Robert Laurence Binyon
Edith Cavell - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon
She was binding the wounds of her enemies when they came—
The lint in her hand unrolled.
They battered the door with their rifle-butts, crashed it in:
She faced them gentle and bold.
They haled her before the judges where they sat
In their places, helmet on head.
With question and menace the judges assailed her, “Yes,
I have broken your law,” she said.
“I have tended the hurt and hidden the hunted, have done
As a sister does to a brother,
Because of a law that is greater than that you have made,
Because I could do none other.
“Deal as you will with me. This is my choice to the end,
To live in the life I vowed.”
“She is self-confessed,” they cried; “she is self-condemned.
She shall die, that the rest may be cowed.”
In the terrible hour of the dawn, when the veins are cold,
They led her forth to the wall.
“I have loved my land,” she said, “but it is not enough:
Love requires of me all.
“I will empty my heart of the bitterness, hating none.”
And sweetness filled her brave
With a vision of understanding beyond the hour
That knelled to the waiting grave.
They bound her eyes, but she stood as if she shone.
The rifles it was that shook
When the hoarse command rang out. They could not endure
That last, that defenceless look.
And the officer strode and pistolled her surely, ashamed
That men, seasoned in blood,
Should quail at a woman, only a woman,—
As a flower stamped in the mud.
And now that the deed was securely done, in the night
When none had known her fate,
They answered those that had striven for her, day by day:
“It is over, you come too late.”
And with many words and sorrowful-phrased excuse
Argued their German right
To kill, most legally; hard though the duty be,
The law must assert its might.
Only a woman! yet she had pity on them,
The victim offered slain
To the gods of fear that they worship. Leave them there,
Red hands, to clutch their gain!
She bewailed not herself, and we will bewail her not,
But with tears of pride rejoice
That an English soul was found so crystal-clear
To be triumphant voice
Of the human heart that dares adventure all
But live to itself untrue,
And beyond all laws sees love as the light in the night,
As the star it must answer to.
The hurts she healed, the thousands comforted—these
Make a fragrance of her fame.
But because she stept to her star right on through death
It is Victory speaks her name.
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