Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


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.

Credit


This poem is in the public domain.

Author


John McCrae

John McCrae was born on November 30, 1872. A Canadian doctor and teacher who served in World War I, he is best known for his memorial poem “In Flanders Fields.” He died on January 28, 1918.

Date Published: 2018-11-02

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/unconquered-dead