Edwardian and Georgian Canadian Poets
Marching Men: War Verses

MARCHING MEN

[unnumbered page]

MARCHING MEN

WAR VERSES

By

HELENA COLEMAN

1917

J. M. DENT & SONS LTD.

London        •        Toronto

[unnumbered page]

Copyright, Canada, 1917

J. M. Dent & Sons, Limited

[unnumbered page]

To the Memory of

H. H. S.

(First Contingent, C.E.F.)

who Fell in Action, September 18th, 1915,

and of other “Very Gallant Gentlemen,”

who gave their lives for Canada

“To the innermost heart of their own land they are known,

As the stars are known to the night.” [unnumbered page]

[blank page]

CONTENTS.

———

PAGE

MARCHING MEN

       Flaring bugle, throbbing drum.

9

’TIS NOT THE WILL THAT’S WANTED

       Would God that mine were better luck.

11

WHEN FIRST HE PUT THE KHAKI ON

       When first he put the khaki on.

13

THE RECRUIT

       Through all the anguish of these days.

14

THE DAY HE WENT

       The morning dawned both bright and clear.

15

ROCKING IN THE BAY

       From my nook beneath the pine.

16

CHALLENGE

       Soldier, be thy blade to-night.

18

AND THEY WERE YOUNG

       ’Tis when you’re young and life ascends.

20

THE FIELDS ARE GREEN IN CANADA

       The fields are green in Canada.

21

OH, NOT WHEN APRIL WAKES THE DAFFODILS

       Oh, not when April wakes the daffodils.

23

CHILDREN OF ENGLAND YET TO BE

       Children, children, yet unborn.

24

[unnumbered page]

AUTUMN, 1917

       We know by many a tender token.

27

A GREAT WHITE COMPANY

       A great white company.

29

PRO PATRIA MORTUI

       Say not they died for us.

31

AT NIGHT

       Between the calling clamors of the day.

32

TO OUR BELOVED

       The hearts you knew in those unchallenged years.

33

LEAVE US OUR TEARS

       At your strong hands, O gallant men.

35

CONVOCATION HALL

       They rose.

36

IN FRANCE’S FLOWERED FIELDS

       In France’s flowered fields they lie.

37

COUNTRY OF MINE

       Country of mine that gave me birth.

39

[unnumbered page]

MARCHING MEN.

FLARING bugle, throbbing drum,

Onward, onward hear them come,

Like a tide along the street

Swells the sound of martial feet;

On the breeze their colors streaming,

In the sun their rifles gleaming,

Pride of country, pride of race,

Glowing in each ruddy face—

        Marching men, marching men,

Leaping pulses keep you pace.

Measured, rhythmic, thousands strong,

Sounds their tread the whole night long,

Beating over heart and brain,

Over hopes that bloomed in vain,

Like the roll of distant thunder,

That would tear a world asunder,

All the nation’s hope and pride

Surging in the tireless tide—

        Marching men, marching men,

Love goes praying by your side.

Deep the pathways they have worn

Over women’s hearts forlorn, [page 9]

Over lives grown thin and failing,

Where the stars of hope are paling;

Children’s arms they must unbind,

Love and laughter leave behind,

Turn them from the beckoning morrow,

And the praying hands of sorrow,

Turn them to a place of dread

Where the skies burn darkly red,—

        Marching men, marching men,

Grief shall follow in your tread.

From the silver coasts outlying,

Where the pallid ships are plying,

Sweeping in from East and West,

Over crag and mountain crest,

Up from desert, grove and glen,

Still there come those hosts of men;

In their hands the sword aflame,

On their lips an ancient name,

Cleaving hearts and lives asunder,

Trampling thrones and empires under;

Temples lately love-forsaken

They have entered and retaken

Earth itself their tread has shaken—

   Marching men, marching men,

Sleeping gods your shouts awaken! [page 10]

’TIS NOT THE WILL THAT’S WANTED.

