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VICTORY FOR THE SLAIN

by Hugh Lofting

1942

I; II; III; IV; V; VI; VII

      I

      SWINGING in step,
In sweat, they pass me,
These khakied squads of infantry,
As, more old and slow, from Town
I climb Northminster Hill.
      Queer, how the beat of military drill
Can wrench my nerves and brain so tight
With that infernal, 'Left! . . . . .
'Left, right! . . . . 'Left, right!'
      Perhaps my very thinking's out of step.

They fade. And soon,
Long shadows stretching into afternoon,
I come upon a soldier all alone,
Here seated on the High Street's curb of stone.
      The blue of hospital he wears.
His fingers fumble matches on his knee.
Perplexed I wonder—then I see
How awkwardly he tries to get
A flame up to his cigarette
With one remaining hand—his left.
Far off and faint: Left! . . . . .
'Left, right! . . . . 'Left, right!'

      Relaxed, he puffs
And smiles in thankfulness because
To help him he had seen me pause.
      Lest we forget!

Around his feet lie matches' embers.
If we forget he still remembers.
His features pale show no regret,
But with his mates—and thousands yet,
Can he forget? .

      Lest tears he'll see,
I turn—continue up the hill;
But as I go my old eyes fill;
And helplessly
My mind recalls the dirge refrain:
      In war the only victors are the slain.

      Sergeants for recruitment
And again the fluttering girls!
So much for philosophy's analysis
      Versus the immediacy of present need.

At day's end, like a weary peasant
Returning to the peace of home,
To refuge from the Now and Present,
Of evenings,
      To this edifice I come.

      As I approach
the summit of the hill,
It slowly dawns
From curved horizon into view
      And zenithward ascends from earth anew.

      Grey, silhouetted belfry,
How your circling rooks still cry
And glide against that glowing, twilit sky
Whose roseate dusks of promise calmed,
Or blood-red dawns of storm alarmed
The shepherds through millennia!

      Set back
Where meaner buildings may not spoil
The vista to those centuries of toil,
This song, this melody in stone,
Here chanted by the generations gone,
Now beckons my wearying feet toward
Its verdant, wide and welcoming sward.
      'Come unto me!'

      Three gentle flights of steps converge
To platform, where the triptych doors
Their greys of oak with greys of lime-stone merge;
And, glorious, the façade soars
Up where, now sun-tipped, greys of stone
With lavenders of clouds, in tone,
Blend pallid finials with the sky;
And Man's enraptured works to God's reply
      Translucent tints of dreaming harmony.
       
      What if their planes come over this
      With unseeing eyes of Science!
       
      How strange,
That even as my fingers grasp
The ancient portal's eaten hasp
The blatant noises of To-day
In murmurs mould and melt away:
The railway train, the car's harsh horn,
Mellowed into Past, reborn,
      Now change to bygone, more melodious strains.

      Silent on its hinges,
The massive oak swings to.
The weighty latch drops softly
With its dull metallic click
And no reverberating echo's rumble
      Betrays my entrance here.

      Within
In humble solitude I stand,
Drinking the silence eloquently grand,
To lighten melancholy and to quench my pain.
My son, my dear, dead, happy son,
Like you,
In war the only victors are the slain.

      My stature soon, inexplicably grown,
New-come from open air, alone,
Expands with lifting gratitude to face
The somehow greater greatness
      Of this walled-in space.

      Cruciform beatitude in stone!
Trinity in channels: nave
With aisle to left and aisle to right—
Sign of Western Cross, from left to right.
'Left, right! . . . . 'Left, right!' . . . .
That thrice-accursed beat
      Still pounds within my brain.

      Proud architects of Past,
Princes in stateliness' design,
What paradox in grandeur and obscurity!
Your genius's modesty here shames
Our modern Art so publicized.
Call me the score:
How many who come here will know your names?
For selves
You weighed as naught world-wide acclaims—
Anonymous identity and fate—
Content to let your hymns in stone relate
The praise of Craft.
In this you show, dead architects,
      How truly you were great.

