In the Trenches

WE lay among the rifle-pits, above our low heads streaming
Bullets, like sleet, with now and then, near by, the vicious screaming
Of shells that made us hold our breath, till each had burst and blasted
Its ghastly circle, hid in smoke — here, there—and while it lasted,
That murderous fume and fusillade, our hearts were in our throats ;
For hell let loose about us raged, and in those muddy moats
The rain that fell was shot and shell, the plash it made was red,
And all about the long redoubt was garrisoned with dead.
Upon my right a veteran in rasping whispers swore ;
Upon my left an Irish lad breathed Ave Marys o’er.
And I ? — Well, well, I won’t aver my lips no murmur made;
A prayer, long silent, half forgot, stirred them ; but something stayed
The sacred words; I locked my lips. “No, no, ah no!” I thought:
“ Not now ! I ’ll wait, nor sue for what, unharmed, I left unsought!
Not so I ’ll pray, let come what may ! ” I held my heart and lips,
And, nerved afresh, I gripped my rifle-stock — when — something clips
Smartly my temple (that long lock conceals the bullet’s mark),
And, sharply stinging, with ears loud-ringing, I dropped into the dark.
When I awoke, the sultry smoke was gone, and over me,
Faint as a cloud against the air, a sweet face tenderly,
A mother-woman’s face, was bending, in the evening beam —
That touched her good gray hair to gold — with eyes that made me seem,
’Mid all the fever’s burning, wholly safe — since they were there.
Well — oddly sir, — in that dim peace, I let my lips breathe prayer.
F. Whitmore.