Robert William Service

(16 January 1874 - 11 September 1958 / Preston)

Portent


Courage mes gars:
La guerre est proche.

I plant my little plot of beans,
I sit beneath my cyprus tree;
I do not know what trouble means,
I cultivate tranquillity . . .
But as to-day my walk I made
In all serenity and cheer,
I saw cut in an agave blade:
"Courage, my comrades, war is near!"

Seward I went, my feet were slow,
Awhile I dowsed upon the shore;
And then I roused with fear for lo!
I saw six grisly ships of war.
A grim, grey line of might and dread
Against the skyline looming sheer:
With horror to myself I said:
"Courage, my comrades, war is near!"

I saw my cottage on the hill
With rambling roses round the door;
It was so peaceful and so still
I sighed . . . and then it was no more.
A flash of flame, a rubble heap;
I cried aloud with woe and fear . . .
And wok myself from troubled sleep -
My home was safe, war was not near.

Oh, I am old, my step is frail,
My carcase bears a score of scars,
And as I climbed my homeward trail
Sadly I thought of other wars.
And when that agave leaf I saw
With vicious knife I made a blear
Of words clean-cut into the raw:
"Courage, my comrades, war is near!"

Who put hem there I do not know -
One of these rabid reds, no doubt;
But I for freedom struck my blow,
With bitter blade I scraped them out.
There now, said I, I will forget,
And smoke my pipe and drink my beer -
Yet in my mind these words were set:
"Courage, my comrades, war is near!"

"Courage, my comrades, war is near!"
I hear afar its hateful drums;
Its horrid din assails my ear:
I hope I die before it comes. . . .
Yet as into the town I go,
And listen to the rabble cheer,
I think with heart of weary woe:
War is not coming - WAR IS HERE.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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