I love what is popularly called “war poetry,” and I love those war poets as well. This piece came across my screen a day or so ago. It is British-Welsh poet Edward Thomas, who began writing poetry in 1914, although he was already an accomplished writer at that time.He enlisted in the Artists Rifles in June, 1915,, due to the sentiments in fellow poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” even though he was a husband and father. He was quickly commissioned a second lieutenant. He was killed soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917, by a concussive blast wave. He was standing near the top of a trench, lighting his pipe, when it happened.
I know–wrong war, but so many have fought and died for elusive concepts, and all soldiers stand “dark within the door” at some point, half in love with pain and with what is imperfect.
The last light has gone out of the world, except
This moonlight lying on the grass like frost
Beyond the brink of the tall elm’s shadow.
It is as if everything else had slept
Many an age, unforgotten and lost
The men that were, the things done, long ago,
All I have thought; and but the moon and I
Live yet and here stand idle over the grave
Where all is buried. Both have liberty
To dream what we could do if we were free
To do something we had desired long,
The moon and I. There’s none less free than who
Does nothing and has nothing else to do,
Being free only for what is not to his mind,
And nothing is to his mind. If every hour
Like this one passing that I have spent among
The wiser others when I have forgot
To wonder whether I was free or not,
Were piled behind me, and not lost behind,
And I could take and carry them away
I should be rich; or if I had the power
To wipe out everyone and not again
Regret, I should be rich to be so poor.
And yet I am still half in love with pain,
With what is imperfect, with both tears and mirth,
With things that have an end, with life, and earth,
And this moon leaves me dark within the door.
by Phillip Edward Thomas, who died in WWI at Arras, April 9, 1917