Poem Thomas Hardy

The Souls of the Slain

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        The thick lids of Night closed upon me
                Alone at the Bill
                Of the Isle by the Race—
        Many-caverned, bald, wrinkled of face—
And with darkness and silence the spirit was on me
                To brood and be still.


        No wind fanned the flats of the ocean,
                Or promontory sides,
                Or the ooze by the strand,
        Or the bent-bearded slope of the land,
Whose base took its rest amid everlong motion
                Of criss-crossing tides.


        Soon from out of the Southward seemed nearing
                A whirr, as of wings
                Waved by mighty-vanned flies,
        Or by night-moths of measureless size,
And in softness and smoothness weil-nigh beyond hearing
                Of corporal things.


        And they bore to the bluff, and alighted—
                A dim-discerned train
                Of sprites without mould,
        Frameless souls none might touch or might hold—
On the ledge by the turreted lantern, far-sighted
                By men of the main.


        And I heard them say “Home!” and I knew them
                For souls of the felled
                On the earth’s nether bord
        Under Capricorn, whither they’d warred,
And I neared in my awe, and gave heedfulness to them
                With breathings inheld.


        Then, it seemed, there approached from the northward
                A senior soul-flame
                Of the like filmy hue:
        And he met them and spake: “Is it you,
O my men?” Said they, “Aye! We bear homeward and
                To feast on our fame!”


        “I’ve flown there before you,” he said then:
                “Your households are well;
                But your kin linger less
        On your glory and war-mightiness
Than on dearer things.”—” Dearer?”
                       cried these from the
                       dead then,
                “Of what do they tell?”


        “Some mothers muse sadly, and murmur
                Your doings as boys—
                Recall the quaint ways
        Of your babyhood’s innocent days.
Some pray that, ere dying, your faith had grown firmer,
                And higher your joys.


        “A father broods: “Would I had set him
                To some humble trade,
                And so slacked his high fire,
        And his passionate martial desire;
And told him no stories to woo him and whet him
                To this dire crusade !'”


        “And, General, how hold out our sweethearts,
                Sworn loyal as doves?”
                —”Many mourn; many think
        It is not unattractive to prink
Them in sables for heroes. Some fickle and fleet hearts
                Have found them new loves.”


        “And our wives?” quoth another resignedly,
                “Dwell they on our deeds?”
                —”Deeds of home; that live yet
        Fresh as new—deeds of fondness or fret;
Ancient words that were kindly expressed or unkindly,
                These, these have their heeds.”


        —Alas! then it seems that our glory
                Weighs less in their thought
                Than our old homely acts,
        And the long-ago commonplace facts
Of our lives—held by us as scarce part of our story,
                And rated as nought!”


        Then bitterly some: “Was it wise now
                To raise the tomb-door
                For such knowledge? Away!”
        But the rest: “Fame we prized till to-day;
Yet that hearts keep us green for old kindness we prize now
                A thousand times more!”


        Thus speaking, the trooped apparitions
                Began to disband
                And resolve them in two:
        Those whose record was lovely and true
Bore to northward for home: those of bitter traditions
                Again left the land,


        And, towering to seaward in legions,
                They paused at a spot
                Overbending the Race—
        That engulphing, ghast, sinister place—
Whither headlong they plunged, to the fathomless regions
                Of myriads forgot.


        And the spirits of those who were homing
                Passed on, rushingly,
                Like the Pentecost Wind:
        And the whirr of their wayfaring thinned
And surceased on the sky, and but left in the gloaming
                Sea-mutterings and me.

A Wife in London


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