“To the kindly Ladies of Ripon” by Alexander Robertson
To the kindly Ladies of Ripon
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918
They say that the martial spirit of long dead men
Who feared not but loved the crossing of dangerous seas,
The grapple with tribes despised, with the cheerless fen,
And with sunless forests, lives potently still in these:—
The men of the east and the west, the north and the south
Of this our England; the men of the hill and the plain,
Of inland valley, city, and rivermouth,
Or the coast, red, white or of gold that faces the main.
Perchance it is truth. But this at the least we can know
That the old gray church, lichen-crusted and cruciform,
Is the witness unfallen to Wilfrid who lived long ago.
Beneficent, wise, reconciling, amid the storm
And havoc of combat and death. So you to the sons
Of these far-off fighters gave cheer amid frequent gloom,
Within sound of the stream that ran in his day and runs
Still, by the restful calm of your lightsome room.
We are far enough from it now, away in the wolds
Where the air is sweet with the scent of clover and bay,
And broad are the upland pastures and many the fields
And gray and still and sad is the close of the day.
Farther, still we may be. We may fare whence they came,
Our fathers of old. But whether in deep-dug trench
Within sound of the cannons that boom, within sight of their flame,
Amid frosts that benumb, or under the ceaseless drench
From dull monotonous skies: or on the advance,
Hazardous, deadly and dread, through a land to be free
Towards the cities and fields of our foes, of a truth, we shall glance
Backwards often in thought rejoicingly.
We shall see the bright brown of urns and cups that gleam,
Remember the flowers and the quiet that was rest for the mind
And gave to it power and the happy chance of a dream,
—The grace that is only created by womankind.
These ladies kept a Soldiers’ Rest and Tea-house in Ripon.