After Battle


BARE floors, but not too clean;
White beds, but not too white —
I saw blood-stains on one of the sheets.
He had not slept all night;
The shell that burst so deadly near
Had struck out his sight.
His arms were bandaged thick,
Broken by that same shell.
He said he did not know he was hurt,
But heard a savage yell.
He did not know it was himself
Who shrieked it, in that hell.
He told me that he walked
For twenty yards or so,
And sat down by the shelter
He somehow seemed to know.
And all around were terrible sounds
Of human-animal woe.
They’ve bandaged his torn head,
And each queer, moveless arm,
And left him lying on the ground
Out of the way of harm,
And thrust a sharp thing in his flesh
That soothed him like a charm.
And then — twelve endless days
Of unwashed agony.
‘And now,’ he said, ‘since I got here,
And they have tended me,
I’m getting better every day —
It’s fine as it can be.’
His legs were pierced with wounds —
Shell-fragments, stones and such.
‘Some day,’ he said, ‘I’ll walk
All round here with a crutch.’
I asked him if he suffered much.
He said, ‘No — not too much.’


Up and down the ward he walked,
With one arm in a sling.
’Won’t you have some cigarettes? ’
We asked, ‘ or anything? ’
But up and down he walked,
And ceaselessly he talked.
Oh, such a little man he seemed,
So harmless and so kind.
He had the slightest sort of wound —
But what had hurt his mind?
As up and down he walked,
And eagerly he talked.
And all he said was true,
And sensible and sound.
He talked about the soldiers,
And the shell-ploughed battleground.
But what had happened to his head? —
For next day he was dead.


He sat propped up in his bed.
(For the nurse had led me there
To this little room apart
Left to her special care,
Where a soldier was about,
Almost smiling, to ‘go out.’)
By his bed two women sat,
Poor, and trying not to show
What they knew. One was his wife.
I drew near and, speaking low,
Offered some poor humble word
Of human friendship. And he heard.
His impassive gentle face,
Showed a clean life, a pure heart.
He was one of those who leave
Love behind them when they start
Off to ‘join the regiment’ —
Yet with duty are content.
Then I dared: ‘Some cigarettes —
You will smoke them after a while.’
Never can my eyes forget
The salt sweetness of the smile
He turned slowly on his wife,
As if he would thus beguile
The last moments of his life
With a humor truly French: —
‘Very soon I shall be dead —
Does one smoke when one lies under —
Or in Paradise — I wonder?’