Disarmament

- 1872-1918

One spake amid the nations, “Let us cease
   From darkening with strife the fair World's light,
We who are great in war be great in peace.
   No longer let us plead the cause by might.”

But from a million British graves took birth
   A silent voice—the million spake as one—
“If ye have righted all the wrongs of earth
   Lay by the sword! Its work and ours is done.”

More by John McCrae

Unsolved

Amid my books I lived the hurrying years,
   Disdaining kinship with my fellow man;
Alike to me were human smiles and tears,
   I cared not whither Earth's great life-stream ran,
Till as I knelt before my mouldered shrine,
   God made me look into a woman's eyes;
And I, who thought all earthly wisdom mine,
   Knew in a moment that the eternal skies
Were measured but in inches, to the quest
   That lay before me in that mystic gaze.
“Surely I have been errant; it is best
   That I should tread, with men their human ways.”
God took the teacher, ere the task was learned,
And to my lonely books again I turned.

The Unconquered Dead

“...defeated, with great loss.” 

Not we the conquered! Not to us the blame
   Of them that flee, of them that basely yield;
Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
   Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.

That day of battle in the dusty heat
   We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
   And we the harvest of their garnering.

Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear
   By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill
Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare,
   Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.

We might have yielded, even we, but death
   Came for our helper; like a sudden flood
The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath
   We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.

The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon
   Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon
   Among the wheat fields of the olden years.

Before our eyes a boundless wall of red
   Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!
Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
   And rest came on us like a quiet rain.

Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame,
   Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease
To hold them ever; victors we, who came
   In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.

Penance

My lover died a century ago,
Her dear heart stricken by my sland'rous breath,
Wherefore the Gods forbade that I should know
                     The peace of death.

Men pass my grave, and say, “’Twere well to sleep,
Like such an one, amid the uncaring dead!”
How should they know the vigil that I keep,
                     The tears I shed?

Upon the grave, I count with lifeless breath,
Each night, each year, the flowers that bloom and die,
Deeming the leaves, that fall to dreamless death,
                     More blest than I.

’Twas just last year—I heard two lovers pass
So near, I caught the tender words he said:
To-night the rain-drenched breezes sway the grass
                     Above his head.

That night full envious of his life was I,
That youth and love should stand at his behest;
To-night, I envy him, that he should lie
                     At utter rest.