      Walls,
Dear, treasuring walls
I hear you whispering your history
To hardened ears, your millennium of memories:
Sad requiem sung;
These banners and standards, tattered, hung;
The trophies of battle on alien soil,
Sole prizes of courage and suffering toil.
For these
How many in their graves are lain?
      In war the only victors are the slain.

      But, nave, you sing!
Vast nave, you still can sing!
Asperges twixt your flanking aisles;
Your columns of columns march unending—
Processioned stone,
Phalanxed and symmetric, wending,
Adeste! —Sing!
While candle-flames in worn, shined sconces
So gently sway their timed responses.

      Here Nobodies with Somebodies, abreast,
In Faith paid homage with the rest.
Democracy immortal was defined
When majesty and poverty combined.

      Sinners, saints and soldiers
Like these pillars of stone in line,
All levelled in the eyes of God,
To Future of the Futures, on they trod—
Eternity in front and Neverness behind.
      Walls, we hear them sing.
High, vaulted roof your echoes find
And ring!
Sing, Acolytes equal,
      Pauper and King!

      There—Was that a flash
I saw through incense-mist?
A gleam! —A naked sword?
Lord Abbot, there, my lord—
I beg you interfere—
If you would brook no brawling here.

Mad riots in cathedrals have been known
When wild Plantagenets have held the throne.
Was not staunch Becket slaughtered at the Mass
By Henry's barons?
It is a sword!
Forbid them, Abbot, this I pray—
Oh! . . . . God's mercy! . . . .Oh! . . . .
      What are these words I say?
      Lord Abbot, your pardon!
My eyes and mind play tricks—
The incense—
I am ageing, Father—Let me sit . . . .
Forgive my shortened breath—
      A murder, sacrilege, I feared.
      I wonder if the sacristan has heard—
Venerable guardian of the sanctuary-lamps,
The lamps that never quench—
What may he think, if at this bench,
Seeking voices strange and noises queer
He finds
This babbling nonentity a'nodding here? . . . . .
Abbot—or Sacristan—I meant . . . . Oh, breath!
      I meant no harm.

      II

      HOLY Water stoop; Poor Box.
Poor Box, receptacle for needy's aid,
What generations here their tribute made! —
Where all their sympathy might offer
      To your savings, humble little coffer.
       
      I know your prayerful, lilting lullaby by heart:
      None but the miserly ever forgot
      Alms to let fall through this worn, fretted slot;
      Ducats and guilders and guineas of gold,
      Groats, silver crowns and the pennies untold,
      Coinage from all the four quarters of Earth—
      Pittance from pious in wealth or in dearth.
       
      Poor, Poor Box!
I wish your open mouth could speak.
Were you, symbol of sweet Charity,
Sometimes abused? —
Philanthropy with ostentatious patronage confused?

      Money!
What has money, in its essence
Or as instrument of power, consigned us?
To hoard is not to earn—
Money-power in Past, as now,
      Made continents in devastation burn.
       
      And I, myself,
Have seen an antique watch of gold
Lying in an offertory-plate,
Dropped there by a widow I
      Who had nothing else to give.
       
      But, Poor Box,
Your patient duty here was surely good:
To bring the destitute some help and food.
      Yes, give us the conservation of the earth,
The farm and food—
What futility to brood
      On pictures of the Past!
       
And yet? . . . . Not yet so fast!
For Past can speak and Future call.
It is the Present,
Always you, accursed Present, stand accused
And your backsliding failure to foresee—
Forever blaming Circumstance,
The errors of your fathers and the exigence of Chance
To salve your careless conscience.

      Deny that it was you! —
This unforeseeing you,
Who forged the flaws and faults
Into those fault-filled chains
You left for poor Posterity to drag
      Unlinking and unriddling along the years!

      Ah, move on, so fatuous oracle!—
With your glib facility's
Cascading cataracts of glittering words—
Vainly bent to pack the wisdom of the ages
Plus Infinity's circling and perpetual motion
      Into a stanza bound and stopped!
       
