er them rich and brown
Are these same fields they died to save.

September, 1918

 

WAR RUINS

FROM the full moon new-mounted in the east
The golden light slants o'er the ruined town,
Slants o'er the empty shops with windows wide,
The fallen church, the houses battered down.

Here in this courtyard where was once a fount,
And overhanging trees, and walls vineclad,
Now rests a mass of stones and splintered boughs --
A vestige of the past, so strange, so sad.

Down through the lonely street. the road runs white,
And follows past the village and the mill;
Now jagged is the silhouetted crest
Of yonder woodland which once crowned the hill.

Gone all the handiwork of years of toil,
Gone the quaint beauty of this rural life,
Ruined these rolling fields, this fertile soil
All, all a sacrifice to human strife!

Chemin des Dames
September, 1917

 

AD INTERIM

How brightly all the old stars shine!
A trembling yellow half-moon lifts
Above the long straight poplar line,
Above the fields where night-haze drifts.

The moon casts down a yellow light
Across the idling waterway.
The gently curving road is white;
A rich warm scent comes from the hay.

So still, so calm; clouds hazy, thin,
Lie gently in the moonlit sky;
To-night no rumbling cannon's din;
To-night no thoughts that men must die.

"Sud de l'Aisne"
July 2, 1918

 

THE THROB OF BEAUTY

OVER the tranquil brook, the bubbling spring,
Over the meadows deep with hay and grass
The blue night shadows gently come and pass;
The dew pearls lightly to the grass blades cling.

Bright lakes of moonlight bathe the fields, the stream;
The poplars, hushed by night, are strangely still;
Dark are the clumps of bushes; on the hill
A nightingale weaves music to a dream.

Is beauty still alive, or nature's art
To lift the soul above the sordid pain?
Can I still love the wind, the graying rain,
And feel their throb of beauty in my heart?

"Sud de l'Aisne"
July 3, 1918

 

GOLD

GIVE me good friends; I do not ask for more;
For though life bring but pain, and be unkind,
Although I be on dreary foreign shore,
Or in the blasts of some chill bitter wind ---
Still will the soul of loneliness depart,
And friendly words o'ercome a cheerless clime,
And talk about the things of common art
Make pleasant otherwise unpleasant time.
A friendless man will find a lonely street
E'en 'mid the noises of a million feet.

 

CHAMPAGNE HILLS

OVER the sleeping little town
A silvery full moon casts its light,
Down o'er the barracks gaunt and brown,
Down o'er the chalk mounds, low and white.

The outlined trees stand stark and bare;
The church spire towers o'er the silent street;
Long since the echoing bugle's blare
Has sounded the clarion for "retreat."

A silvery haze drifts, thin and low;
The clumps of pines are an inky blue;
Down on the roofs of the barracks row
The moonlight glistens on the dew.

Then of a sudden comes a gun
A crash, a lingering echoing scream:
The stillness, the calm, the peace are done,
Vanished like fragments of a dream.

Come in a happier time, O Night;
Come soothe this agony and pain,
And bathe with all your tender light
These troubled hills of the Champagne.

Mourmelon-le-Grand,
Champagne,
March 1, 1918

 

ON PASSING THROUGH AMIENS, MAY, 1918

A BIT of ivy clambers o'er the wall
Of this forsaken house the war has neared;
The city's ruins here about it fall,
And scattered wreckage marks how it is seared. . . .
Deserted is this city of the dead;
Unseeing, cold, the shutters blind stare down,
Unheeding of the lonely sentry's tread,
Insensate to the sadness of the town. . . .
Gone, gone the folk of all these pleasant streets,
Gone all the colors, all the swirl of life,
Gone all the sounds, save where the cannon beats,
And adds, each hour, destruction to the strife.
And yet, here where the ruins hourly fall,
This bit of ivy clambers o'er the wall.

 

OLD CASTLES

GONE, ye gray hulks with grim and massive walls;
Now but your moss-encrusted ruins rise
To tell the world what life passed in your halls,
What wealth and power you vaunted to the skies.
Once did your towers and turrets rule the land;
Suppressed were all the poor and humble folk,
Held harshly 'neath the master's iron hand,
Bearing the heavy burden of the yoke.
To-day there is no menace in your frown:
Time-worn and broken now you sadly rest,
Reminding us how surely you went down
Before the very ones you had oppressed;
Your ruins are but landmarks on the way
Where eyes of men have glimpsed the coming day!

 

THE STAR-SHELL FLARE

OUT of the darkness of the night,
Over the guns' staccato crash,
Suddenly, silently, curving high,
Spreading a glow o'er the inky sky,
Showing the lines like an ugly gash,
Then drifting away in a breath of air
Comes the star-shell flare.