WOULD God that mine were better luck

    Than falls to the lot of woman,

In these great days with the world ablaze

    And Britain’s face to the foeman;

In these great days when the hour has struck

Calling for every ounce of pluck—

God help me not to curse my luck

        That I was born a woman!

Oh, for the stinging lash of the spray,

    Green waves and wild commotion,

The lowering fogs where grim sea-dogs

    Stalk ever the Northern ocean;

Watching by night, watching by day,

Ribbons of smoke in the offing grey,

Holding the Hun and his hordes at bay

        Far in the wild North ocean!

Oh, for the ariman’s sinuous flight,

    The great wings climbing, curving,

To desperate deeds as earth recedes

    One’s tightened pulses nerving, [page 11]

Over the hostile camps at night,

Where red eyes gleam through the murky light,

A blow to strike for freedom’s right

        The God of freedom serving!

Or out on the tortured fields of France

    Where hellish deeds are flaunted,

With face to the Rhine on the firing line

    To stand with a heart undaunted;

’Mid screaming shell and shrapnel dance

Unmoved by outer circumstance,

To serve one’s turn and take one’s chance—

        ’Tis not the will that’s wanted! [page 12]

WHEN FIRST HE PUT THE KHAKI ON.

WHEN first he put the khaki on

    He tried with careful art

To seem blasé and casual

    And play the proper part,

But it was plain as plain could be

    He was a child at heart.

Although he talked in knowing terms

    Of what “the boys” had done,

Likewise of ammunition tests,

    And how to load a gun,

And bragged that in his stocking feet

    He stood full six foot, one.

Yet all the while the child looked out

    With mild appealing eyes,

Unconscious he was visible

    Beneath the man’s disguise,

Nor dreaming what the look evoked

    In hearts grown mother-wise.

How could he know the sudden pang,

    The stir of swift alarms,

The yearning prayer that innocence

    Be kept from all that harms,

The inner reach of tenderness,

    And cradling of soft arms? [page 13]

THE RECRUIT.

THROUGH all the anguish of these days,

    The haunting horror and the woe,

One thought can set my heart ablaze

    My memory aglow.

It is his look just as he turned

    After the last good-byes were said,

A look as though for him there burned

    Some beacon-light ahead.

As though beyond the farthest thought

    Of this dark world’s horizon rim,

Some star of faith by us uncaught

    Swung into range for him.

As though his spirit, winged, had flown

    Past stormy seas on some far quest,

And like a bird had found its own

    Hid in a quiet nest. [page 14]

THE DAY HE WENT.

THE morning dawned both bright and clear,

    That unforgotten day he went,

The hills were blue and very near

    As if for their encouragement.

The rose that was her special care,

    Had come to color over night,

And lifted to the radiant air

    A bud half-brown—a lovely sight.

He paused a moment by its side,

    Their mingling glances on it fell,

Then his roamed where the hills divide,

   Taking of them a mute farewell.

He swept the horizon half around,

   Standing erect with kindling eye

That rested where the slope pine-crowned

    Went climbing up to meet the sky.

And then to her—with one deep look

    That knit her spirit to his own,

Courage and strength of him she took,

    And heart to face the road alone.

No word was said; the years behind

    Held no regret; and each to each

Gave pledge of what their souls divined

    Better in silence than in speech. [page 15]

ROCKING IN THE BAY.

FROM my nook beneath the pine

I can see the graceful line

    Of the little brown canoe in the bay;

Bright and windy is the weather,

But there’s no one to untether

    And go speeding to the open far away

Where the ragged clouds are flying,

And the sunset gold is dying,—

Empty, listless, she is lying,

Idly rocking, idly rocking

    In the bay.

How she’d leap to answer him

When he took the paddle slim

    And they’d race as laughing victors to the fray!

