Against the darkness and the killing cold,
Against his ursine hunger, and the sword,
The summer sailor let the hearth enfold
Wild hearts, and raised the aura of the horde
In golden chords of harp and flute and words
That burned and glittered like the Northern Lights:
An art of thought as swift as Odin’s birds,
And strong as eagles. Westward still, he fights
Against more gold and grief than courage fears,
Until, fast-pinioned where the sun must sink
In sight of Babylon, the rover hears
Horns of Gehenna, drums that make him think
How quickly and how cruelly overthrown,
The heart that moves to rhythms not its own!
With snake-necked cranes, with musket-thick black snakes,
With turtles, frogs, and little humming flies,
With screaming martens, and with deer, he takes
His furtive meals of smuggled mutton pies
As Bradford’s new militia meets to train
At Parker’s Tavern on the village green.
He will not go, but shivers in the rain
As April showers wash his linens clean.
“Long live King George!” He makes the marsh resound
With other empty voices — and once more,
“Long live King George!” He huddles on the ground.
The sky cracks open, and begins to pour;
It fills his tricorn hat. He tries to sleep,
And, failing that, devours his fellow sheep.
In vivid dreams, she held him by the heel;
In crystal dreams, she dipped him in the pot
Upon a Highland hearth — and felt the seal
Surround her soldier son. And though he fought
Through Hell and back, he never tasted gore,
And though he missed his mother every day,
As she missed him — both cursing Churchill’s war —
Somehow he felt he’d never gone away.
To left and right, his comrades took the shell;
From rank to rank, he saw commanders die;
In woods and burning villages they fell
Around him, shouting, “Damn your evil eye!”
Hot shrapnel in his heel conveyed him home;
Achilles died — and got a longer poem.