Read IN TIME OF WAR of Collected Poems Volume One, free online book, by Alfred Noyes, on ReadCentral.com.

I

To-night o’er Bagshot heath the purple heather
Rolls like dumb thunder to the splendid West;
And mighty ragged clouds are massed together
Above the scarred old common’s broken breast;
And there are hints of blood between the boulders,
Red glints of fiercer blossom, bright and bold;
And round the shaggy mounds and sullen shoulders
The gorse repays the sun with savage gold.

And now, as in the West the light grows holy,
And all the hollows of the heath grow dim,
Far off, a sulky rumble rolls up slowly
Where guns at practice growl their evening hymn.

And here and there in bare clean yellow spaces
The print of horse-hoofs like an answering cry
Strikes strangely on the sense from lonely places
Where there is nought but empty heath and sky.

The print of warlike hoofs, where now no figure
Of horse or man along the sky’s red rim
Breaks on the low horizon’s rough black rigour
To make the gorgeous waste less wild and grim;

Strangely the hoof-prints strike, a Crusoe’s wonder,
Framed with sharp furze amongst the footless fells,
A menace and a mystery, rapt asunder,
As if the whole wide world contained nought else,-

Nought but the grand despair of desolation
Between us and that wild, how far, how near,
Where, clothed with thunder, nation grapples nation,
And Slaughter grips the clay-cold hand of Fear.

II

And far above the purple heath the sunset stars awaken,
And ghostly hosts of cloud across the West begin to stream,
And all the low soft winds with muffled cannonades are shaken,
And all the blood-red blossom draws aloof into a dream;
A dream-no more-and round the dream the clouds are curled together;
A dream of two great stormy hosts embattled in the sky;
For there against the low red heavens each sombre ridge of heather
Up-heaves a hedge of bayonets around a battle-cry;

Melts in the distant battle-field or brings the dream so near it
That, almost, as the rifted clouds around them swim and reel,
A thousand grey-lipped faces flash-ah, hark, the heart can hear it-
The sharp command that lifts as one the levelled lines of steel.

And through the purple thunders there are silent shadows creeping
With murderous gleams of light, and then-a mighty leaping roar
Where foe and foe are met; and then-a long low sound of weeping
As Death laughs out from sea to sea, another fight is o’er.

Another fight-but ah, how much is over? Night descending
Draws o’er the scene her ghastly moon-shot veil with piteous hands;
But all around the bivouac-glare the shadowy pickets wending
See sights, hear sounds that only war’s own madness understands.

No circle of the accursed dead where dreaming Dante wandered,
No city of death’s eternal dole could match this mortal world
Where men, before the living soul and quivering flesh are sundered,
Through all the bestial shapes of pain to one wide grave are hurled.

But in the midst for those who dare beyond the fringe to enter
Be sure one kingly figure lies with pale and blood-soiled face,
And round his brows a ragged crown of thorns; and in the centre
Of those pale folded hands and feet the sigil of his grace.

See, how the pale limbs, marred and scarred in love’s lost battle,
languish;
See how the splendid passion still smiles quietly from his eyes:
Come, come and see a king indeed, who triumphs in his anguish,
Who conquers here in utter loss beneath the eternal skies.

For unto lips so deadly calm what answer shall be given?
Oh pale, pale king so deadly still beneath the unshaken stars,
Who shall deny thy kingdom here, though heaven and earth were riven,
With the last roar of onset in the world’s intestine wars?

The laugh is Death’s; he laughs as erst o’er hours that England
cherished,
“Count up, count up the stricken homes that wail the first-born son,
Count by your starved and fatherless the tale of what hath perished;
Then gather with your foes and ask if you-or I-have won.”

III

The world rolls on; and love and peace are mated:
Still on the breast of England, like a star,
The blood-red lonely heath blows, consecrated,
A brooding practice-ground for blood-red war.

Yet is there nothing out of tune with Nature
There, where the skylark showers his earliest song,
Where sun and wind have moulded every feature,
And one world-music bears each note along.

There many a brown-winged kestrel swoops or hovers
In poised and patient quest of his own prey;
And there are fern-clad glens where happy lovers
May kiss the murmuring summer noon away.

There, as the primal earth was-all is glorious
Perfect and wise and wonderful in view
Of that great heaven through which we rise victorious
O’er all that strife and change and death can do.

No nation yet has risen o’er earth’s first nature;
Though love illumed each individual mind,
Like some half-blind, half-formed primeval creature
The State still crawled a thousand years behind.

Still on the standards of the great World-Powers
Lion and bear and eagle sullenly brood,
Whether the slow folds flap o’er halcyon hours
Or stream tempestuously o’er fields of blood.

By war’s red evolution we have risen
Far, since fierce Erda chose her conquering few,
And out of Death’s red gates and Time’s grey prison
They burst, elect from battle, tried and true.

But now Death mocks at youth and love and glory,
Chivalry slinks behind his loaded mines,
With meaner murderous lips War tells her story,
And round her cunning brows no laurel shines.

And here to us the eternal charge is given
To rise and make our low world touch God’s high:
To hasten God’s own kingdom, Man’s own heaven,
And teach Love’s grander army how to die.

No kingdom then, no long-continuing city
Shall e’er again be stablished by the sword;
No blood-bought throne defy the powers of pity,
No despot’s crown outweigh one helot’s word.

Imperial England, breathe thy marching orders:
The great host waits; the end, the end is close,
When earth shall know thy peace in all her borders,
And all her deserts blossom with thy Rose.

Princedoms and peoples rise and flash and perish
As the dew passes from the flowering thorn;
Yet the one Kingdom that our dreams still cherish
Lives in a light that blinds the world’s red morn.

Hasten the Kingdom, England, the days darken;
We would not have thee slacken watch or ward,
Nor doff thine armour till the whole world hearken,
Nor till Time bid thee lay aside the sword.

Hasten the Kingdom; hamlet, heath, and city,
We are all at war, one bleeding bulk of pain;
Little we know; but one thing-by God’s pity-
We know, and know all else on earth is vain.

We know not yet how much we dare, how little;
We dare not dream of peace; yet, as at need,
England, God help thee, let no jot or tittle
Of Love’s last law go past thee without heed.

Who saves his life shall lose it! The great ages
Bear witness-Rome and Babylon and Tyre
Cry from the dust-stopped lips of all their sages,-
There is no hope if man can climb no higher.

England, by God’s grace set apart to ponder
A little while from battle, ah, take heed,
Keep watch, keep watch, beside thy sleeping thunder;
Call down Christ’s pity while those others bleed;

Waken the God within thee, while the sorrow
Of battle surges round a distant shore,
While Time is thine, lest on some deadly morrow
The moving finger write-but thine no more.

Little we know-but though the advancing aeons
Win every painful step by blood and fire,
Though tortured mouths must chant the world’s great pæans,
And martyred souls proclaim the world’s desire;

Though war be nature’s engine of rejection,
Soon, soon, across her universal verge
The soul of man in sacred insurrection
Shall into God’s diviner light emerge.

Hasten the Kingdom, England, queen and mother;
Little we know of all Time’s works and ways;
Yet this, this, this is sure: we need none other
Knowledge or wisdom, hope or aim or praise,

But to keep this one stormy banner flying
In this one faith that none shall e’er disprove,
Then drive the embattled world before thee, crying,
There is one Emperor, whose name is Love.