It was strange indeed, that journey! Never yet had I crossed the sea
Or looked on another people than the folk that had fostered me,
And my heart rose up and fluttered as in the misty night
We came on the fleet of the fishers slow rolling in the light
Of the hidden moon, as the sea dim under the false dawn lay;
And so like shadows of ships through the night they faded away,
And Calais pier was upon us. Dreamlike it was indeed
As we sat in the train together, and toward the end made speed.
But a dull sleep came upon me, and through the sleep a dream
Of the Frenchman who once was my master by the side of the willowy stream;
And he talked and told me tales of the war unwaged as yet,
And the victory never won, and bade me never forget,
While I walked on, still unhappy, by the home of the dark-striped perch.
Till at last, with a flash of light and a rattle and side-long lurch,
I woke up dazed and witless, till my sorrow awoke again,
And the grey of the morn was upon us as we sped through the poplar plain,
By the brimming streams and the houses with their grey roofs warped and bent,
And the horseless plough in the furrow, and things fair and innocent.
And there sat my wife before me, and she, too, dreamed as she slept;
For the slow tears fell from her eyelids as in her sleep she wept.
But Arthur sat by my side and waked; and flushed was his face,
And his eyes were quick to behold the picture of each fair place
That we flashed by as on we hurried; and I knew that the joy of life
Was strongly stirred within him by the thought of the coming strife.
Then I too thought for a little, It is good in grief’s despite,
It is good to see earth’s pictures, and so live in the day and the light.
Yea, we deemed that to death we were hastening, and it made our vision clear,
And we knew the delight of our life-days, and held their sorrow dear.
But now when we came unto Paris and were out in the sun and the street,
It was strange to see the faces that our wondering eyes did meet;
Such joy and peace and pleasure! That folk were glad we knew,
But knew not the why and the wherefore; and we who had just come through
The vanquished land and down-cast, and there at St. Denis e’en now
Had seen the German soldiers, and heard their bugles blow,
And the drum and fife go rattling through the freshness of the morn —
Yet here we beheld all joyous the folk they had made forlorn!
So at last from a grey stone building we saw a great flag fly,
One colour, red and solemn ‘gainst the blue of the spring-tide sky,
And we stopped and turned to each other, and as each at each did we gaze,
The city’s hope enwrapped us with joy and great amaze.
As folk in a dream we washed and we ate, and in all detail,
Oft told and in many a fashion, did we have all yesterday’s tale:
How while we were threading our tangle of trouble in London there,
And I for my part, let me say it, within but a step of despair,
In Paris the day of days had betid; for the vile dwarf’s stroke,
To madden Paris and crush her, had been struck and the dull sword broke;
There was now no foe and no fool in the city, and Paris was free;
And e’en as she is this morning, tomorrow all France will be.
We heard, and our hearts were saying, “In a little while all the earth —”
And that day at last of all days I knew what life was worth;
For I saw what few have beheld, a folk with all hearts gay.
Then at last I knew indeed that our word of the coming day,
That so oft in grief and in sorrow I had preached, and scarcely knew
If it was but despair of the present or the hope of the day that was due
I say that I saw it now, real, solid and at hand.
And strange how my heart went back to our little nook of the land,
And how plain and clear I saw it, as though I longed indeed
To give it a share of the joy and the satisfaction of need
That here in the folk I beheld. For this in our country spring
Did the starlings bechatter the gables, and the thrush in the thorn-bush sing,
And the green cloud spread o’er the willows, and the little children rejoice
And shout midst a nameless longing to the morning’s mingled voice;
For this was the promise of spring-tide, and the new leaves longing to burst,
And the white roads threading the acres, and the sun-warmed meadows athirst.
Once all was the work of sorrow and the life without reward,
And the toil that fear hath bidden, and the folly of master and lord;
But now are all things changing, and hope without a fear
Shall speed us on through the story of the changes of the year.
Now spring shall pluck the garland that summer weaves for all,
And autumn spread the banquet and winter fill the hall.
O earth, thou kind bestower, thou ancient fruitful place,
How lovely and beloved now gleams thy happy face!
And O mother, mother, I said, hadst thou known as I lay in thy lap,
And for me thou hopedst and fearedst, on what days my life should hap,
Hadst thou known of the death that I look for, and the deeds wherein I should deal,
How calm had been thy gladness! How sweet hadst thou smiled on my weal!
As some woman of old hadst thou wondered, who hath brought forth a god of the earth,
And in joy that knoweth no speech she dreams of the happy birth.
Yea, fair were those hours indeed, whatever hereafter might come,
And they swept over all my sorrow, and all thought of my wildered home.
But not for dreams of rejoicing had we come across the sea:
That day we delivered the letters that our friends had given to me,
And we craved for some work for the cause. And what work was there indeed,
But to learn the business of battle and the manner of dying at need?
We three could think of none other, and we wrought our best therein;
And both of us made a shift the sergeant’s stripes to win,
For diligent were we indeed: and he, as in all he did,
Showed a cheerful ready talent that nowise might be hid,
And yet hurt the pride of no man that he needs must step before.
But as for my wife, the brancard of the ambulance-women she wore,
And gently and bravely would serve us; and to all as a sister to be —
A sister amidst of the strangers — and, alas! a sister to me.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53