How can I tell you the story of the Hope and its defence?
We wrought in a narrow circle; it was hither and thither and thence;
To the walls, and back for a little; to the fort and there to abide,
Grey-beards and boys and women; they lived there — and they died;
Nor counted much in the story. I have heard it told since then,
And mere lies our deeds have turned to in the mouths of happy men,
And e’en those will be soon forgotten as the world wends on its way,
Too busy for truth or kindness. Yet my soul is seeing the day
When those who are now but children the new generation shall be,
And e’en in our land of commerce and the workshop over the sea,
Amid them shall spring up the story; yea the very breath of the air
To the yearning hearts of the workers true tale of it all shall bear.
Year after year shall men meet with the red flag over head,
And shall call on the help of the vanquished and the kindness of the dead.
And time that weareth most things, and the years that overgrow
The tale of the fools triumphant, yet clearer and clearer shall show
The deeds of the helpers of menfolk to every age and clime,
The deeds of the cursed and the conquered that were wise before their time.
Of these were my wife and my friend; there they ended their wayfaring
Like the generations before them thick thronging as leaves of the spring,
Fast falling as leaves of the autumn as the ancient singer hath said,
And each one with a love and a story. Ah the grief of the early dead!
“What is all this talk?” you are saying; “why all this long delay?”
Yes, indeed, it is hard in the telling. Of things too grievous to say
I would be, but cannot be, silent. Well, I hurry on to the end —
For it drew to the latter ending of the hope that we helped to defend.
The forts were gone and the foemen drew near to the thin-manned wall,
And it wanted not many hours to the last hour and the fall,
And we lived amid the bullets and seldom went away
To what as yet were the streets by night-tide or by day.
We three, we fought together, and I did the best I could,
Too busy to think of the ending; but Arthur was better than good;
Resourceful, keen and eager, from post to post he ran,
To thrust out aught that was moving and bring up the uttermost man,
He was gone on some such errand, and was absent a little space,
When I turned about for a moment and saw my wife’s fair face,
And her foot set firm on the rampart, as she hastened here and there,
To some of our wounded comrades such help as she could to bear.
Then straight she looked upon me with such lovely, friendly eyes
Of the days gone by and remembered, that up from my heart ‘gan rise
The choking sobbing passion; but I kept it aback, and smiled,
And waved my hand aloft — But therewith her face turned wild
In a moment of time, and she stared along the length of the wall,
And I saw a man who was running and crouching, stagger and fall,
And knew it for Arthur at once; but voiceless toward him she ran,
I with her, crying aloud. But or ever we reached the man,
Lo! a roar and a crash around us and my sick brain whirling around,
And a white light turning to black, and no sky and no air and no ground,
And then what I needs must tell of as a great blank; but indeed
No words to tell of its horror hath language for my need:
As a map is to a picture, so is all that my words can say.
But when I came to myself, in a friend’s house sick I lay
Amid strange blended noises, and my own mind wandering there;
Delirium in me indeed and around me everywhere.
That passed, and all things grew calmer, I with them: all the stress
That the last three months had been on me now sank to helplessness.
I bettered, and then they told me the tale of what had betid;
And first, that under the name of a friend of theirs I was hid,
Who was slain by mere misadventure, and was English as was I,
And no rebel, and had due papers wherewith I might well slip by
When I was somewhat better. Then I knew, though they had not told,
How all was fallen together, and my heart grew sick and cold.
And yet indeed thenceforward I strove my life to live,
That e’en as I was and so hapless I yet might live to strive.
It was but few words they told me of that murder great and grim,
And how with the blood of the guiltless the city’s streets did swim,
And of other horrors they told not, except in a word or two,
When they told of their scheme to save me from the hands of the villainous crew,
Whereby I guessed what was happening in the main without detail.
And so at last it came to their telling the other tale
Of my wife and my friend; though that also methought I knew too well.
Well, they said that I had been wounded by the fragment of a shell,
Another of which had slain her outright, as forth she ran
Toward Arthur struck by a bullet. She never touched the man
Alive and she also alive; but thereafter as they lay
Both dead on one litter together, then folk who knew not us,
But were moved by seeing the twain so fair and so piteous,
Took them for husband and wife who were fated there to die,
Or, it may be lover and lover indeed — but what know I?
Well, you know that I ‘scaped from Paris, and crossed the narrow sea,
And made my way to the country where we twain were wont to be,
And that is the last and the latest of the tale I have to tell.
I came not here to be bidding my happiness farewell,
And to nurse my grief and to win me the gain of a wounded life,
That because of the bygone sorrow may hide away from the strife.
I came to look to my son, and myself to get stout and strong,
That two men there might be hereafter to battle against the wrong;
And I cling to the love of the past and the love of the day to be,
And the present, it is but the building of the man to be strong in me.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58