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Two poems: ‘For the Fallen’ and ‘Youth’.

By Laurence Binyon.

WITH PROUD THANKSGIVING, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain. (1914)

Youth.

When life begins anew,
And Youth, from gathering flowers,
From vague delights, rapt musings, twilight hours,
Turns restless, seeking some great deed to do,
To sum his foster’d dreams; when that fresh birth
Unveils the real, the throng’d and spacious Earth,
And he awakes to those more ample skies,
By other aims and by new powers possess’d:
How deeply, then, his breast
Is fill’d with pangs of longing! how his eyes
Drink in the enchanted prospect! Fair it lies
Before him, with its plains expanding vast,
Peopled with visions, and enrich’d with dreams;
Dim cities, ancient forests, winding streams,
Places resounding in the famous past,
A kingdom ready to his hand!
How like a bride Life seems to stand
In welcome, and with festal robes array’d!
He feels her loveliness pervade
And pierce him with inexplicable sweetness;
And, in her smiles delighting, and the fires
Of his own pulses, passionate soul!
Measures his strength by his desires,
And the wide future by their fleetness,
As his thought leaps to the long-distant goal.

So eagerly across that unknown span
Of years he gazes: what, to him,
Are bounds and barriers, tales of Destiny,
Death, and the fabled impotence of man?
Already, in his marching dream,
Men at his sun-like coming seem
As with an inspiration stirr’d, and he
To kindle with new thoughts degenerate nations,
In sordid cares immersed so long;
Thrill’d with ethereal exultations
And a victorious expectancy,
Even such as swell’d the breasts of Bacchus’ throng,
When that triumphal burst of joy was hurl’d
Upon the wondering world;
When from the storied, sacred East afar,
Down Indian gorges clothed in green,
With flower-rein’d tigers and with ivory car
He came, the youthful god;
Beautiful Bacchus, ivy-crown’d, his hair
Blown on the wind, and flush’d limbs bare,
And lips apart, and radiant eyes,
And ears that caught the coming melodies,
As wave on wave of revellers swept abroad;
Wreathed with vine-leaves, shouting, trampling onwards,
With toss’d timbrel and loud tambourine.

Alas! the disenchanting years have roll’d
On hearts and minds becoming cold:
Mirth is gone from us; and the world is old.

O bright new-comer, fill’d with thoughts of joy,
Joy to be thine amid these pleasant plains,
Know’st thou not, child, what surely coming pains
Await thee, for that eager heart’s annoy?
Misunderstanding, disappointment, tears,
Wrong’d love, spoil’d hope, mistrust and ageing fears,
Eternal longing for one perfect friend,
And unavailing wishes without end?
Thou proud and pure of spirit, how must thou bear
To have thine infinite hates and loves confined,
School’d, and despised? How keep unquench’d and free
‘Mid others’ commerce and economy
Such ample visions, oft in alien air
Tamed to the measure of the common kind?
How hard for thee, swept on, for ever hurl’d
From hour to hour, bewilder’d and forlorn,
To move with clear eyes and with steps secure,
To keep the light within, to fitly scorn
Those all too possible and easy goals,
Trivial ambitions of soon-sated souls!
And, patient in thy purpose, to endure
The pity and the wisdom of the world.

Vain, vain such warning to those happy ears!
Disturb not their delight! By unkind powers
Doom’d to keep pace with the relentless Hours,
He, too, ere long, shall feel Earth’s glory change;
Familiar names shall take an accent strange,
A deeper meaning, a more human tone;
No more pass’d by, unheeded or unknown,
The things that then shall be beheld through tears.

Yet, O just Nature, thou
Who, if men’s hearts be hard, art always mild;
O fields and streams, and places undefiled,
Let your sweet airs be ever on his brow,
Remember still your child.
Thou too, O human world, if old desires,
If thoughts, not alien once, can move thee now,
Teach him not yet that idly he aspires
Where thou hast fail’d; not soon let it be plain,
That all who seek in thee for nobler fires,
For generous passion, spend their hopes in vain:
Lest that insidious Fate, foe of mankind,
Who ever waits upon our weakness, try
With whispers his unnerved and faltering mind,
Palsy his powers; for she has spells to dry,
Like the March blast, his blood, turn flesh to stone,
And, conjuring action with necessity,
Freeze the quick will, and make him all her own.

Come, then, as ever, like the Wind at morning!
Joyous, O Youth, in the aged world renew
Freshness to feel the eternities around it,
Rains, stars, and clouds, light and the sacred dew.
The strong sun shines above thee:
That strength, that radiance bring!
If Winter come to Winter,
When shall men hope for Spring? (1890)

 


Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) was a poet, essayist and critic.

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