Poems After Release

An English poet, 2ND LIEUTENANT JOHN BUXTON was captured on that ill-fated expedition to Norway in the spring of 1940. He was twenty-seven at the time of his capture. During the five years of imprisonment which followed, Lieutenant Buxton tasted the life of more than a dozen German camps. He did not escape. But he did retain his sanity. He taught classes of other Englishmen as starved for England as he was, and behind the bars he developed his talent as a lyric poet, in verses which the Germans permitted to flow unchecked to his wife in England. — THE EDITOR


DISEMBODIED thus, we meet
Only where our words can go;
We’ve no other means to greet
Than dead ancestors may know
Where their fading letters lie,
Tied in bundles, and put by.
Not for us the sudden touch,
Hand on hand, to mark delight.
Not for us to share so much
As one second in the sight
Of each other: we confer
Only in my songs to her.
Only here may I declare
(What I am forbidden still!)
Loveliness of sunlit hair
That the wind has come to spill
Over her bright eyes that shine
Set in filigree so fine.
Only here, and only so.
I, once privileged to kiss,
Mouth to mouth — ah! long ago! —
Now am mummified to this,
Where in brittle words I wait
Till she come to excavate.
God! to think our love should be
Shared in words, and nothing more —
Denied the body’s liberty
Whose worship once I gladly swore
I would give to her. But now
Five years break for us that vow.
Five years’ youth we’re left to mourn,
Five years deaf, and blind, and dumb:
Children never to be born;
Years that never more shall come.
And my verse your grace shall keep
For other men: but I must weep.


(On seeing the sea far the first time for five years)

NOT stained, not scarred by all man’s history;
Wholly indifferent; without pity or pride
For battles fought there, and a world defied,
Or drowned men flung ashore quite carelessly;
This will not praise us for our victory,
Nor mock defeat, nor our quick moods deride,
But moon-driven forever by mechanic tide
Will sweep about these coasts still heedlessly.
And while I watch each sinuous movement there,
And see the opal colors shift and fade
Where the long waves plunge toward me, I am glad,
Yes, glad that the land’s whole history is in the care Of this unhistoried thing, never dismayed
By all man has done that is evil, or cruel, or sad.


Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

WE, whom no bullet found nor gave
The honor of an early grave;
O’er whom no oratory shall roll
Its pomp of phrase to crush the soul;
Who, through no fault of ours, alive,
Gave but four years of youth, or five,
So that no epitaph proclaims
Our names among those other “names
That live for evermore” (so runs The standard fame conferred by guns);
We did not die in vain — ah! no!
We live in vain — and better so.
We from the dead shall rise again
And certain things for them explain:
How death in battle often seems
Most rudely heckled by men’s screams;
How dead men yet demand our skill
To lift them up — lest they should spill;
How sometimes one of them will stir,
With “Put me out, for Christ’s sake, sir!”
But shall we stop the mouths of fools
For future wars concocting rules?
Or will our memory disdain
To speak, until war comes again?
Shall we whom men so soon forgot
Pretend that all the dead are not?
Or shall we, hearing men declare
That death in battle is most fair,
Recall how once our youth was spent,
Wonder—and silently assent?
This sweet and splendid thing, to die —
Why did such glory pass us by?