A lesson that their children knew by heart
Where it lay stonily in that September.
Conscripted man, anonymous in hot
Brown or blue, intoned his rank and number.
The discs, strung from his neck, no amulet
Against the ache of loss, were worn in darkness
Under grave blankets in the narrow cot
After the bugle’s skirmish with night’s silence.
In trembling cities civil sleep was probed
By the wild sirens’ blind and wounded howling;
White searchlights hosed the sky; black planets throbbed;
All night all buildings put on total mourning.
And when dawn yawned, the washed skies were aﬂoat
With silver saveloys whose idle motion
And conference with puffed clouds appeared to mock
Bereaving night and morning’s lamentation.
And then, down country lanes, the crop-haired sons
And nephews of the skeletons of Flanders
Made séance of their march, as, on their tongues,
The old ghosts sang again ofTipperary,
Packing kit-bags, getting back to Blighty,
But soon, bewildered, sank back to their graves
When other songs were bawled - a jaunty music
With false, bragging words: The Siegfried Line
Transformed with comic washing hanging from it,
Sergeants and Corporals were blessed, the barrel rolled;
But behind the grinning words and steady tramping
The Sergeant of the dark was taking names
And marking time to that lugubrious singing.
We're saying goodbye to them all: and, far away
From gunpit, barrack-square and trench, the mother
Sewed the dark garments for tomorrow’s mourning.