They would climb the waves together,

Riding buoyant as a feather—

    Or a bird that slants a wet wing to the spray;

But the echoing laughter dies,

Lone and far the seagull cries,

And the little playmate lies

Idly rocking, idly rocking

    In the bay. [page 16]

Son o’ mine, O little son,

Has the race indeed been run—

    Have the storm-clouds turned the blue and gold to grey?

God be praised who gave you grace,

Strength of heart and will to face

    Wilder winds upon the death-fields far away;

God praised for lads like you,

And for hearts that measure true,

Though we turn our brimming eyes

To your little brown canoe

By the reedy shore that lies

All the empty summer through

Idly rocking, idly rocking

    In the bay. [page 17]

CHALLENGE.

SOLDIER, be thy blade to-night

Keen and hungry, ruthless, bright;

Be thy strong right arm unsparing,

Swift to do thy spirit’s daring;

Let the God within thee waken,

Lead thee onward to thy height,

Let no citadel be taken

In thy hidden self to-night,

But with soul resolved, unshaken,

Trust the larger faith and fight!

Heir art thou all of the past;

Let its judgments bind thee fast.

Let the ages speak again

Through the hearts of living men;

Never was such passion laid

On our shrinking flesh as now,

Never such a price was paid

For the fealty men avow;

Soldier, this my prayer to-night,

That thy fathers serve thee well,

That their blood and valor tell,

And thy living sword a-light

Charge the very gates of Hell—

For the God of ages fight! [page 18]

Soldier, if in this night’s reaping

Thou be of the harvest found,

Should death take thee into keeping,

Sharer of the soulless ground,

Yet stand fast with sword uplifted,

Wheat from chaff is surely sifted;

Though thou leave all earth behind thee

Never fear but love will find thee;

Lies the issue on the altar,

Ours to dare and never falter.

Soldier, far from thee I stand,

Yet I take thee by the hand,

Doff this woman’s robe of weakness,

This inheritance of meekness,

Bid thee harden to the strife,

In the hour supreme of life,

Praying with my heart aflame

As I face the stars to-night;

Worthy be thou of thy name,

Deadly be thy sword and bright,—

Heaven send thee will to fight! [page 19]

AND THEY WERE YOUNG.

TIS when you’re young and life ascends

That joy waits where the white road bends,

And every face you meet is a friend’s.

’Tis when you’re young that dreams come true,

And never a cloud but the sun shines through,

When life holds out both hands to you.

For youth it is that rainbows gleam

With showers of gold in every beam—

At either end a pot o’ dream.

Ever for youth the roads run straight,

And out beside the wishing-gate

Fairies and blindfold fortune wait.

For youth the jealous roses keep

Their red hearts closed in reticence deep—

The lilies wait in folded sleep.

And oh, for youth each bush with God

Is still afire, and every sod

Bears imprint where His foot has trod.

And they were young who lie so still

Far on that sodden Flanders hill. [page 20]

THE FIELDS ARE GREEN IN CANADA.

THE fields are green in Canada,

    And bloom is on the bough,

The orchards by the farmhouse

    Are just a glory now;

The thorn-trees by the fences,

    The lilacs by the door

Seem more intent on blooming than

    They ever did before.

        But there are eyes in Canada

            That cannot see for tears,

        And there are hearts in Canada

            Grown weary with their fears,

        The nesting-birds of Canada,

            They pipe to deafened ears.

The April woods of Canada

    Harbour the sweetest things—

A flash of lilting rapture

    Mere recollection brings;

Hepaticas and violets

    And all the fairy train

Run out in rosy pathways to

    Subdue the world again. [page 21]

        But who is there in Canada

            Has any mind to-day

        To roam the woods of Canada

            Or count the flowers of May,

        When Sorrow walks in Canada

            And Grief has mind to stay?

Yet is there bloom in Canada

    With scent of other life

Plucked from the fields of burning,

    Snatched from the hands of strife;

And they who won it, silenced

    Just at the turn of dawn,

Their names shall long remembered be

    When ours are dimmed and gone.

