by William Morris


So we dwelt in the war-girdled city as a very part of its life.
Looking back at it all from England, I an atom of the strife,
I can see that I might have seen what the end would be from the first,
The hope of man devoured in the day when the Gods are athirst.
But those days we lived, as I tell you, a life that was not our own;
And we saw but the hope of the world, and the seed that the ages had sown,
Spring up now a fair-blossomed tree from the earth lying over the dead;
Earth quickened, earth kindled to spring-tide with the blood that her lovers have shed,
With the happy days cast off for the sake of her happy day,
With the love of women foregone, and the bright youth worn away,
With the gentleness stripped from the lives thrust into the jostle of war,
With the hope of the hardy heart forever dwindling afar.

O Earth, Earth, look on thy lovers, who knew all thy gifts and thy gain,
But cast them aside for thy sake, and caught up barren pain!
Indeed of some art thou mindful, and ne'er shalt forget their tale,
Till shrunk are the floods of thine ocean and thy sun is waxen pale.
But rather I bid thee remember e'en these of the latter days,
Who were fed by no fair promise and made drunken by no praise.
For them no opening heaven reached out the martyr's crown;
No folk delivered wept them, and no harvest of renown
They reaped with the scythe of battle; nor round their dying bed
Did kindly friendly farewell the dew of blessing shed;
In the sordid streets of the city mid a folk that knew them not,
In the living death of the prison didst thou deal them out their lot,
Yet foundest them deeds to be doing; and no feeble folk were they
To scowl on their own undoing and wail their lives away;
But oft were they blithe and merry and deft from the strife to wring
Some joy that others gained not midst their peaceful wayfaring.
So fared they, giftless ever, and no help of fortune sought.
Their life was thy deliverance, O Earth, and for thee they fought;
Mid the jeers of the happy and deedless, mid failing friends they went
To their foredoomed fruitful ending on the love of thee intent.

Yea and we were a part of it all, the beginning of the end,
That first fight of the uttermost battle whither all the nations wend;
And yet could I tell you its story, you might think it little and mean.
For few of you now will be thinking of the day that might have been,
And fewer still meseemeth of the day that yet shall be,
That shall light up that first beginning and its tangled misery.
For indeed a very machine is the war that now men wage;
Nor have we hold of its handle, we gulled of our heritage,
We workmen slaves of machines. Well, it ground us small enough
This machine of the beaten Bourgeois; though oft the work was rough
That it turned out for its money. Like other young soldiers at first
I scarcely knew the wherefore why our side had had the worst;
For man to man and in knots we faced the matter well;
And I thought, well to-morrow or next day a new tale will be to tell.
I was fierce and not afraid; yet O were the wood-sides fair,
And the crofts and the sunny gardens, though death they harboured there!
And few but fools are fain of leaving the world outright,
And the story over and done, and an end of the life and the light.
No hatred of life, thou knowest, O Earth, mid the bullets I bore,
Though pain and grief oppressed me that I never may suffer more.
But in those days past over did life and death seem one;
Yea the life had we attained to which could never be undone.

You would have me tell of the fighting? Well, you know it was new to me,
Yet it soon seemed as if it had been for ever, and ever would be.
The morn when we made that sally, some thought (and yet not I)
That a few days and all would be over: just a few had got to die,
And the rest would be happy thenceforward. But my stubborn country blood
Was bidding me hold my halloo till we were out of the wood.
And that was the reason perhaps why little disheartened I was,
As we stood all huddled together that night in a helpless mass,
As beaten men are wont: and I knew enough of war
To know midst its unskilled labour what slips full often are.

There was Arthur unhurt beside me, and my wife come back again,
And surely that eve between us there was love though no lack of pain
As we talked all the matter over, and our hearts spake more than our lips;
And we said, "We shall learn, we shall learn--yea, e'en from disasters and slips."

Well, many a thing we learned, but we learned not how to prevail
O'er the brutal war-machine, the ruthless grinder of bale;
By the bourgeois world it was made, for the bourgeois world; and we,
We were e'en as the village weaver 'gainst the power-loom, maybe.
It drew on nearer and nearer, and we 'gan to look to the end -
We three, at least--and our lives began with death to blend;
Though we were long a-dying--though I dwell on yet as a ghost
In the land where we once were happy, to look on the loved and the lost.