      Planes? The walls are strong.
      The roof is frail . . . . They must not come!

      From Poor Box
And from those who want
      To richly carved Baptismal Font.
       
      And there, nearby,
The bell-ropes, swayless, grouped,
From high and dim, pierced ceiling's dizzy fall,
Dreaming in potential pen dance, hanging—
Clarion signallers for duty, for alarm or rest—
Composed, await the summoning clanging
Of Angelus hours' revolving call.
Salve, Regina! . . . . .

      Inherited miseducation;
Long-cultured prejudice;
Propaganda's maledicted misdirection,
Made worse and wider now
By Modern Money's swifter sowing of untruth . . . . .
      Ave, Maria! . . . . .

      Oh, unthinking little wisdom of our time,
There is no war, not bred of wars,
That was not nursed on lies!
Salve, Regina Angelorum! . . . . .
 
      Motionless, bare-headed reapers praying,
Closed eyelids, and their forelocks straying—
Labour suaged by breath of gentle wind—
      Simplicity's lilies in the field.

      None but the criminal can be made
To plunge into a heart he was not taught to hate
A bayonet's cold unthinking blade.
Angelus Domini . . . . .

      Is it not equally to blame
To teach God's children, 'My Country, right or wrong;'
'The White Man's Burden'—or that 'Rjght is Might' —

Or that to dominion by conquest
For evermore they should proclaim
The dedication of their very race's name? . . . .
And the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary . . . . .

      III

      MY FOOTSTEPS rouse no sound
Or echo from the stone
As up the aisle I pass,
Walking on the epitaphs of Saxon abbots—
Great prelates whose dying lips requested
This ultimate humility in death:
That their remains be placed beneath a pavement
Where feet of laity would tread
In coming to the Mass . . . . .
      'Aethelstan' and 'Elred!' . . . .

      Wholesome, friendly Death,
You are no grim or morbid Reaper here.

      Give me your hand again, as once you did
In Flanders, such a little time ago,
Some score of years and five.
      Neither Dunstan's sturdy heart
Nor this less valorous one of mine
Could suffer shock or hurt
From rubbing elbows with you,
Familiar neighbour Death; for here
      Life itself is but your twin in Hope.
       
Dusk creeping on—
God grant those bombers of the air
      Hold off a while at least!

      Little door;
Little door, half-open.
Open?—No one robs a church—
Not openly.
      King John—or Henry Tudor? . . . . .
       
      Beyond, I see a strip of well-clipped grass
Where plump blue pigeons strut,
Searching and pecking in the sod—
      Friends of Saint Francis.

      Brave guardian cock!
Always on the watch—even at your feeding,
With your ruffled neck and scarlet eye
Tilting and craning now and then
To watch the sky
For hovering hawks.
      I've seen your instinct do the same
When silver of an aeroplane
Has flashed against the sunlit blue.
      The breeze so softly roughs
Blue feathers on your neck.
      Those planes! . . . . .
      Keep watching, keep watching, little cock!
      What peace! —Such peace is here!

      Behind,
This sad side-altar where
Madonna of the Dolours grieves—
Dolores—symbol of World Sorrowing enshrined—
To sacristy, I see a passage wind.
Though windowless, this tunnel plain and bare
Shows serviceable walling, smoothly shined
      By brushing of a million surplice sleeves.

      Armorial sepulchres, embrasured tombs—
Prince-bishops, legates and great cardinals,
Seigneurs, hidalgos, margraves, earls,
Saxons, Norsemen, Normans, Celts—
Men of power, nobility of all the earth,
Goodly little league of nations
Now more closely and so ultimately leagued
      In death and peace!

      Cousins, some, to stout du Guesclin,
Captain whose brave heart fear never knew,
Whose widely famed escutcheon bore no stain—
Romance living by the sword
      And by its bright blade slain.

      Du Guesclin, fortitude's example! .
Bear up, Free French,
Come lift your cross again—
The Cross of Survival, Cross of Salvation,
      The Cross of Crusade and Cross of Lorraine!