        They made a song for Canada

            Shall ring the world around,

        Though hearts may grieve, yet Canada

            Forever more is crowned,

        And these green fields of Canada

            Henceforth are sacred ground. [page 22]

OH, NOT WHEN APRIL WAKES THE DAFFODILS.

OH, not when April wakes the daffodils,

And bob-o-links o’er misty meadows ring

    Their fluted bells, and orchards fleeced with Spring,

Go climbing up to crown the radiant hills;

Not when the budding balm-o’-gilead spills

    Its spices on the air, and lilacs bring

    Old dreams to mind, and every living thing

The brimming cup with fresh enchantment fills.

Oh, bring not then the dread report of death,—

    Of eyes to loveliness forever sealed,

Of youth that perished as a passing breath,

Of hearts laid waste and agonies untold,

   When here in every sweet Canadian field

Are heaped such treasuries of green and gold! [page 23]

CHILDREN OF ENGLAND YET TO BE.

CHILDREN, children, yet unborn,

Hold your lives in holy trust,

Yours the blossom, theirs the thorn,

Yours the sweetness, theirs the dust;

That your eyes might see the light,

That love fold you safe and warm,

Fared they to a dawnless night,

Bowed they to a bitter storm. . . .

I can see you at your play

In the dewy fields of morn,

Dancing through the scented hay,

And the sheaves of yellow corn;

There are roses on your cheek,

There is laughter in your eyes

As you romp at hide-and-seek

Where the lark and throstle rise

With your merry ways and wise,

Little children yet unborn. [page 24]

Out across the drifted sands

With your friends, the fairy-folk,

I can see you linking hands—

Ring-a-rosy round the oak.

Where the lark his rapture tells,

Swinging up into the blue,

Merrily you ring the bells

Of the fox-glove tall as you,

Housed with peace among the flowers

In the haunts that once we knew.

In far happier times than ours,

With no thought of battle-smoke,

Or of British hearts that broke.

Out beyond the shimmering waves

Of your blue, encircling sea,

Lie in nameless, foreign graves

They who kept your England free.

When you watch the wheeling stars

On soft, Summer-scented nights,

With no memory that mars,

Only English sounds and sights,

(Only infinite delights!),

Pray that every British heart

In the years that are to be,

Play the honest British part, [page 25]

Holding life more reverently

For the sacred lives they gave,

And the deathless liberty

They are dying now to save.

Little children, yet unborn,

Take your lives in holy trust,

Yours the roses, theirs the thorn,

Yours the sweetness, theirs the dust,

That love keep you safe and warm,

Bowed they to a bitter storm. [page 26]

AUTUMN, 1917.

WE know by many a tender token

    When Indian-Summer days have come,

By rustling leaves in branches oaken

    And by the cricket’s sleepy hum.

By aspen leaves no longer shaken,

    And by the river’s silvered thread,

The oriole’s swinging cup forsaken,

    Emptied of music overhead.

By long slant lines on field and fallow,

    By mellowing portals of the wood,

By silences that seem to hallow

    And invite to solitude.   .   .   .

Are there young hearts in France recalling

    These dream-filled, blue Canadian days,

When gold and scarlet flames are falling

    From beech and maple set ablaze?

Pluck they again the pale, wild aster,

    The bending plume of golden-rod?

And do their exiled hearts beat faster

    Roaming in thought their native sod? [page 27]

Dream they of Canada crowned and golden,

    Flushed with her Autumn diadem?

In years to come when time is olden,

    Canada’s dram shall be of them—

Shall be of them who gave for others

    The ardour of their radiant years:—

Your name in Canada’s heart, my brothers,

    Shall be remembered long with tears!

We give you vision back for vision,

    Forgetting not the price you paid,

O bearers of the world’s decision,

    On whom the nation’s debt was laid.

