Robert Laurence Binyon

(1869-1943 / England)

Ode For September - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

On that long day when England held her breath,
Suddenly gripped at heart
And called to choose her part
Between her loyal soul and luring sophistries,
We watched the wide, green--bosomed land beneath
Driven and tumultuous skies;
We watched the volley of white shower after shower
Desolate with fierce drops the fallen flower;
And still the rain's retreat
Drew glory on its track,
And still, when all was darkness and defeat,
Upon dissolving cloud the bow of peace shone back.
So in our hearts was alternating beat,
With very dread elate;
And Earth dyed all her day in colours of our fate.

But oh, how faint the image we foretold
In fancies of our fear
Now that the truth is here!
And we awake from dream yet think it still a dream.
It bursts our thoughts with more than thought can hold;
And more than human seem
These agonies of conflict; Elements
At war! yet not with vast indifference
Casually crushing; nay,
It is as if were hurled
Lightnings that murdered, seeking out their prey;
As if an earthquake shook to chaos half the world,
Equal in purpose as in power to slay;
And thunder stunned our ears
Streaming in rain of blood on torrents that are tears.

Around a planet rolls the drum's alarm.
Far where the summer smiles
Upon the utmost isles,
Danger is treading silent as a fever--breath.
Now in the North the secret waters arm;
Under the wave is Death:
They fight in the very air, the virgin air,
Hovering on fierce wings to the onset: there
Nations to battle stream;
Earth smokes and cities burn;
Heaven thickens in a storm of shells that scream;
The long lines shattering break, turn and again return;
And still across a continent they teem,
Moving in myriads; more
Than ranks of flesh and blood, but soul with soul at war!

All the hells are awake: the old serpents hiss
From dungeons of the mind;
Fury of hate born blind,
Madness and lust, despairs and treacheries unclean;
They shudder up from man's most dark abyss.
But there are heavens serene
That answer strength with strength; they stand secure;
They arm us from within, and we endure.
Now are the brave more brave,
Now is the cause more dear,
The more the tempests of the darkness rave
As, when the sun goes down, the shining stars are clear.
Radiant the spirit rushes to the grave.
Glorious it is to live
In such an hour, but life is lovelier yet to give.

Alas! what comfort for the uncomforted,
Who knew no cause, nor sought
Glory or gain? they are taught,
Homeless in homes that burn, what human hearts can bear.
The children stumble over their dear dead,
Wandering they know not where.
And there is one who simply fights, obeys,
Tramps, till he loses count of nights and days,
Tired, mired in dust and sweat,
Far from his own hearth--stone;
A common man of common earth, and yet
The battle--winner he, a man of no renown,
Where ``food for cannon'' pays a nation's debt.
This is Earth's hero, whom
The pride of Empire tosses careless to his doom.

Now will we speak, while we have eyes for tears
And fibres to be wrung
And in our mouths a tongue.
We will bear wrongs untold but will not only bear;
Not only bear, but build through striving years
The answer of our prayer,
That whosoever has the noble name
Of man, shall not be yoked to alien shame;
That life shall be indeed
Life, not permitted breath
Of spirits wrenched and forced to others' need,
Robbed of their nature's joy and free alone in death.
The world shall travail in that cause, shall bleed,
But deep in hope it dwells
Until the morning break which the long night foretells.

O children filled with your own airy glee
Or with a grief that comes
So swift, so strange, it numbs,
If on your growing youth this page of terror bite,
Harden not then your senses, feel and be
The promise of the light.
O heirs of Man, keep in your hearts not less
The divine torrents of his tenderness!
'Tis ever war: but rust
Grows on the sword; the tale
Of earth is strewn with empires heaped in dust
Because they dreamed that force should punish and prevail.
The will to kindness lives beyond their lust;
Their grandeurs are undone:
Deep in man's suffering soul are all his victories won.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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