And see! —On coffin's lid of stone
Effigy of Chatelaine lying;
Little spaniel graven at her feet—
Sweet smile, Death's voicelessness defying—
      Serenity lonely but complete.
       
      No mate on twin sarcophagus emplaced!
Re-union with her love deferred? . . . . .
I read the epitaph almost defaced:
      Her Knight's in Palestine interred.

His shield here, dented—
And a helmet gashed . . . . .
I see him now . . . . Look, look, the path he slashed
To the rescue of the King!
      On thundering horse with flying mane
He sunders the Saracen ranks apart
This friend of Richard the Lionheart.
'Plantagenet's down!'—Now risen again . . . .
Victory? —Yes. But among the slain
Lies there your Knight! . . . . .
And they brought you back
      A shield!
       
      Hail to the Dead!
Hail, heraldry and pride of race,
Hail, lineage, emblazoned resting-place!
All hail to you,
      The equal and the peaceful Dead!

      May that be why you smile, sweet Chatelaine,
When this, a shield, War made your only gain?
No, no bitterness is here.
      How then may I account
This sunlight in your face,
Benevolence, this strength, this kindly grace,
      Triumphant, tranquil—as are the victors slain?

      Perhaps in life you too were fain
To warn a chivalry so brave but vain.
      Smile and sleep, dead Chatelaine!
Reward more worthy now is yours.
Our Day's too young to count the scores.
In past you lived: for Future yearned.
Your lesson still we have not learned.
This peace, for which in life you sought,
To us, in after-life, you taught.
Dear, widowed but rewarded saint,
      Smile on!

      IV

      CHANCEL, enframed
Within the apexed arch
That leaps and springs
From Aspiration's humble feet to God!
      Like Crusade, where Cross and Crescent
Opposed—no medial—in Holy Land,
Here, ignoring querulous Present,
      Is Past to Future, bridging, spanned.

      So Memory to Hope is wedded
In nuptials of Man's dreams ideal;
And heirs of Motherhood so bedded
      May make his god-ambitions real.

      Yet, Deity of any Faith,
For Whom, the long millennium equal
To a tick upon our clock must be,
May we ephemera expect a sequel
From forbears of Eternity
Before Earth merges to another star?
If here we boast of what we are,
Explain, All Knowing, what we were!
And tell, Omnipotence, what we'll be!

      Ah, walls, maternal walls!
You must have wept your welcomes
When you saw
      Your coffined sons borne home from foreign war!

      My mourning walls,
Brave bastions of bygone years,
Can these wet bead-drops be your tears
For Knighthood in these tombs here sleeping,
So still in death, dead vigil keeping?
      Or are they testaments of sorrow
For Yesterday, To-day, To-morrow—
For stubborn Man's refusal to disbar
      The futile frenzy of recurrent War?
       
      Walls, these statued figures wait
Beneath your sheltering arms
Like spectres dimmed
By gloom of coming nightfall,
As if despising all alarms
      Of iconoclast invaders . . . . .

Magdalen to right; Saint Veronica to left;
High altar to the East; baptismal font to West;
Transept to the right; transept to the left;
Left, right! . . . . 'Left!
      What's this? —Is my mind bereft,
Possessed? —No!
I'm no madder than this world.
      This world has mind-plague—
And In quarter-centuries the fits return
And cause
With their accursed wars
All building of the centuries to burn.

      I'm not mad!
And no one saw me enter.
If they should hunt me here
I'll escape and crash
The thunder-knocker on the giant door
      And cry, .
'Abbot, Lord Abbot, let me in,
'Sanctuary! —Sanctuary I win
While my fingers grasp the bronze!'

      'Left, right! —Left, right! . . . . 'Left!
What is this sticking in my brain,
Which stops the very blood
Of reason's flow?
      No!
Are they come again?
Most surely these are new!
Are not
The intervening years too few?
      It's every score of years and five
That they return—
Not now!
      Are these alive
Or spectres of the Past, all slain?
      In War the only ones that yet lived on
Are gone—
The conquering slain.
      It is not time! . . . . Halt!
Left, right! Gauche, droit!
Links, rechts! . . . . Left, right! BATTALION . . . . Halt!
      Halt, oh, halt them, God of Hosts!
My sight's too weak to tell the ghosts
From men of flesh.
      And there's that flash again
Bayonet or broadsword? —Are not the twain
Fused here as one?
      They fade! . . . . They're gone!