No heart can view these highways glowing

    With gold transmuted from the clod,

But crowns your glorious manhood, knowing

    You gave us back our faith in God. [page 28]

A GREAT WHITE COMPANY.

A GREAT white company—

    By Calvary’s way they trod,

A great white company

    Marching up to God.

Across the Vale of Many Tears,

    Beyond the Hill of Pain they swept,

Their way was soft with fallen tears

    Where widowed maid and mother wept.

And some were but as children are,

    Still warm where mothering hands had pressed,

So young they had not travelled far

    Beyond the hollow of the nest.

And some were tried and valorous men

    Whose eyes had seen the hidden sin,

The whitened bones beside the den,

    The fierce eye gleaming red within.

And some were singing as they went,

    Full, clarion-clear their voices rang,

With Youth still in their hearts unspent

    In wistful happiness they sang. [page 29]

And all had plucked the deathless flower

    That blows not in the fields of Time,

Had looked beyond the aging hour—

    The dimming marge of mortal clime.

A great white company—

    With faith their feet were shod,

A great white company

    Marching up to God. [page 30]

PRO PATRIA MORTUI.

SAY not they died for us;

Say, rather, with their hearts aflame,

They faced the sceptre shame,

Not counting for themselves the cost,

Well knowing else, a world were lost.

For this they came;

For this they died;

For this their death is justified.

Say not they die;

Say, rather, with youth’s larger trust,

Into the featureless, far unknown,

Challenging love’s integrity,

They spring from earth’s recoiling dust.

Could greater be?

Can love disown?

Can truth be overthrown?

Say not for us they died;

They touched that dimly-visioned height

The ever-enlarging soul of man

Has yet to climb; their feet outran

The world’s slow gait; their spirits range

In circling flight

The unconjectured fields of light.

For this they suffered change;

For this they died;

For this their death is justified. [page 31]

AT NIGHT.

BETWEEN the calling clamors of the day—

    Those duties and distractions that implore

    A woman’s heart— the children’s soft uproar,

Mercifully unconscious at their play—

And mine own arméd will, I keep at bay

    That haunting fear that waits beside my door,

    The furtive ghost that must forever more

Companion me upon the narrowing way;

But with the night—the night that used to be

    Filled with such deep serenities of space—

Dim shapes of terror stretch their hands to me,

    And dread forebodings lurk in every place;

I shrink from even the starlight lest I see

    In its pale gleam a silent, upturned face. [page 32]

TO OUR BELOVED.

THE hearts you knew in those unchallenged years,

The hearts that loved you—softer grown with tears,

       O let them by your living bed,

       O home to us, beloved dead!

We will not mourn or praise you over much,

We only ask with wistful lips to touch

       Your garment’s hem, and lay sweet boughs

       Grown of heart’s pride upon your brows.

We only ask that with you we may die

To all that you have died to, putting by

       The aims that once set life ablaze,

       The cares that vexed those restless days.

For something of us perished at your side,

The lighter self you knew died when you died;

       Though we are called by no new name,

       We, too, have passed that cleansing flame, — [page 33]

Have passed beyond the old desires and fears

Into a tenderness unstained of tears;

       ’Tis this that we would fold you in,

       Our spirits’ next and nearest kin.

Think not, Beloved, that you have suffered change

To us, it is the world that has grown strange;

       We are more wholly yours, indeed,

       As the swift tides of earth recede;

For thou condemned to life, yet do we stand

Consciously near the Undiscovered Land,

       Feeling befriended there and known

       In the high fellowship death has shown. [page 34]

LEAVE US OUR TEARS.

AT your strong hands, O gallant men,

    Out of the crucible of strife,

We who once gave, receive again

    The sacrament of life.

Lightly we gave amid our joys

    That rosed the gift to richer gain,

But you, O lion-hearted boys,

    Give out of mortal pain!

Yea, life indeed we take from you,

    Continuance of this mortal part,

But now what once as life we knew—

    Never the old ease of heart.

