At Rheims

by Robert Laurence Binyon

Laurence Binyon

Their hearts were burning in their breasts
Too hot for curse or cries.
They stared upon the towers that burned
Before their smarting eyes.
There where, since France began to be,
Anointed kings knelt down,
There where the Maid, the unafraid,
Received her vision's crown,
The senseless shell with nightmare scream
Burst, and fair fragments fell
Torn from their centuries of peace
As by the rage of hell.
What help for wrath, what use for wail?
Before a dumb despair
All ancient, high, heroic France
Seemed burning, bleeding there.
Within, the pillars soar to gloom
Lit by the glimmering Rose;
Spirits of beauty shrined in stone
Afar from mortal woes,
Hearing not, though their haunted shade
Is stricken, and all around
With splintering flash and brutal crash
The ghostly aisles resound.
And there, upon the pavement stretched,
The German wounded groan
To see the dropping flames of death
And feel the shells their own.
Too fierce the fire! Helped by their foes
They stagger out to air.
The green--grey coats are seen, are known
Through all the crowded square.
Ah, now for vengeance! Deep the groan:
A death--knell! Quietly
Soldiers unsling their rifles, lift
And aim with steady eye.
But sudden in the hush between
Death and the doomed, there stands
Against those levelled guns a priest,
Gentle, with outstretched hands.
Be not as guilty as they! he cries ...
Each lets his weapon fall,
As if a vision showed him France
And vengeance vain and small.

Last updated January 14, 2019