As o'er a pageant of the gods,
Wondrous it hangs, majestic, still,
Revealing beneath its searching glow
The wire and the shell-holes down below,
Lighting the slope of the fire-swept hill,
No longer green, no longer fair
In the star-shell flare.

The eye of two armies, face to face,
it searches that riven strip of land,
The waste of holes, the lines of wire
Waiting to turn a hail of fire
On some revealed patrolling band
What sudden deaths have happened there,
In the star-shell flare!

It drifts and dies, and the darkness comes,
Twofold blacker than before.
Perhaps when this whirl with death is done,
And silence rests on the belching gun,
We'll think again of the days of war,
And the men we used to know out there,
In the star-shell flare.

 

TOILERS

OVER the little town the clouds hang low;
Distant boom the desultory guns;
About their daily tasks the peasants go;.
The village life is ever dull and slow:
What matter how the tide of battle runs?. . .

Life must go on; their destined round of toil
Remains unchanged through years from dawn to dawn:
A tireless life of haggling and moil,
A bitter struggle with the frugal soil
Pinching and poverty are never gone. . . .

With eager bated breath let others stand
And watch the giant battle turn or fix:
The plodding peasant labors on his land,
And bent old women wheel their loads of sticks.

 

TEDIUM

Is beauty dead.? Are ashes in the heart?
Are hate and burning pain the pulse of life?
Has war extinguished all the sparks of fire
And left us just the tedium of strife?

* * * * *

The hollow footsteps echo in the street
As companies of weary soldiers pass....
Yet hark! Some sweet bird sings; and endlessly
The stream makes music through the yellowing grass!

Villers-Cotterets
July 1, 1918

 

WHEN I GROW OLD

How time slips by! A year has gone
Into the realm of yesterday;
No lingering; dawn after dawn
Has flushed its red and gone away---
Oh, well! Live life, and dream, and do,
And never bother; we have youth;
Take out the past, give us the new,
No stopping in pursuit of truth.
Light up a thousand tapers bright,
What matter if they sink and die---
Then we'll be old --- no need of light---
Let's have it now, not bye and bye!

But age will come with chilling hand,
And hearts whose fire has burnt away,
And eyes that watch the running sand---
Oh, hurrying life, one favor --- stay:
Leave me a touch of youth's pure gold
When I grow old! When I grow old!

 

DOWN ALONG THE AISNE

A FERTILE lovely valley
Which is scarred by marks of strife;
A host of red-tiled villages
Where ruin now is rife;
Houses wrecked, and roofs caved in,
All open to the rain,
And churches wrecked and battered---
Down along the Aisne.

Deserted are the villages
And overgrown the fields,
And autumns four have come and died,
And there have been no yields;
But only waste and shell-holes
Where there once was yellowing grain,
And fruitful sounds of harvest---
Down along the Aisne.

Gun-pits scar the hillsides
And the trees are ripped and torn;
The roads by wheels of cannon
Have been rutted deep and worn;
Grim trenches cut the meadows
And the barbed-wire lines remain,
Their rust deep hid in wild grass---
Down along the Aisne.

When the roar of war is over,
And all the killing's done,
And a peace rests on the hillsides
And a silence on the gun,
Then the tender hands of Nature
Will touch and soothe the pain,
And bring back life and harvests---
Down along the Aisne.

Sermoise
Aisne
October, 27, 1917

 

ON THE OISE

THE lilacs bloom by the castle wall
Whose crumbling stones tell another age,
And spring in our hearts seems best of all,
So fair has Nature set her stage.

A world of blossoms gay is seen,
And up on the hill in the forest deep,
Where the pushing leaves are a tender green,
The first new springtime violets peep.

The spring again, so sweet and gay,
The spring recurrent! . . . yet the guns
Roar and rumble, night and day,
Up where the battle's lifeblood runs.

The lilacs bloom by the castle wall,
And still will their blossoms scent the dawn
When the cannon's roar, and the bugle's call,
And we ourselves are dead and gone.

Pont-Saint-Maxence
April 15, 1918

 

THE GUNS!

THE guns! The guns!
They rumble and roar and pound;
The guns! The guns!
The night is a welter of sound;
Flashes that pierce the blackening sky,
Pits of flame in the woods near by,
Shells that go hissing along on high
From the guns!

The guns! The guns!
They rumble amid the waste;
The guns! The guns!
They're never in any haste;
Monsters of iron that never tire,
Endless they keep their rolling fire,
A hunger for steel's the sole desire
Of the guns!