      Sweet evening light!
Like my poor sight
So nearly blind,
You're dimming; but my mind
More clearly sees.
      Firm walls, bear up my faltering knees.
Give breath, give breath, dear breathing walls!
This soft light, too,
Upon your smooth strength falls.
      Tell me they'll not come again
With sacrilegious arms to stain
You, dear stronghold of sanity's regain!

      My reverent palms upon you press.
Accept my throbbing heart's caress
So thankful for the coolness of your stone;
And steady me this little space of time.
Burnt dry,
My lips brush moisture from your flaking lime.
      In you embraced,
No longer shall I fear to be alone,
My Sanctuary,
      My Sanctuary in stone!

      V

      MAN, God's poorest handiwork!
We, the great!
How much more great the tiny motes of dust
Dancing in these slanting beams
From tracery's glass
      Of amber, violet and rose!

      Yet, some of us were great—
It must be so.
      Perhaps. Omnipotence, long, long ago
You touched our hearts
With exaltation's lifting glow,
To kindle growth we never guessed—
To pull us through Dark Ages' guilt—
And thus this psalm in stone we built;
      But later slowly changed,
Unknowing that we cast away
Our tranquil stature day by day;
Till back to littleness we crept,
      Where, in oblivion, our visions slept..
And now,
We look at this and wonder how
      From hands like ours it ever came.

Vain, vaunting Moderns,
In hectic, hurrying Science to despise
A way of life
      Whose gracious leisure was its dearest prize!

      A way of life: Via Crucis!
The Stations of the Cross unfold. .
The Calvary-pilgrimage around you, walls—
Recounting walls, who also tell
The trials which ancient chivalry befell,
Those sagas great and lessons grim
      That followed Resurrection's Hymn.
       
      That beat—
The tramp of marching feet? —
The whirr of starting planes at dusk or dawn!
Why must I mingle and confuse
These sounds and thoughts that muse
      So madly through my mind?

      Wars to end wars? —War again!
Must Mankind forever kill and kill,
Thwarting every decent dictate
      Of the human will?
War again! —
When well we know
      War's final victors always were the slain.

      This apathy!
Our apathy in peace-time:
      The gallant ardour of this Youth for war!

      Poor, listless soldier, maimed,
Bravely trying to re-design
A shattered life
      With but a single hand!

      The little door sways, silent, in the breeze
As if, like my poor mind, it were in doubt
To yield or fight,
Swayed by force of World's wild winds—
Blowing left or right—
Now pulling from within
      Now pressed on from without.

      When nation against nation
Shall at last lay down their arms,
Will Class against another come—
The Reds against the Whites? .
      And faiths and races, too,
The Whites against the Blacks—
Mahommedan, the Christian, the Arab, and the Jew—
Must we admit this We against the You.
      Forever shall return for solving?

      Will both these Armageddons seem
As naught but mere rebukes
For peace-time apathy of Past
When measured
With that more terrifying Social Storm,
The Second Flood, that broods
And quivers on the lintel of the door—
The little door half-open,
Providing closed-in Man
      His single entrance and his one escape?
       
      And still the statues wait
In serried, marble confidence
Trusting our humanity;
While flickers of a sanctuary lamp
Make deepening shadows rise and fall
      Behind their backs.

      Destroyers and oppressors all!
Attila and Tamerlane!
Savage Hun or Mongol horde!
Those stolen lands will not remain
In restful amity's accord,
      Or 'peace' dictated by a sword!
       
      Dark memories of the Dead are long.
No 'order' can atone for Wrong.
Your children's children will disown
Your means—for which they can't atone
To justify dominion's end—
      And legacies they can't defend.

