Edgell Rickword

E
Edgell Rickword
Trench Poets
I knew a man, he was my chum,
but he grew blacker every day,
and would not brush the flies away,
nor blanch however fierce the hum
of passing shells; I used to read,
to rouse him, random things from Donne—
like “Get with child a mandrake-root.”
But you can tell he was far gone,
for he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed,
and stiff, and senseless as a post
even when that old poet cried
“I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost.”

I tried the Elegies one day,
But he, because he heard me say:
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War and Peace
In sodden trenches I have heard men speak,
Though numb and wretched, wise and witty things;
And loved them for the stubbornness that clings
Longest to laughter when Death's pulleys creak;

And seeing cool nurses move on tireless feet
To do abominable things with grace,
Deemed them sweet sisters in that haunted place
Where, with child's voices, strong men howl or bleat.

Yet now those men lay stubborn courage by,
Riding dull-eyed and silent in the train
To old men's stools; or sell gay-coloured socks
And listen fearfully for Death; so I
Love the low-laughing girls, who now again
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Winter Warfare
Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men and lice.

Visited a forward post,
left them burning, ear to foot;
fingers stuck to biting steel,
toes to frozen boot.

Stalked on into No Man’s Land,
turned the wire to fleecy wool,
iron stakes to sugar sticks
snapping at a pull.

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