Works in the Herald 1935
We watched them marching in the sunlit streets,
   Keen lads, who scarce had tasted life's distresses
Gay lads, who yet had only sipped the sweets
   Of life, of youth, and kind earth's lovelinesses.
This sun, that glinted from their bayonet steel,
   Has warmed young hearts to trust, to faith unfailing
In humankind, despite the shrill appeal
   Of bugles, round a crazed earth wailing, wailing.

They smiled then, as they marched, so debonair,
   So proud, so eager-eyed, so greatly daring,
Who never guessed of War's unholy flare
   That sears the minds of men beyond all caring.
So innocent .... And then, when they were caught
   In the red maelstrom, gallant, still unfearing,
They fought as heroes of their school-books fought --
   Knowing nought else -- and marched on, cheering, cheering.

We watched them march these sunlit streets again --
   (And, oh, the tragic ache for those blank places!)
Grim-faced young veterans, grown tough in grain,
   They marched. and smiled not now.  On their young faces
Shone nought of triumph: in these stern young eyes
    No rapture gleamed of warriors returning.
For thoughts grow hard where many a good mate dies;
    And bitter thoughts that day were burning, burning.

For they had looked on hell, had found it all
   Men's foulest dreams could fashion -- shorn of reason.
Their mouths still held full savor of the gall
   Of man's vast inhumanity and treason.
Their eyes still held clear vision of a fray
   That had no place in that old school-book story:
And 'twas as if their dogged tread would say,
   In bitterness: "Here is your glory! Glory?"

So have we watched them marching down the years.
   Year after ageing year, with ranks depleted.
Banished the bitterness, stilled now the fears --
   Strange, nameless fears -- the uglier dreams defeated.
And so we stand to watch again today
   This dwindling host, so grave, so sober-seeming --
No lads; but disillusioned men, and grey.
   Whose weary eyes seem ever-searching, dreaming.

And we who stand and watch, may we not dream
   A little too, unto our souls' uplifting,
Of thankfulness for these who dammed the stream
   With their bright youth -- who, man by man, go drifting,
Year after year, to their war-weary rest,
   With nought to cheer their sadly lessening number,
Nought -- save one Splendid Vision in the West --
   That Great Reunion!  Then -- deep slumber .... slumber.

"C. J. Dennis"
Herald, 25 April 1935, p6

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002