The guns! The guns!
They mangle and tear and kill;
The guns! The guns!
They strike with an iron will;
Nor heeding, nor stopping, their fire they pour,
And many's the lad that will hear no more
The sudden crash, and the hiss and roar
Of the guns!

 

A WISH

IF I should die I ask no gift,
Of granite carved in reverent form;
Give me no graveyard's mournful rest
Should I be stricken by the storm;
Where I may fall, there let me lie,
If I should die.

If I should fall amid war's waste
There I should most prefer to stay,
For there beneath the ruined earth
I should dream, most of better day;
And dreaming so I'd like to lie,
If I should die.

When all the strife had died away,
And all the roar of war had gone,
There should I love my peace the most
There find most sweet the flowered dawn,
And never care, should I so lie ---
If I should die.

 

FOR FRANCE TO-DAY

WHY do we fight, we from a distant shore,
Removed, contained, scarce touched by all the strife,
Far from the thunders of a foreign war,
Who might in peace have followed with our life?
Our debt to France? --- incurred in times of old,
Graced by the workings of a despot king?---
For Rochambeau, and Lafayette, we're told;
Our bell of freedom which they helped to ring.
No, none of these; forget the ancient score:
For greater things --- for France to-day we fight!
Our living debt to France is even more,
Her hard-fought battle is our cause of right:
For fine-souled France, a star too bright to go,
We come to help defeat the brutal foe!

 

ETERNAL LIFE

Too oft we think them dead, the men who die
Upon the war-scarred field and battle plain;
It seems that all they were has swift passed by,
All that they lived for finished, ended vain
Gone are their bodies; silent now they rest;
The self that lived and loved has ceased its way,
Has given all it held to be the best,
Has paid in full all it was asked to pay.
They die not, those who die for an ideal,
The body dies; the soul lives on and grows,
Transmitting to a million hearts its zeal,
Transferring to a million arms its blows.
The men who for ideals have ceased to be
Live on and on, into eternity.

 

SILENT STARS

SILENT stars;
Out in the night under the vast sky
I watch alone;
The myriad array,
So unperturbed by earthly strife,
Brings to my heart new peace
And new belief:
Somewhere within this chaos there is plan;
New love will rise from out this darkness,
Hate, and pain --
Out in the night far in the vast sky
Are silent stars.

 

EPIC YEARS

THE star-shells flare; the tortuous trenches wind
In snake-like turns from sea to mountain height;
The power of man and power of steel combined
Send laden death upon its hissing flight.
Long lines of men in faded blue and brown
March grimly up toward agony and pain,
Charge shell-torn lands of fire and steel, go down,
And lie and rot --- all for a distant gain!
Come, come, O Bard, from out some unknown place,
Come and record in words and songs of fire
The sacrifice, the struggle of the race
The fight to check an emperor's desire!
Strike on thy harp, the force of man is hurled,
Give us an Iliad of the Western World!

Chemin des Dames
October, 1917

 

TO THOSE WHO SHOUT FOR HATE

WHO are the evil powers that urge this flood
Of brutal passion in the modern state?
Teach men to have unreasoning lust for blood,
Make savage beasts of them by preaching hate?
Through countless ages men have struggled on,
Striving for truth and justice in their hearts:
What madness now, in this new era's dawn,
Has cried the falseness of these slow-gained arts?
They are the same offenders; not alone
Have they in present day urged hate and lust;
They are the same who ever weighed the stone
On simple men who placed in them their trust:
They are the selfish ones whom Christ did see
Urge on the blinded mob at Calvary.

 

"SOUVENONS-NOUS"

O GENTLE France, to you we owe the most,
For with unflinching eyes, and unafraid,
You faced the menace that hung o'er us all,
And with your blood for common freedom paid.

You did not cry or murmur 'neath the load,
But only fought, and fought, and fought again,
And faltered not when in the darkest hours
The whisper came that all might be in vain.

Long have you held prized Freedom's torch on high,
And burning kept it --- at the cost of tears;
Your dead are gone, yet will their voices sound
Forever down the corridor of years!

 

TRIBUTE

WHAT WILL YOU say of them, the dead who died
Upon the fields of France to crush the foe?
How will you show your pity and your pride,
How will you crown their glory and their woe?
Not by the means of futile words of praise ---
The nameless dead do never ask this gift
Not by the splendid monuments you raise,
Not by the half-mast flags you sadly lift;
But let this be their glory, be their due;
Let but their single thought speak for them here:
In that rich moment when they gave, each knew,
E'en as he lost the things he held most dear,
That matter not what be Life's unseen plan,
He'd played his part, and proved himself a man.

