* * * * *
Not much to me is yonder lane
Where he so longs to tread;
But when there’s been a shower of rain
I think I’ll never weep again
Until I’ve heard he’s dead.
(EGYPTIAN BASE CAMP)
They are gathering round ...
Out of the twilight; over the grey-blue sand,
Shoals of low-jargoning men drift inward to the sound,—
The jangle and throb of a piano ... tum-ti-tum ...
Drawn by a lamp, they come
Out of the glimmering lines of their tents, over the shuffling sand.
O sing us the songs, the songs of our own land,
You warbling ladies in white.
Dimness conceals the hunger in our faces,
This wall of faces risen out of the night,
These eyes that keep their memories of the places
So long beyond their sight.
Jaded and gay, the ladies sing; and the chap in brown
Tilts his grey hat; jaunty and lean and pale,
He rattles the keys ... some actor-bloke from town ...
“God send you home”; and then “A long, long trail”; “I hear you catting me”; and “Dixieland” ... Sing slowly ... now the chorus ... one by one We hear them, drink them; till the concert’s done. Silent, I watch the shadowy mass of soldiers stand. Silent, they drift away, over the glimmering sand.
Out in the blustering darkness, on the deck
A gleam of stars looks down. Long blurs of black,
The lean Destroyers, level with our track,
Plunging and stealing, watch the perilous way
Through backward racing seas and caverns of chill spray.
One sentry by the davits, in the gloom
Stands mute; the boat heaves onward through the night.
Shrouded is every chink of cabined light:
And sluiced by floundering waves that hiss and boom
And crash like guns, the troop-ship shudders ... doom.
Now something at my feet stirs with a sigh;
And slowly growing used to groping dark,
I know that the hurricane-deck, down all its length,
Is heaped and spread with lads in sprawling strength,—
Blanketed soldiers sleeping. In the stark
Danger of life at war, they lie so still,
All prostrate and defenceless, head by head ...
And I remember Arras, and that hill
Where dumb with pain I stumbled among the dead.
* * * * *
We are going home. The troop-ship, in a thrill
Of fiery-chamber’d anguish, throbs and rolls.
We are going home ... victims ... three thousand souls.
(To Robert Graves)