by Alfred Noyes

Alfred Noyes

Before those golden altar-lights we stood,
Each one of us remembering his own dead.
A more than earthly beauty seemed to brood
On that hushed throng, and bless each bending head.
Beautiful on that gold, the deep-sea blue
Of those young seamen, ranked on either side,
Blent with the khaki, while the silence grew
Deep, as for wings--Oh, deep as England's pride.
Beautiful on that gold, two banners rose--
Two flags that told how Freedom's realm was made,
One fair with stars of hope, and one that shows
The glorious cross of England's long crusade;
Two flags, now joined, till that high will be done
Which sent them forth to make the whole world one.
There were no signs of joy that eyes could see.
Our hearts were all three thousand miles away.
There were no trumpets blown for victory.
A million dead were calling us that day.
And eyes grew blind, at times; but grief was deep,
Deeper than any foes or friends have known;
For Oh, my country's lips are locked to keep
Her bitterest loss her own, and all her own.
Only the music told what else was dumb,
The funeral march to which our pulses beat;
For all our dead went by, to a muffled drum
We heard the tread of all those phantom feet.
Yes. There was victory! Deep in every soul.
We heard them marching to their unseen goal.
There, once again, we saw the Cross go by,
The Cross that fell with all those glorious towers,
Burnt black in France or mocked on Calvary,
Till--in one night--the crosses rose like flowers,
Legions of small white crosses, mile on mile,
Pencilled with names that had outfought all pain,
Where every shell-torn acre seems to smile--
_Who shall destroy the cross that rose again?_
Out of the world's Walpurgis, where hope perished,
Where all the forms of faith in ruin fell,
Where every sign of heaven that earth had cherished
Shrivelled among the lava-floods of hell,
The eternal Cross that conquers might with right
Rose like a star to lead us through the night.
How shall the world remember? Men forget:
Our dead are all too many even for Fame!
Man's justice kneels to kings, and pays no debt
To those who never courted her acclaim.
Cheat not your heart with promises to pay
For gifts beyond all price so freely given.
Where is the heart so rich that it can say
To those who mourn, "I will restore your heaven"?
But these, with their own hands, laid up their treasure
Where never an emperor can break in and steal,
Treasure for those that loved them past all measure
In those high griefs that earth can never heal,
Proud griefs, that walk on earth, yet gaze above,
Knowing that sorrow is but remembered love.
Love that still holds us with immortal power,
Yet cannot lift us to His realm of light;
Love that still shows us heaven for one brief hour
Only to daunt the heart with that sheer height;
Love that is made of loveliness entire
In form and thought and act; and still must shame us
Because we ever acknowledge and aspire,
And yet let slip the shining hands that claim us.
O, if this Love might cloak with rags His glory,
Laugh, eat and drink, and dwell with suffering men,
Sit with us at our hearth, and hear our story,
This world--we thought--might be transfigured then.
"But Oh," Love answered, with swift human tears,
"All these things have I done, these many years."
"This day," Love said, "if ye will hear my voice;
I mount and sing with birds in all your skies.
I am the soul that calls you to rejoice.
And every wayside flower is my disguise.
"Look closely. Are the wings too wide for pity?
Look closely. Do these tender hues betray?
How often have I sought my Holy City?
How often have ye turned your hearts away?
"Is there not healing in the beauty I bring you?
Am I not whispering in green leaves and rain,
Singing in all that woods and seas can sing you?
Look, once, on Love, and earth is heaven again.
"O, did your Spring but once a century waken,
The heaven of heavens for this would be forsaken."
There's but one gift that all our dead desire,
One gift that men can give, and that's a dream,
Unless we, too, can burn with that same fire
Of sacrifice; die to the things that seem;
Die to the little hatreds; die to greed;
Die to the old ignoble selves we knew;
Die to the base contempts of sect and creed,
And rise again, like these, with souls as true.
Nay (since these died before their task was finished)
Attempt new heights, bring even their dreams to birth:--
Build us that better world, Oh, not diminished
By one true splendor that they planned on earth.
And that's not done by sword, or tongue, or pen,
There's but one way. God make us better men.

Last updated January 14, 2019