Men Of Verdun

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There are five men in the moonlight
That by their shadows stand;
Three hobble humped on crutches,
And two lack each a hand.

Frogs somewhere near the roadside
Chorus their chant absorbed:
But a hush breathes out of the dream-light
That far in heaven is orbed.

It is gentle as sleep falling
And wide as thought can span,
The ancient peace and wonder
That brims in the heart of man.

Beyond the hills it shines now
On no peace but the dead,
On reek of trenches thunder-shocked,
Tense fury of wills in wrestle locked,
A chaos of crumbled red.

The five men in the moonlight
Chat, joke, or gaze apart.
They talk of days and comrades;
But each one hides his heart.

They wear clean cap and tunic,
As when they went to war.
A gleam comes where the medal’s pinned:
But they will fight no more.

The shadows, maimed and antic,
Gesture and shape distort,
Like mockery of a demon dumb
Out of the hell-din whence they come
That dogs them for his sport.

But as if dead men were risen
And stood before me there
With a terrible flame about them blown
In beams of spectral air,

I see them, men transfigured
As in a dream, dilate
Fabulous with the Titan-throb
Of battling Europe’s fate;

For history’s hushed before them,
And legend flames afresh.
Verdun, the name of thunder,
Is written on their flesh.

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