Smiling, you faced your fearful task,

    But we, remembering, smile no more;

Not even you may of us ask

    That we be as before.

Leave us our tears, love’s heritage,

    Cloud-mists that blur your captured height;

Leave us our griefs, the lamp of age,

    The altar-flame of night. [page 35]

CONVOCATION HALL,

May 18th, 1917.

THEY rose,

The honored and the grave,

The reverend, the grey,

While one read out the names of those

Who, gallant, young and brave,

Upon the field of battle gave

Their ardent lives away.

They rose to honour Youth—

What honor could they give?

What tribute shall we lay

Who still in safety live?

Before the shrine of those who pay

The price of honor and of truth

Giving their lives away?

They rose in reverence, yea;

But those who lie

Far on the Flanders field to-day

Had not an answering word to say;

Their silence thundered their reply—

They gave their lives away! [page 36]

IN FRANCE’S FLOWERED FIELDS.

IN France’s flowered fields they lie,

    And she will hold them close and dear,

Above their graves her trees will sigh,

    Her grasses cover them year by year.

On Summer noons the sun will stream

    In cheerful warmth across their beds,

By night the moon’s slant, filmy beam

    Build aureoles about their heads.

The fitful winds will make them moan

    In soft and plaintive melodies,

And they shall lie apart, alone,

    Through all the coming centuries;

Dwelling in silences so vast

    No thought to that high tower may climb;

An austere beauty holds them fast

    Beyond the boundaries of time.

They were to us mere laughing boys,

    But in the passing of a breath

They turned from life’s scarce-tasted joys

    To this high majesty of death.    .    . [page 37]

O France, when coming springs shall break

    In foam of bloom to hide thy scars,

And flowers of human kindness make

    An end of agonies and wars;

Forget not these our sons who came

    At that first wild, bewildered cry

With their young British hearts aflame

    Upon thy tragic hills to die.

Still have them in thy guarding care,

    A holy and a cherished trust;

And let thy children come with prayer

    To dream awhile beside their dust;—

To dream of tender love and rush,

    And give a passing thought to these

Who trod the star-lit ways of truth,

    Bondsmen of British loyalties.

And since upon thy heart lies now

    The richest ransom ever paid—

White roses torn from England’s brow

    Beside thy broke lilies laid—

Be thou our friend forever more,

    In ties of common anguish bound,

That we may know the sons we bore

    Lie not in unregarded ground. [page 38]

COUNTRY OF MINE.

COUNTRY of mine that gave me birth,

    Land of the maple and the pine,

What richer gift has this round earth

    Than these fair fruitful fields of thine?

Like sheets of gold thy harvests run

Glowing beneath the August sun;

    Thy white peaks soar,

    Thy cataracts roar,

    Thy forests stretch from shore to shore;

Untamed thy Northern prairies lie

Under an open, boundless sky;

    Yet one thing more our hearts implore—

That greatness may not pass thee by!

Thy sons have proved them of the breed

    Their gallant British fathers were,

They sprang to arms at Britain’s need,

    Young lions truly bred of her;

Their faces glowed with inner light,

As rank by rank they swept from sight;

    With hearts aflame

    They stemmed the shame,

And met the hordes that ruthless came; [page 39]

Dying, they whispered still thy name—

    O Canada, wilt thou deny

    The prayer of those who dared to die,

    And let true greatness pass thee by?

    “Prosperity, prosperity”!—

    ’Twas not for this they took the sword,

The ensign of thy destiny

    Unfurled for them a deeper word;

In tears and blood they paid the price,

And thou art pledged in sacrifice;

    Oh, not in vain

    The loss, the pain,

    If thou dost mourn thy mighty slain

    In hearts forsworn of greed and gain,

In hearts that bowed and broken cry

For light and guidance from on high,

That greatness may not pass us by! [page 40]

[blank page]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.