 

POSTE DE SECOURS

BLACK night;
A steep and rocky road
With splintered trees and shell-holes
By the side;
Chaotic ruins of a farm ahead;
A tower half shot away;
A fragment of a wall.

* * * * *

Beside a crumbling caved-in house
The ambulance is left.
A snake-like trench
Opens to the road on either side.
No light, save here and there at intervals
The flash of gun-fire
From the wooded hill across the draw.
A crash!
An obus whines and whistles on its way.
A path up through a ruined yard;
A loose-thrown bank;
A sudden trench.
Then up a beaten trail,
With splintered boughs
And shell-holes all about;
A turn;
A sharp climb up the hill;
A black-mouthed cave.

* * * * *

A sleepy guard, with helmet on,
Awakes and turns a light
Into your face. . . .
"La voiture sanitaire--bien---descendez---vous."
His voice is dull;
He turns his pocket-flare
Upon the dark, receding steps.
You pass into the gaping maw,
Crouched over to avoid the roof of rock.

* * * * *

At last the bottom comes;
The guard above snaps off his light
And all is black.
The air is hot and foul.
A sleepy poilu by the fan
Awakes and gives the crank
A desultory turn;
The suffocating air
Puffs upward for a moment,
Then dies down....
A turn;
Ahead, within a cornered room
A carbide light flares white upon
The walls of rock.

* * * * *

Below the light,
Upon a stretcher table,
Lies a poilu, face unshaved,
His muddy uniform blood-stained,
His head thrown back,
His face contorted by the pain.
The médecin works swiftly;
The blessé gurgles as he breathes.
The médecin looks up;
"Attends," he says; "partez --- tout à l'heure."
Two other blessés --- assis both---
With faces drawn sit without sound.
Upon a stretcher at one side
A couché lies, eyes closed,
And groans with every breath.

* * * * *

You turn back to the darkness of the cave
To miss the sight of pain.
Here in this labyrinth
Of cavernous rooms,
Their feeble, flickering lights in corners
Yellow in the stifling air.
On dirty framework bunks.
On stretchers, or upon the ground
On damp and matted straw,
Lie sleeping men---
Their muddy clothes still on,
Their dirty kits about them:
Men in from all-night digging in the trench;
Men from the firing-line,
Hoping for a few scant hours of sleep and rest.
One, overcoat drawn over him,
Stirs restlessly,
And moans in sleep.
They lie here packed,
No space between ---
Tired, nerve-racked,
Sleeping like the dead.

* * * * *

A brancardier, tired-faced,
Approaches you:
"Venez," he says. "Il faut partir ---
Deux couchés et deux assis --- vite."

* * * * *

Back by the steps the brancardiers
Strain upward with an inert form
Upon a stretcher.
Behind another stretcher follows,
The blessé on it stifling back
A groan at every move.
Two assis follow, walking dizzily,
One wounded in the arm,
The other in the head,
And carrying still his casque,
Its smooth side pierced and torn.
On their backs their cross-slung guns
And loose-strapped kits
Weigh heavily.

* * * * *

The entrance guard turns on his flash.
The group emerges from the cavern's
Yawning mouth.
The stretchers are set down.
The bearers rest.
Then of a sudden,
From the outer darkness of a trench,
Come sounds; forms appear ---
Brancardiers, with a stretcher
Strangely still.
They put it down.
A question asked; the answer---
"Oui, mort; tué --- une grenade."
Then as an afterthought:
"Pour la Patrie."
A light flashed on reveals a form,
A bloody cloth tied up around
The arms and face.
The brancardiers puff,
And wipe their foreheads with their sleeves.
Then the steel name-disc
Is taken from the wrist,
The papers from the pockets,
Folded up and tied.
The knick-knacks are done up
A knife, and buttons from a "Boche";
A hand-made briquet;
A tiny picture of a woman and a child.
"Tué," a brancardier repeats.
And then again they take their covered burden
And pass up the well-worn path
On to the hill,
On to the plot, with crosses all alike,
And waiting open graves.

* * * * *

Down the rough hill the blessés go;
A star-shell bright,
Intensely bright,
Bursts in the sky above,
And shows the shell-torn hills
As brilliant as by day;
Mounts,
Slowly burns,
Drifts down, and dies.

