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.