‘FALL in! Now get a move on.’ (Curse the rain.)
We splash away along the straggling village,
Out to the flat rich country, green with June…
And sunset flares across wet crops and tillage,
Blazing with splendour-patches. (Harvest soon,
Up in the Line.) ‘Perhaps the War’ll be done
‘By Christmas-Day. Keep smiling then, old son.’
Here’s the Canal: it’s dusk; we cross the bridge.
‘Lead on there, by platoons.’ (The Line’s a-glare
With shell-fire through the poplars; distant rattle
Of rifles and machine-guns.) ‘Fritz is there!
‘Christ, ain’t it lively, Sergeant? Is’t a battle?’
More rain: the lightning blinks, and thunder rumbles.
‘There’s over-head artillery!’ some chap grumbles.
What’s all this mob at the cross-roads? Where are the guides?…
‘Lead on with number One.’ And off they go.
‘Three minute intervals.’ (Poor blundering files,
Sweating and blindly burdened; who’s to know
If death will catch them in those two dark miles?)
More rain. ‘Lead on, Head-quarters.’ (That’s the lot.)
‘Who’s that?… Oh, Sergeant-Major, don’t get shot!
‘And tell me, have we won this war or not?’
Before the Battle
Music of whispering trees
Hushed by a broad-winged breeze
Where shaken water gleams;
And evening radiance falling
With reedy bird-notes calling.
O bear me safe through dark, you low-voiced streams.
I have no need to pray
That fear may pass away;
I scorn the growl and rumble of the fight
That summons me from cool
Silence of marsh and pool
And yellow lilies is landed in light
O river of stars and shadows, lead me through the night.
How to Die
Dark clouds are smouldering into red
While down the craters morning burns.
The dying soldier shifts his head
To watch the glory that returns;
He lifts his fingers toward the skies
Where holy brightness breaks in flame;
Radiance reflected in his eyes,
And on his lips a whispered name.
You’d think, to hear some people talk,
That lads go West with sobs and curses,
And sullen faces white as chalk,
Hankering for wreaths and tombs and hearses.
But they’ve been taught the way to do it
Like Christian soldiers; not with haste
And shuddering groans; but passing through it
With due regard for decent taste.
Siegfried Sassoon (8 september 1886 – 1 september 1967)