* * * * *

The ruined house again;
The ambulance;
The stretchers are pushed in;
The assis take the seat along the other side,
Their dirty traps and guns
Piled in behind.
Then out of thin air, suddenly,
There comes a spent, approaching hiss
An arrivée!
All drop flat upon the ground
Or crouch against the bank.
Down on the road ahead, a flash
Red firebrands hurtling through the air
A deafening crash:.
Hot fragments rip the road about,
The earth rocks underfoot.
After, all jump quickly up.
The ambulance is hastily closed;

The motor spurts;
The brancardiers stand by,
Relieved now of their charges:
"Au revoir, bonne chance, monsieur."
"Au revoir,"
you answer as you start the car:
A ditch;
A bank;
A new-made shell-hole in the road....
Then down the rocky hill.

* * * * *

Of a sudden:
Crash! Crash! Crash! Crash!
The shells shriek through the air;
The guns!
The never-tiring guns again.

Ferme Hameret
Chemin des Dames
September 16, 1917

 

ROAD TO THE HOSPITAL

NIGHT;
Shimmering moonlight;
A shell-marked road;
Curious, misshapen shadows;
Trees with fallen branches;
Fields of trampled wheat
Yellow in the moonlight;
Tense, waiting silence;
Suddenly a spit of fire;
The crash of guns....

A high plateau;
A crossroads and a ruined farm;
A battered village;
The heavy guns belch forth again,
A narrow valley road;
A traffic jam,
Guns, camions,
A ravitaillement train,
Machine-gun carts;
Vague figures moving in and out;

A wait;
The line moves slowly on;
An opening
The ambulance slips through
And threads its way between the lines;
The camions spit and jerk;
A turn,
A narrow road;
A camion pushed in the ditch;

A hill
And then a long, straight road;
Shadowy forms
An endless line of marching troops.
Overhead a low, uneven hum;
White signal rockets spurt into the sky,
Tracing the bomber's course.
The thud of anti-aircraft guns
Then, high in air,
The quick white pits of flame,
Like sudden stars that flash and die.
A hiss;
A flame bursts from the town ahead,
A deafening crash --- a bomb.

Full speed,
Long, winding streets;
The town is passed.
A hill, a valley,
Then a long plateau;
Distant now the sound of guns;
A castle's ancient towers,
A darkened town;
The portals of an old château---
The hôpital.
The car is stopped.
Out of the darkened hall
The brancardiers come
And lift the laden stretchers
From the car;
New stretchers;
Then again the town's deserted streets,
The gendarme's sleepy stare;
Out through the crooked, turning ways --
The open road again;
Silence;
Moonlight;
Gone for the moment is sound of war;
Then far away,
Against the vast night sky,
A solitary star-shell mounts,
And floats,
And disappears.

"Sud de l'Aisne"
July, 1918

 

ON PERMISSION

Parting

OUT of the crucible of war we come,
Out of a crucible of sudden death
And mangled forms,
Of giant battles, with human forms onrushing,
With wounded who moan,
With dead crumpled up on ravaged fields,
And living who return, mud-stained and torn,
More weary than the dead;
Out of a life of tedium, monotony,
And endless waiting in war-worn villages
Behind the lines.

The Train

The red-tiled villages flash by,
And ripening fields unmarred by wire,
And glimpses of a great blue sky,
And outlines of a church's spire. . .
The cattle browse in pastures sweet;
Green are the forests and untorn;
Over the hills no cannon's beat
Ruins the splendor of the morn

In the Town

A shady road, a shining town,
And all life's busy hum and change,
And a warmth of sunlight streaming down
Into streets so clean and strange.
A charm the rugged mountains lend,
The sky-blue lake, the shady shore,
And distant peaks, where streams descend,
The boatsman's call, the splashing oar.
Then ease, and idleness, and play,
And women's voices, strange and fair;
And nights of dancing --- music gay,
And days with not a passing care. . .

Night on the Lake

The dusk creeps down o'er the mirror lake,
And the lights of the town come one by one;
And the evening stars that gently wake
Hear not the rumble of a gun.

Returning

Sweeter than ever in our lives before
Have been these glimpses of a world still sane,
A world where happiness is ever rife,
Unmarred by war and tedium, and pain. . .
Into our round of war all this has come
Like cool sea winds that o'er a desert blow,
Bringing to thirsting wanderers the dream
Of lives they lived so long, so long ago....

 

ONE YEAR

ONE year; again my thoughts go wandering back
Recalling memories of those former days:
The homeland parting and the billowed track
O'er the Atlantic, with its danger ways;
The swirling wake of blue; the sun's hard rays;
The unknown course, the constant turn and tack;
At night the darkened decks; the engine's beat;
Inside, the music, smoke, and stifling heat.

