The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: war poetry

“Spencer loquitur: Moi, J’ecoute en riant” by Alexander Robertson

This concludes Last Poems of Alexander Robertson. Please refer to my tag, “Alexander Robertson (War Poet)” in the drop-down menu found at the bottom of this page if you are interested in reading more of his work.

Spencer loquitur: Moi, J’ecoute en riant
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

“Ah, Robertson, my hour is drawing nigh:
At this, as at all partings, let us sigh,
(As soldiers we can hardly drop a tear,
Unless assured that no one else is near!)
Whither go I? I know not nor can feel
Much interest in the question: ’tis your weal
I ponder o’er. Now listen—did they call?
No! my mistake: I thought I heard the bawl
Of rude commandment—hark to me, old boy:
My powers of reasoning I shall employ
To do you kindness. Regard me; I have been
For ten long years a soldier and between
Yourself and me (the French say, entre nous:
And, by the way for hairs they say cheveux,
Chevaux for horses, so you must beware
When you are thronéd in the barber’s chair)—
What was I saying? Ah, I was about
To tell a story that must not come out:
Long since I wearied of the life of camps
Though true, of course, to him who on our stamps
Proclaims his kingship. And I am most fain
Before I go—perchance to join the slain,
Alas!—to bid you when this war hath end
Break with a life which, as I must contend,
Is, as the Bard of Avon would have said,
‘Unprofitable, flat,’ and where the bread
Of life is spread not with the jam of—well,
I scarce know how to finish; can you tell,
Suggest a fitting finish to my ‘trope’?”
“What of ‘the Bard of Avon’? he, I hope
Might haply help us.” “Ah, but bless you, lad,
I spoke of Shakespeare! even in Petrograd
The guttersnipes can quote him;—the peasants too
Upon the farms that labour:—Surely you
Have not received,—but I must sure return
To my ‘large utterance,’ for still I burn
To aid:—ah, there’s indeed the shout
Imperious that we may never flout.
Farewell, adieu, adieu, farewell, and ah!
Be heedful of my—how they shout! Ta-ta!!”

In reference to the farewell advice of an uneducated but kind-hearted Sergeant who left the hospital before the author.

“On Guard” by Alexander Robertson

On Guard
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

Midnight, 30th September, 1915
Hurdcott Camp, Salisbury

Look, ’tis a falling star: someone dead.
Know you not who it is? Short-lived Summer.
“Well may it be your last,” Weakness said.
“Welcome the Winter,” Strength, “the grey new-comer.”

“You may die ere he dies.” “Well, what then?
You must despise the twain, behind him cowered,—
Death and Agony wild: and die as men
Die in a holy cause, with peace dowered.”

“Von Bissing” by Alexander Robertson

Von Bissing
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

Your idol is a bloody sword
And you the worshipper:
So the one word, the saving word
You spoke it not for her.

You had your way. But you will be
Accurséd of mankind,
Both for the unexpressed decree
And motives, undivined,—

Her tending of the wounded foe,
Her dauntlessness, forgot,—
And for the lies you spoke, that so
Unchanged might be her lot.

And having slain, you spoke a word
That showed your soul of mire,
Yet the toiler, said your feignéd Lord,
Is worthy of his hire.

All who have lied before they killed
And slandered whom they slew,
Behold, with admiration filled
Yet envious of you!

“The Pilgrim’s Progress” by Alexander Robertson

The Pilgrim’s Progress
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

The sweet Land of Delight
Lay beside the river
With vales and meadows bright
And warm air a-quiver;
Where pilgrims did repose
Before they set their feet,
Now at their journey’s close,
In waters dark and fleet.

Oh, fair land of Provence,
For weariness relief!
Country of our pleasaunce
And quiet lodgment brief!
Land of Delight art thou
For us? And are they near
The black swift waters now
Where all must disappear?

Written while in hospital in Provence before going to the Front line at the Battle of the Somme.

“A Conviction” by Alexander Robertson

A Conviction
Alexander Robertson
From Last Poems of Alexander Robertson, 1918

A night of chill, a station dim,
And many an ambulance
To carry forth a burden grim
Of smitten men from France.

Slow to its halting came the train:
The ambulances passed
Along the archway, to regain
A shelter through the blast.

I could not see nor could desire
Those prostrate men to see,
Some only wishful to expire,—
So dread can living be.

And some, recumbent lives must lead
Through their remaining years,
And some have gained as valour’s meed
But madness and its fears.

And some have lost their sight and some
No voice again will hear,
And some before their death are dumb,
And others—still more drear

Their fate—bereft of sight and speech
A soundless world endure.
But I tried to see the soul of each,
Whom fate did thus immure,

Whom death could save not from distress,
Whose reason still was whole,—
To such does life give no redress
For all their anguish’ toll?

They have no guerdon of renown
And gratitude is weak
To counter old plans overthrown,—
What object can they seek?

What purpose to sustain the will?
How shall they soon forget
The horrors seen so late, which still
Their memories beset?

The mean alone and cruel cry
To such that all is well.
And yet, to live, each man must spy
Some pathway from his hell.

And Life pursuant of her goal
(And great that goal must be)
With strange hopes partly calms the soul
And softening memory.