The Longest Odds

- 1868-1941
Leonidas of Sparta, years gone by,
    With but a bare three hundred of his braves,
In the ravine of famed Thermopylæ
    Held up the Persian army’s endless waves.
Smiling, among the forest of his spears,
    “Lay down your arms,” the haughty Xerxes cried.
The Spartan’s answer echoes down the years,
    “Come here and take them!” So they fought, and died.

Horatius—the odds grow longer now—
    With two bold friends, Lars Porsena defied.
That dauntless trio registered a vow
    To hold the bridge that stemmed the Tiber’s tide.
Their deed of valous makes our bosoms glow,
    A deed which poets and chroniclers relate.
Three heroes held in check a bitter foe
    And saved their city from a cruel fate.

One Highlander—the longest odds of all—
    One man alone, when all the rest were slain,
Carried the Maxim through the bullet squall,
    And set it spitting at the foe again.
Under its hail the Germans broke, they fled.
    One man, one gun, and yet they would not stay!
Riddled with shot, his comrades found him dead.
    Dead? No! That Hieland laddie lives for aye.

More by Jessie Pope

Lights Out!

Darkness—expectant, discreet—
    Only a lamp here and there,
Gloom in the clattering street,
    Stygian black in the square;
Dazzling fascias and fronts,
    Scintillant sky-scrapers banished,
Snuffed and shut down are the spangles of Town.
            London has vanished.

Only a few months ago
    London woke up every night;
Dances or “Chemin” or Show,
    Festival vistas or light.
Everywhere glitter and glare,
    Junket and revelry keeping.
Yes, but despite the laughter and light,
             London was sleeping.

Searchlights are probing the skies,
    Eastward their streamers are trailed;
Masked are the city’s bright eyes—
    Even the tramcars are veiled.
Cockneys turn in at eleven,
    “Stop Press” thirst finally slaked.
Turn the lights out. Now, without doubt,
	 London’s awake!

Play the Game

Twenty-two stalwarts in stripes and shorts
    Kicking a ball along,
Set in a square of leather-lunged sports
    Twenty-two thousand strong,
Some of them shabby, some of them spruce,
    Savagely clamorous all,
Hurling endearments, advice or abuse,
    At the muscular boys on the ball. 

Stark and stiff ’neath a stranger’s sky
    A few hundred miles away,
War-worn, khaki-clad figures lie,
    Their faces rigid and grey—
Stagger and drop where the bullets swarm,
    Where the shrapnel is bursting loud,
Die, to keep England safe and warm—
    For a vigorous football crowd!

Football’s a sport, and a rare sport too,
    Don’t make it a source of shame.
To-day there are worthier things to do.
    Englishmen, play the game!
A truce to the League, a truce to the Cup,
    Get to work with a gun.
When our country’s at war, we must all back up—
    It’s the only thing to be done!

The Outpost

The dying sunset’s slanting rays
    Incarnadine the soldier’s deed,
His sturdy countenance betrays
               The bull-dog breed.

Not his to shun the stubborn fight,
    The struggle against cruel odds.
Alone, unaided—'tis a sight
                For men and gods.

And now his back is bowed and bent,
    Now stooping, now erect he stands,
And now the red life blood is sprent
                From both his hands.

He takes his enemies on trust
    As one who sees and yet is blind,
For every mutilating thrust
                Comes from behind.

’Tis done! The dying sun has gone,
    But triumph fills the soldier’s breast.
He’s sewn his back brace button on
                While fully dressed.