Landing, and the sight of France; the green,
The harbor and the hills that folded down;
The merchant ships at anchor; in between,
The fishing fleet, with sails of blue and brown;
The red tiles of the little harbor town;
Ne'er seemed the land so sweet, so fresh, so clean!
France! and all the charm we thought there'd be,
All that we'd dreamed, all that we'd come to see!

Bordeaux; cathedral spires that touched the sky,
The picturesqueness of a foreign shore;
The cheers, the sacred flag of France on high,
And on this July Fourth all honor more
To our starred banner, carried by the war
To float in France that freedom might not die,
To recognize our common cause of right,
To bear our proper burden in the fight.

Paris; voices, faces strange, strange ways;
A military life we were n't used to;
A gorgeous pageant passed before our gaze --
A sea of uniforms, red, brown, and blue;
A sense of strangeness ---everything was new;
The city seemed a mystic, wondrous maze
Of shops and boulevards, a swirl of life
All colored, saddened, by the tireless strife.

Then onward to the war zone, to a town
Long torn and ruined by the German hate,
Long subject to the cruel invader's frown,
Despoiled and ransacked, left unto its fate.
Gone the invaders now; and now elate
With courage brutal force could not beat down,
Were these brave folk of ruined Picardy
Glad to be living, glad but to be free!

Then came the endless waiting, when we yearned
For war-like days of action and of dash
A month had passed before at last we turned
Up toward the front, and heard the thundering crash
Of cannon; learned the work at night; the flash
Of guns that light the way; men gassed and burned,
Men ripped by steel, the endless round of things
That war with all its changeless turmoil brings.

Then on the Aisne there came our days of stress,
The thundering barrage, its endless beat;
The thrill of the attack, the sudden press,
The wounded straggling from the battle's heat;
The swift advance that brought the Boche defeat,
The joy of power, the glory of success;
Those days and nights that passed with scarce a rest
Still seem to us the finest and the best.

Then came the winter's dreariness and cold
When all the pomp and glory died away,
When things that thrilled us once seemed poor and old;
And newness ceased; the life had come to stay;
Few changes marked the passing of the day.
Slowly we fitted to war's patterned mould;
Long tedium came, o'ershadowing the start,
Killing the eager flame within the heart.

At last came promise of the greening spring,
And sunshine mixed with sudden sleet and snow;
We wondered ever what these days would bring,
And when and where would fall the German blow;
Our eyes turned ever toward the menacing foe;
The days grew warm; the birds began to sing;
Then terror came; the cannon boomed again,
And lavish death cut down the ranks of men.

Now once again has come the stirring round:
The line, the convoy, and the work at night;
The cannons' endless monotone of sound,
And evening skies a-waver with their light. . .
Soon may they pass, these days of brutal Might,
And in the victory may there be found
The joy of living that we knew of old,
The gentle peace that is the finest gold!

"Sud de l'Aisne"
July, 1918

 

PLOUGHING AT SUNSET

UPON the hilltop, sharp against the evening sky,
He ploughed; the upturned furrows
Stretched away --- a mark of labor done.
The sun, with paling flush,
Sank down behind the furrowed skyline.
Graying clouds in somber movement
Gathered in the west. . . . .
Slowly up and down he ploughed;
Furrow after furrow
Turned its red soil toward the darkening sky.
The brown trees stood as sentinels.
Slowly, up and down, another and another
Rich, red roll of earth joined with the last;
All color left the west, and twilight came,
And dusk;
Still there upon the hilltop
Silhouetted brown against the darkening sky
He trudged behind his plodding team,
Ploughing, ploughing. . . . .

March, 1917

 

LONELY LAND

LONELY roads that stretch away
As the sunset darkens;
Lonely sounds at close of day
As the wanderer hearkens;

Lonely clouds that fill the sky,
Dull and ever shifting;
Lonely trees that straggle high,
Barren limbs uplifting;

Lonely winds that bleakly blow
As the night comes on;
Lonely streams that coldly flow,
Eager to be gone;

Lonely worlds that stretch away
As the sunset darkens;
Lonely hearts at close of day
As the wanderer hearkens.

1916

 

LONGING

I AM the soul of winter,
The sweeping reach of snow,
The frozen pond, the beaten road,
The nights when blizzards blow;
I am the icy storm wind,
The silence and the chill;
I am the pulse of Longing
That never will be still.

I am the burning desert,
The choking heat, the sand,
The stretching purple mountain range
Of long-forgotten land---
The endless, awful silence,
Its grim and powerful will;
I am the pulse of longing
That never will be still.

