Cicely Fox Smith
A Ballad Of The Time
A man there was, called - what you will; he came of an ancient breed:
Sprung from the loins of the grey North, his sires were men indeed;
And they were lords of all the seas, and, dreaded in all lands,
Years ago and years ago, for they were strong o' their hands.
All in a rich and easy land suddenly dawned a day
When the talk was not of football - that he watched but could not play,
When streets were loud with marching feet, and loud the ringing quays
With more to swell the bloody toll of the war-harrowed seas, -
And a strange thing waked in this man's soul with the shrill trumpet's cry:
''Has England need of men?' he said, 'Lo, brothers, here am I!'
Somewhere, far in the ages, somewhere, back in the past,
His fathers heard the bellying sail strain at the long-ship's mast:
Somewhere across the tumbling wave whipt by a stinging breeze,
Eyes that the town-smoke had not dimmed scanned the uncharted seas.
Somewhere, ages before him, in centuries long gone by,
His forbears heard the singing shaft on its fierce errand fly
When the strong arms that learned their skill on every English green
Unto a sterner target drove their arrows swift and keen.
Somewhere in fight or foray, somewhere by sea or shore,
His fathers - they were men of might - used the great craft of war:
Nought had he kept of Cressy field or red Trafalgar's tide,
But the great heart within him and his blind unspoken pride!
Out of the ranks of the fighters they put him grimly aside;
He had never handled a rifle, he could neither shoot nor ride;
There with the babes and women they sternly bade him stay,
Fretting in shame and sorrow the bitter hours away, -
To watch the midnight skyline for a redder dawn than day,
To dream of the gaunt grim sea-wolves swinging over the foam,
The trampled fields of England, and the shambles that was home!
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