Battery Moving Up to a New Position from Rest Camp:Dawn
Not a sign of life we rouse
In any square close-shuttered house
That flanks the road we amble down
Toward far trenches through the town.
The dark, snow-slushy, empty street....
Tingle of frost in brow and feet....
Horse-breath goes dimly up like smoke.
No sound but the smacking stroke
As a sergeant flings each arm
Out and across to keep him warm,
And the sudden splashing crack
Of ice-pools broken by our track.
More dark houses, yet no sign
Of life....And axle's creak and whine....
The splash of hooves, the strain of trace....
Clatter: we cross the market place.
Deep quiet again, and on we lurch
Under the shadow of a church:
Its tower ascends, fog-wreathed and grim;
Within its aisles a light burns dim....
When, marvellous! from overhead,
Like abrupt speech of one deemed dead,
Speech-moved by some Superior Will,
A bell tolls thrice and then is still.
And suddenly I know that now
The priest within, with shining brow,
Lifts high the small round of the Host.
The server's tingling bell is lost
In clash of the greater overhead.
Peace like a wave descends, is spread,
While watch the peasants' reverent eyes....
The bell's boom trembles, hangs, and dies.
O people who bow down to see
The Miracle of Cavalry,
The bitter and the glorious,
Bow down, bow down and pray for us.
Once more our anguished way we take
Towards our Golgotha, to make
For all our lovers sacrifice.
Again the troubled bell tolls thrice.
And slowly, slowly, lifted up
Dazzles the overflowing cup.
O worshipping, fond multitude,
Remember us too, and our blood.
Turn hearts to us as we go by,
Salute those about to die,
Plead for them, the deep bell toll:
Their sacrifice must soon be whole.
Entreat you for such hearts as break
With the premonitory ache
Of bodies, whose feet, hands, and side,
Must soon be torn, pierced, crucified.
Sue for them and all of us
Who the world over suffer thus,
Who have scarce time for prayer indeed,
Who only march and die and bleed.
The town is left, the road leads on,
Bluely glaring in the sun,
Toward where in the sunrise gate
Death, honour, and fierce battle wait.
Robert Nichols's Other Poems
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