Soldiers make quick work of life; Quick as the slipping of a knife They abandon mother, child and wife And are no more. To them the sacred or just the strife Is worth dying for.
From homes that seem much like the rest Come a nation’s willingest, Dwelling here but as a guest Of strong desire; The noblest thought, or uncouth jest Lights inward fire.
Life’s offered up – for something more, For nation, or for comrades, or To settle up some inner score With life and breath, Or just to say they stood up for The call of death.
From morning ocean to such youth The horizon rolls, the azimuth, They dive the break – life must have truth Before loss or win. To walk away from war’s old myth To them were sin.
As if the early morning Sun Fell through the evening clouds, and spun Cold and darkness around one Who looked for light; A mother’s labor of hope is gone To sudden night.
It is but nature to be brief In wealth, joy, sadness – as a leaf Grows green to brown; and thought’s relief Is change, its reward. But briefly brave, to lie in grief And lost, is hard.
Ay, hard to think of one so young, And yet so eager to have done, From “I would be” to “I have been”, But an hour between! Where is the wisdom that might judge What it has seen?
When the mission brings but terror, When courage runs forth into horror, And after-shame and sting of error Burn the cheek, When blood runs on the shattered mirror, Will soldiers speak?
Not for them an old man’s lies, Neither fame nor paradise But youthful clamor for the prize Brought them forth; Knowing that each is born and dies Was their young worth.
That was at heart – and now in mind Bring equity for humankind! Let the warlike impulse find Life’s old enemy And wrestle it to ground, and bind Death’s injury.
Then a cause was only guessed, Nobly damned, unruly blessed; Now let reason be the test Of what to give And give it only for the rest, That they may live.
Throw bridges, though the span be vast, Send fire through the Winter blast, Bring joy to forgotten ones at last, So many may, When you have well and truly passed, Recall the day.
An empty wide expanse survives When soldiers offer up their lives; Their skill and iron bearing strives, Ghostly, to go on To other battlefields when war At last, is gone.
Can martial courage shine as brave If it covet not the grave, Give humankind the love it gave To death before? Can the soldier’s heart outlive The waste of war?
Paul Gallagher is a poet, translator and also an economics journalist. He has spent much of his life fighting for the revival of classical poetry and classical culture. More of his writings on culture can be found here.