      VI

      GREAT Restfulness,
Dear, grateful restfulness!
Pagan and Papal, the romance,
      The story of this Rome!

      The triple crown, the mitred majesty
And humility majestic;
The jewelled chalices, the altar-cloth of gold,
Imperial purple come to Easter Mass—
All stemming from the lowly cow-shed
Nigh too Bethlehem. . . . The East and West,
Herod and Tiberius . . . . .

      Raiders!
Raiders from the sea, the land—
      Raiders from the air!

      Great Papal Rome,
Who would not forswear
A second sacking of your Hallowed Home
      By air?

      You, past arbiter of Kings
And kingly conduct,
Mistakes of policy you may have made,
But never did you lend your sanction
To oppression of the lowly
Or destruction of the weak '
      By stronger realms.

      And if now
A puffed-up, paltry Caesar hides behind
Your sacred vestments, Christian Rome,
Surely we can find
Other means to thwart his crumbling schemes
Than a Slaughter of the Innocents
      Or a razing of your treasury of Past.
       
      Let 'V' of Victory be ours;
But, with you, we never need invoke a 'V'
For VENGEANCE Shall be Mine,
Nor court the stigma of the 'V'
      For Vandals.

      VII

      LADY-CHAPEL, priedieu set for prayer,
Madonna sculptured from the marble of Carara,
With the Blessed Babe,
      Above the little altar wide enough for Mass.

      There, down below,
The reliquary—glass-fronted;
And within
Its treasuring, half-lighted, tiny vault
I glimpse the relics:
A bishop's ring; a blood-stained thorn;
Two finger-bones of some dead saint-evangelist
Who blessed the heathen on a distant shore
Long, long ago—the hand of Faith;
Knotted cords; some tinsel from a wreath
      And a rosary's broken beads,

      Reliquaries under altars
And reliquaries under hearts—our own
Dim, mile-stoned memoranda:
Petals faintly fragrant
And the ferns pressed flat in prayer-books;
Memories of sparrows in a flowering garden
      Near a cloister,
       
      The priedieu's old and smooth and worn.
Some choir-boy's pocket knife has cut
The letter 'M' into the oak . . . . .
      Rosaries and litanies.

      Loretto, loveliest of all the litanies—
Litany in stone!
Madonna, who would dare add words
      To Loretto's masterpiece in literature
      prayer?

      'Mirror of Justice, Pray for us!
'Tower of David, Seat of Wisdom,
'Spiritual Vessel, Health of the Sick,
'Queen of Angeles, Gate of Heaven,
'Morning Star, Tower of Ivory,
      'Mystical Rose, Pray for us!'

      Who dares add words?

      But is there impiety
If we devise, Madonna,
Our own less lovely modern prayers? —
For of these, sinners have more need
      Than saints inspired.

      Dear, constant Sanctuary Light
Of Charity's Eternal Flame!
Fair Emblem-flower upon the shield! —
The shield brought back from bitterness
Of foreign war—
Maternal Symbol
Of all the great and good in human hearts!
Hold staunch and fast

This only shield for us, the shield of Peace
      That shall not pass away.
       
      And if eternal vigilance
Shall be the price,
Remind us of this vigil of the Dead,
The conquering slain, who here
So patient, silent:, watch and wait;
And let us, that little price
Forever, as our debt of honour unto them
      Be grateful, ready and most glad to pay.

      Ave, Maria! —Ave, atque vale!
I can n longer kneel.
      My knees are stiff with age.
Your blessing, please, upon my shoulders
      As I go.
       
      Again my footsteps make no sound.
How did these architects of past
Achieve this pin-drop quiet, so echoless,
Within their churches? —
Perhaps reaching for the hush of human longing
      Through devotional repose.

And yet . . . . there is some sound
The organ-loft? . . . . .
No, beyond the little door—outside
I cannot see the grass; the light is dimmer.
Thunder. . . .Tenebrae! —Golgotha's Dark! . . . .
No, it's not the season for the service.