I am the endless vastness
Untouched by human hand;
I am the goal of wanderlust,
The heart of virgin land---
The singing, unknown river,
Its mystery, its thrill;
I am the pulse of Longing
That never will be still.

I am the heart of solitude,
I am the ocean's call;
I am the lure of the unknown,
The vastness of it all;
I am the starry heaven,
Unfathomable, chill;
I am the pulse of Longing
That never will be still.

1915,

 

HOME

NIGHT;
Black and storm-swept plains;
A muddy road,
Silence;
Only rain-beat
And the thud
Of weary feet;
Blackness;
One more mile of trudging
Up the dreary height,
And then --
A light!

1917

 

STRANGE SHIPS

OUR lives are like strange ships that lie
In port together for a day:
Each takes its cargo, slips its lines,
Each goes its way;

Across the vast uncertain sea
Toward half-forgotten ports they ride,
Down all the far, lone waterways
Scattered wide;

Some of them no more to come,
No more that harbor to discern;
All never in the group before
To return:

So are our lives, with days that seem
So usual, yet in truth are strange. . .
Such days we never duplicate;
Life is change!

 

THE RIVER

HERE by the bank I watch the river flow;
The quaint old houses of the quaint old town
In placid age serene look gently down;
Along the bank some patient fishers go;
Across the stream some old men idly row;
The fields stretch off in squares of green and brown.

A barge comes 'neath the bridge; the horse plods past
Along the deep-worn footpath by the stream;
The bargemen at the tiller sit and dream;
No hurry; life for them is never fast;
They disappear beyond the bend at last;
The sunlight rays upon the water gleam.

Endlessly the river's life goes on;
The tireless current passes day by day;
The dwellers' lives are shaped the river's way:
The same toil marks each sunset and each dawn,
The barges come, pass slowly, and are gone;
Beside the grassy banks the children play.

And ever the brownish water eddies by,
On, onward toward the sea, unhurried, slow,
Unheeding of the human ebb and flow,
Or of man's peace, or pain, or anguished cry;
Onward toward where the sunset colors die,
And salt winds down the restless ocean blow.

Pont-Saint-Maxence
Oise
April, 1918

 

ISLANDS OF THE PAST

How green the islands of the Past,
That sparkle 'mid cerulean seas!
How gently they are girdled round
By memories!

Over the sea where we have sailed,
They tell the hours of joy and strife --
Marking across the uncharted deeps
The course of life.

Still in our minds their beaches gleam
Beneath a great effulgent light,
Still comes to us their melody
Of waves at night.

To-day we touch at some strange port
And live its poignant hours through
To-morrow it will lie behind
Far in the blue.

Nor backward turn the battered bark,
Nor bid the pleasant hours stay:
Look! Islands new loom up against
The westering day!

 

DOWN THE PATHS

DOWN the paths of life we go,
You and I together, dear --
Hand in hand through springtime's glow,
Summer's sun, and winter's snow.

Down the paths of life so sweet,
And we linger by the way,
For each moment is complete
While our hearts together beat.

Down the paths we love so well,
While the speeding hours pass by
And we never dare to tell
There will be a last farewell.

Down the paths of life, and then
Darkness and the great beyond;
Down the paths through darkness, when
We will meet and kiss again.

 

GENESIS

BEFORE God ever was, before the first
Earth shadows, there was born the soul of man;
Dormant in some ethereal space it nursed
The primal thought of one great human plan,
Of elemental lands, unborn, unknown,
Vast even to the one encompassing thought,
Of planets, worlds into a unit thrown,
Of wildest chaos into system wrought.
Still deep within the soul of man there lies
That same omnipotence, that brightening spark
Which unextinguished burns and never dies,
Which gives a light in realms of endless dark,
Which conquers all, which seizes worlds untrod
And builds itself a temple and a God

1916

 

LIFE AND LOVE

THE red of sunset dies; the clouds drift down
In loneliness, and gather in the night.
Dark somber shadows fall --- a world of brown
Not stirred by sound or broken by a light.,
'T was here I sought, but just an hour ago,
This field for all its colors bright, its flowers,
Its gentle beauty which had charmed me so ---
And now, lo! how the gloomy nighttime lowers!
So seems all life:
A place of hopes ne'er gained,
Of visions vanished e'er they are desired,
Of goals toward which is every purpose strained,
To find them worthless once they are acquired ---
Save only love, which as it blooms and grows
Sheds beauty like an everlasting rose.

