All day long when the shells sail over
I stand at the sandbags and take my chance;
But at night, at night I’m a reckless rover,
And over the parapet
Romance! Romance! How
I’ve dreamed it, writing
Dreary old records of Money and mart,
Me with my head chuckful of Fighting
And the blood of Vikings to thrill my heart.
But little I thought that my time was coming,
Sudden and splendid,
Supreme and soon;
And here I am with the bullets humming
As I crawl and I curse the light of the moon.
Out alone, for adventure thirsting,
Out in mysterious No Man’s Land;
Prone with the dead when a star-shell, bursting,
Flares on the horror on every hand.
There are ruby stars and they drip and wiggle;
And the grasses gleam in a light blood-red;
There are emerald stars, and their tails they wriggle.
And ghastly they glare on the face of the dead,
But the worst of all are the stars of witnesses,
That spill in a pool of pearly flame,
Pretty as gems in their silver brightness,
And etching a man for a bullet’s aim
Yet oh, it’s great to be here with danger,
Here with danger,
Here in the weird, death-pregnant dark,
In the devil’s pasture a stealthy ranger,
When the moon is decently hiding. Hark!
What was that? Was it just the shiver
Of an eerie wind or a clammy hand?
The rustle of grass, or the passing quiver
Of one of the ghost of No Man’s Land?
It’s only at night when the ghosts awaken,
And gibber and whisper
For to every foot of this God-forsaken
Zone of jeopardy some horror clings.
Ugh! What was that? It felt like a jelly,
That Flattish mound in the noisome grass;
You three big rats running free of its belly,
Out of my way and let me pass!
But if there’s horror,
There’s beauty, wonder;
The trench lights gleam and
The rockets play.
That flood of magnificent
Is a battery blazing miles away
With a rush and a singing a great shell passes;
The rifles resentfully bicker and brawl,
And here I crouch in the dew-drenched grasses
And look and listen and love it all
God! What a life!But I must
Make haste now
Before the shadow of night be spent
It’s little the time there is to waste now,
If I’d do the job for which I was sent.
My bombs are right and my clippers ready,
And I wriggle out to the chosen place,
When I hear a rustle…
Who am I staring slap in
There in the dark I can hear him breathing
A foot away, and as still as death;
And my heart beats hard,
And my brain is seething,
And I know he’s a hun by
The smell of his breath.
Then: “Will you surrender?” I whisper
For it’s death, swift death to utter a cry.
“English schwein-hund! He murmurs coarsely.
“Then we’ll fight it out in the dark,” say I
So we grip and we slip and
We trip and wrestle
There in the gutter of No Man’s Land;
And I feel my nails in his
And he tries to gouge, but I bite his hand
And he tries to squeal, but
I squeeze him tighter:
“Now, “I say, I can kill you fine;
But tell me first, you teutonic blighter!
Have you any children?” He answers: “Nein
NINE! Well, I cannot kill such a father,
So I tie his hands and I
Leave him there.
Do I finish my little job?
And I get home safe with
Some light to spare.
Heigh-ho! By day it’s just
Doing the same old song
But oh! With the night
Joy, glory, beauty
Over the parapet- life –