Cicely Fox Smith
The Men Who May Not Sleep - Poem by Cicely Fox Smith
When the deer have gone to covert, and the wild bird chirp their last,
And the rabbits play at twilight down the dale,
When the water-meads grow ghostly and the dews are rising fast,
And the misty river shows a fleecy trail,
When the white moon hangs her shield o'er the drowsy clover-field,
And the English night draws down on vale and steep,
Look awhile across the billow ere you rest upon your pillow,
And remember then the men who may not sleep.
In the stifling tropic midnight they are lying open-eyed,
With watchful ears thro' sleepless nights grown keen,
And a hand that rests unceasing on the pistol close beside,
For they know not what the foes that lurk unseen.
God help them if they doze, or their lives are with their foes,
So slowly, slowly through the night they creep,
And they wake from homesick dreaming but to see the dagger gleaming,
But to know the time is come when they may sleep.
Thro' the breathless, fog-rolled ocean, at the dense mid-dark of night,
On their slow and cautious way the liners go:
And the watchers dare not think on the closely-looming plight
Of the heedless, helpless folk who sleep below.
Slow they creep by blindfold ways thro' the white, unlifting haze,
And the fog-horn wails its woe o'er all the deep;
And with wide eyes outward straining, all unflinching, uncomplaining,
Stand strong and stern the man who may not sleep.
It is easier far to battle when the bugles sound alarm,
To charge with never time to draw a breath,
Than to live with hand on pistol and an ear that lists for harm,
And night by night to stand full face with Death.
To wait the night-time's end, one 'mid foes, with ne'er a friend,
When the camp-fire flickers low and shadows creep;
Strong his heart must be and ready, pulses cool and senses steady,
Who would live as live the men who may not sleep.
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