1917

 

THE PRESENT SCENE

WHAT is our future but a shadowy state
Far in the mists beyond the realms of mind---
A dim existence unrevealed by Fate,
A blank beyond, as it has been behind?
Why do we seek to read the hidden scroll,
Or pierce the future's hazy unknown way?
Each hour partakes of the eternal goal,
The loss or gain is in the act to-day:
Better --- achieve just for the love of life,
And truer make the metal of the man,
Meet fearlessly the adventurous years of strife,
Create truth from your dreaming, if you can:
Take gladly Life's great venture, even though
It bring but disillusionment and woe!

 

IN SOME WIDE PLACE

I HAVE black moments of despair, long hours
When life seems naught but bitterness and hate,
The soul itself a gift of mocking powers
Who would turn man against his proper fate:
Black moments when futility seems writ
In every deed and in the future's store,
When life itself seems but a strange misfit
Wherein mankind but tangles more and more.
In these dread moments give me some wide place
Where I may watch the curling clouds drift by ---
Behold slow beauty creep o'er nature's face,
Or sunset colors touch the western sky;
And then I know that calm rests on the deep
And that on wind-torn crags the eagles sleep.

 

ROOSEVELT DEAD

ROOSEVELT dead!
Sudden there comes a void;
A part of life itself is torn away....
Gone are the endless, sudden hours he joyed,
Gone is the vigor that has marked his way.
Back through the varied years the memory goes,
And through them moves his strenuous figure still,
Tense with the life that never shrank at blows,
Inspiring others by his force of will. . . .
What matters it that sometimes he was wrong?
Those pettier troubles soon die out in space. . .
Say only this, his spirit great and strong
Stirred up a nation to its worth and place.
E'er challenging he flashed across our page,
The Cœur de Lion of the present age!

January, 1919

 

THE ROSE

LIFE is like the rose:
Spring, and a vine,
New-green, growing;
Then the reddening half-op'ed bud,
Blushing, dreaming;
Summer, and the wondrous opened flower,
Radiant with beauty,
Drinking to full
The long, sweet days;
Autumn, and the rose full-blown,
Frail, beauteous,
But browned about the edges.
Then petals falling in November winds,
And flurrying snows
And the bare vine.

* * * * *

Grieve not for the rose,
Nor wish it back;
Care only for the vine,
Which is Life.

 

CRATERS

Him up amid the pines and snow,
Bluer than the bluest skies,
Where the cooling breezes blow
This jewel-set lakelet lies.

The virgin wild is lone and still;
No sounds its endless stillness break,
Save where an eagle's screaming shrill
Rings echoing o'er the lake.

Calm is it now; yet long years past
Here did a sea of lava pour,
Searing with hot and fevered blast
The life about this shore;

Eruptions from the crater's rim
Blackened and o'ercast the sky,
And unknown fury 'neath yon brim
Decreed that men should die.

But yestern's fire has died away
And peace and calm have come again,
Leaving this lake to mark that day
Of turmoil and of pain.

 

PEACE

Now comes the silence of the night
After the cannon's beatings;
Sudden death will stalk no more,
Gone are its brutal meetings.

Stillness rests on the countryside
Where late rolled the battle thunder;
Stillness rests on the countless graves
And the turf, and the brave men under.

The old stars shine; and a silence strange
Broods over hill and valley:
O God of Battles, sheathe thy sword
And of the dead take tally!

November 11, 1918

 

ON THE RHINE

1870-71

REST gently after these long years, ye dead
Who sacrificed your lives for freedom's sake;
Rest gently now; victorious is thy cause,
No longer lie uneasily awake:
Peacefully above the old stars shine
The flag of France once more floats on the Rhine!

1914-18

Rest gently, O ye dead of present time,
Who in these murdered fields met death clear-eyed;
O'er your own graves the truth has taken root,
Your faith of blood at last is justified;
Humbly we tell before your unseen shrine:
The flag of France once more floats on the Rhine!

1918

Rest not, ye veterans of the final blow
Who saw the end of all that was begun;
In coming days hold still within your hearts
The old ideals you battled for and won ---
Be worthier still of this new trust of thine:
The flag of France once more floats on the Rhine!

Pont du Rhin, Neuf-Brisach
Haute Alsace, France
December, 1918

 

ENVOI

GONE are the years that came with fevered strife
Sweeping us into war's strange unknown ways;
Gone the tenseness, gone the struggling life,
Gone the tedium of the waiting days.

As now our former course seems distant, far,
A wondrous life beyond a wondrous sea,
So will these years seem of another star,
Lost in the poignant world of memory.

We scarce believe these episodes are through,
Yet gone are they, part of a passing age;
Ahead there lies a future unknown, new:
The Book of Life has turned another page!

Mulhouse,
Haute Alsace, France
February, 1919