      Listen! . . . . A drone!
That's it . . . . But is it in my ears alone?
A drone! That's it: a droning in the sky . . . . .
      A drone of aeroplanes!

      At last, with whistling scream, it strikes.
Cutting through the chancel-roof like paper,
The bomb
      Explodes before the tabernacle of our dreams
       
      Rose-window warns with heightened hues
That buildings burn below the hill;
The town's on fire!
Up crescendo air-raid sirens' eerie call:
Take cover! —Where, in here?

      Why would I go from you, Great Restfulness?
Where else?
'Together let us stand while yet we may.
They'll not hunt me here—and if they do,
They may only find my bones among your rubble.

      I saw poor Coventry in ruins crushed
To staccato of machine-gull stutter
And snapping bark of anti-aircraft guns.
I saw the incendiaries flash,
The bombs like rain!
       Not here! Oh, halt them God!
I heard torpedoes scream and crash;
Saw volcanoes of poor brick-work smashed,
Spewed up—as water by a stone is splashed—
The shattering of glass, out-burst.
      Invaders, may your savage seed be curst
For mothers' wails
Crying in extremity to God
Over children's bodies broken, rent
And bleeding on the dusty asphalt!
      God's Country!

      Planes! —Planes over playgrounds,
Over prayers for the dead -the freshly dead!
Useless! . . . . Uselessness!
      That hand, that baby hand— a left!

      Why not, foul vultures of the night,
Carry back this carrion
These spilled-out entrails,
These poor severed hands
Back to those enslaved and trampled lands—
Go! —
And feed them to your vermined fledglings
      Now nested in poor Flanders' fields of woe!

      This moisture on my palms!
Is it blood . . . .or sweat of fear. . . .or tears?
Lachrymae Christi! . . . . Tears!
That's what he said:
With blood and sweat and tears.
Oh, steady! . . . . The dark—Golgotha's Dark! —
Steadiness we need.

      Steady me, dear walls of stone.
Where are you, walls? —The dark!
My sight—my day is gone.
Let my questing fingers touch you once again,
Even if I made this Darkness, too, myself—
This second coming of Golgotha . . . .
The bombs are raining and the roof is rent . . . .
Ah, walls, you're here, still cold and calm.
My heart's blood thunders in my ears.
But you are here . . . . .
      And wood—and steel? . . . . A latch!
       
      My little door, half-open, still ajar!
The Storm is brooding on your lintel yet.
But do not close—stand still ajar.
      Mankind has mind-plague, door.
      The world's wild winds
May never blow you shut.
You must remain for Man
His ultimate escape
From this returning curse,
      His malady of mind.

      For if at Armistice he sinks
Again to Apathy,
His eyes may never open on a better day;
And he,
Finding no Ararat of rescue,
In invited Deluge of obliteration
      Must irretrievably be swept away.

      These sturdy walls can stand some battering.
But twenty times their buttressed strength
Could not protect the hallowed Past
Beneath this roof so weak.
      For now the droning squadrons
Gather, teem and swarm
Across the choked vibrating sky.
The quickening flashes show the stone-dust
Hung upon the deathly air,
Hung and writhing like poor ghosts disturbed
By dill of desecration—
Ghosts who, horror-muted, group and stare
Across the toppled candlesticks
Prone before that ragged gaping hole
We called an altar.
      Stone-dust.
Raised by transient and destroying Science
Supplants the incense
      Of healing and repairing Time.

      Ah, conquering slain!
Dear listening Dead,
Withhold all bitter and deserved disdain
At our poor boastful words:
'The War to end wars'. . . .
      War again!

      Triumphant slain!
You hear this querulous thunder
Of our feeble madness once again:
But despair not
Of our hope for betterment or cure.
      Come, from your graves of sacrifice arise!
And with your dead but more enlightened eyes
      Direct us to the Peace that must endure.
      Be patient at your vigil, waiting dead.
      Remembering the lessons of the Past, we now
Will pledge to you the sacred vow:
This time
Not only in our hearts
But through our hands and in our deeds
You will remain
And still live on—you shall live on,
      Victorious Slain!