Men of Verdun

THERE are five men in the moonlight,
Who by their shadows stand.
Three hobble humped on crutches,
And two lack each a hand.
Frogs somewhere near the roadside
Chorus their chant absorbed:
But a hush breathes out of the dream-light
That far in heaven is orbed.
It is gentle as sleep falling
And wide as thought can span, —
The ancient peace and wonder
That brims the heart of man.
Beyond the hills it shines now
On no peace but the dead,
On reek of trenches thunder-shocked,
Tense fury of wills in wrestle locked,
A chaos crumbled red!
The five men in the moonlight
Chat, joke, or gaze apart;
They talk of days and comrades,
But each one hides his heart.
They wear clean cap and tunic
As when they went to war;
A gleam comes where the medal’s pinned;
But they will fight no more.
The shadows maimed and antic
Gesture and shape distort,
Like mockery of a demon dumb,
Out of the hell-din whence they come,
That dogs them for his sport;
But as if dead men were risen
And stood before me there,
With a terrible fame about them blown
In beams of spectral air,
I see them now, transfigured
As in a dream, dilate,
Fabulous with the Titan-throb
Of battling Europe’s fate;
For history’s hushed before them,
And legend flames afresh;
Verdun, the name of thunder
Is written on their flesh.