Mud and Angels


Words from a final night in hell


A curious cradling this, where soldiers get

Cold fitful sleep beneath our parapet

This lifeless August night. Till watch hands stop

And whistles blow, and we pass o’er the top.

God! All those childlike, lousy heads that seem

So peaceful now, so unafraid to dream:

They dream of two tomorrows. One is blood,

And rats, and lice, and shells, and noise and mud,

And all the bloody things they’ll wake to chance

In this grotesque normality called France.

That chilling exhortation to fight on

Till death has run its course, and sense is gone.

The endless scream they’ll hear, the backlit sight

Of corpses rattling past them in the night.

I cannot sleep. I fear that I could die.

I dream of two tomorrows, too, and yes,

There is another one that pains me less.

It comforts me to see her kindly face

Constructed in the starless reach of space

That I can see from here. The loving pain

That was, still is and will be mine again;

The perfect angel fingers that will touch

My head again, when grief becomes too much.

Who waits in her own Ithaca, whilst I,

Her pale Odysseus, counts his dead friends by.

Happy for precious hours we were, and how

My tortured soul craves each bright second now.

This hell will end. Sweet Jesus knows the price,

But we shall touch again in Paradise.

I cannot sleep. Tomorrow I might die.

And, if I fall, weep only what you must

As you return my body to the dust

From where it came. For I have known your grace

For gilded hours, and I have held your face.

And far more blessed were we to love in truth

Than we had rights to hope for through our youth.

To cling to me when I am gone would hide

The thousand things I meant before I died;

Would sacrifice the years ahead through tears

And compromise the love some other bears.

So let me go, instead, and freely give

The best you have to life you’ve still to live.

The finest fate ahead will be to see

That you found perfect joy long after me.

I did not sleep. This dawn will see me die




Found in a shell-hole in Delville Wood. 9 Rifle Brigade. August 1916.

2 thoughts on “Mud and Angels

  1. Wonderful! Where did you find this? & what presence of mind to write a poem in those circumstances!


    1. Oddly enough, I wrote it. I was trying to write a WW1 book about ten years ago, and it needed a poem as a central prop. It was based on the life of my grandmother who, fifty years later, still hadn’t got over the death of her first husband on Aug 26th 1918. To be honest, I felt a bit of a fraud putting it up on the Blog!


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