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Title: The White Comrade and Other Poems
Author: Hale, Katherine
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  THE WHITE COMRADE

  AND OTHER POEMS


  BY KATHERINE HALE

  _Author of "Grey Knitting"_



  _Cover Design by_
  DOROTHY STEVENS



  MCCLELLAND, GOODCHILD & STEWART
  PUBLISHERS : : : : TORONTO



  COPYRIGHT CANADA, 1916
  MCCLELLAND, GOODCHILD & STEWART, LIMITED
  TORONTO



  PRINTED IN CANADA



  Contents

  The White Comrade
  The Awakening
  The Hearts of Mothers
  Soul of the Earth
  I used to Wear a Gown of Green
  The Departure



  THE WHITE COMRADE

  _A Canadian soldier, wounded at Ypres, speaks_


  So this green land is England!  Her we saw
  Radiant and smiling in our early dreams,
  A land by love dream-haunted.  Now we come
  With stranger vision than our youth could give
  To the great shelter of her mighty arms.
  We come from battles bitter and long fought
  To see the stars shining on village streets
  And watch a country in midsummer calm--
  A soft land, lying August-clad but chill,
  Dull to Canadian eyes that know the sun
  As it stalks red across an azure sky.
  And as we limp about and smoke, play cards,
  And wait impatient to be off again,
  Sometimes we two, amid the comrades here,--
  Two only of the three who started out,
  For, in the wood at Julien, Edward fell--
  Sometimes we two go silent, then look up
  To see if we can find in others' eyes
  A knowledge that has grown with us from out
  The fields of France, when in those awful nights,
  _Some of us heard a rumor, saw a Form._

  * * * * *

  Then we look back unto that strange new hour
  When time was suddenly transformed for us
  Within a sleepy town near old Quebec.
  We, sunburned, and already turning home
  From a long forest tramp of two good weeks,
  We who were friends together, town and school
  And lives in common, knitting us akin.
  We had been tramping through the distant hills
  Far out of reach of papers and of news
  And when we stopped for letters, it was there
  We met the first surprising note of war:
  A little bill-board like a clarion voice
  Shouted to us on that midsummer day,
  "Germany says!"  And on and on and on
  The fateful message ran.  We turned and stared
  Into each other's eyes in blank amaze.
  "Germany says!"  In two short weeks of time
  Hidden by forests as we three had been
  Could all the world be humbled so that news
  Of Germany, and what she says or does
  Or does not say or do, could raise the storm
  Whose thunders shook us even from afar.
  "Belgium is entered!"  "England is prepared!"
  "Canada mobilizing!"  Oh, ye gods,
  What things to read upon a little board
  Tacked up above the place where letters lie!

  Later, we asked for ours, and they were full
  Of a new wonder and a great surprise.
  My little sister wrote, "I never dreamed
  That things could happen in this prosy town;
  But everyone is stirring and awake.
  Red Cross is starting, and each girl I know
  Has sent for wool.  For we must learn to knit."
  Then Edward broke his printed envelope:
  "Insurance premiums for the risk in war."
  The air went chill as at a sudden blast.
  Nigel put his away.  Nor opened it.
  His letters must be read quite out of sight.
  To-day I think he did not want to read.
  To-morrow he would see her.  And the word
  Upon all lips would come into their eyes.
  We talked with village gossips all day long,
  We heard their suppositions, hopes and fears,
  We tried to puzzle out those buried weeks,
  When, out of sight and sound, such things had come
  Upon the world we knew, that it no more
  Was our same world.  And we, in forest ways
  Had been quite lost while it was changing.  Strange
  Past anything that we had dreamed before!

  We climbed the hill behind the little town
  And as we sat the gathering darkness fell,
  The lights sprang up within the window panes
  And some young boy had found a penny flute
  Which through the gloaming sounded thin and clear
  Like an emphatic fairy note, that called
  To all the spirits that could hear its voice
  To come and follow, follow where it led.
  All here and there that shrill young flute cried "Come."
  And sometimes laughter followed in its train.
  We knew that children catching the refrain
  Would follow, follow on all luring led
  By that young voice through lands of summer night.

  In the first bird note of St. Julien
  I heard that flute again from hills of home,
  When we three sat on that strange August night
  And tried to talk and felt our own words fail,
  But stared through violet shadows and knew then
  That worlds might fall away and new ones dawn,
  But never in this world more vital hours
  Could come for Canada, or for ourselves
  Than these midsummer days when all the land
  Must ask a vital question--and reply.

  Then we became new soldiers in a cause
  That is as old as Christ, the crucified.
  As we took drill out in the open air,
  Drank the long draughts of ozone keen and bright,
  Felt our whole bodies grow as if new-born,
  Our minds kept pace and fed on wider thoughts.
  Each man I think who was in truth a man,
  Felt the old life slip from him in those days
  And a new purpose take the place of self.

  And so we left Valcartier, and stole out
  Across the ocean--that long line of ships,
  "The New Armada," trailing slowly out
  Across that bridge of water to the land
  Where life and death indeed had met as one.
  Where life and death so closely were entwined
  You could not tell where one began or ceased.
  We did not talk of these things at the time
  But each man, as he smoked and shuffled cards,
  Or drilled his squad upon the sunny deck,
  Each man was conscious through that great good time
  That into life a nobler friend had come
  To be denied or loved as each one chose.
  A strong inevitable friend, so near
  That we should touch him in the passing soon:
  That young-old friend that life has long named Death.

  At Salisbury we lived and moved in mud.
  Talked mud, felt mud, and slept in it knee-deep.
  England we felt not.  Only lived the day,
  And fell at night to leaden dreams of home.

  Then France, and sudden springtime bourgeoning.
  Oh, bourgeoning indeed with ardent hopes!
  I cannot tell you what that change was like:
  I wish that words were colours, or were notes,
  Then I would go past red to violet tones
  To give you back that vibrancy of air,
  That selfless, sacrificing, vital mood,
  That almost jocund feeling of rebound
  Towards the fight for liberty and right
  That animated France those first spring days.
  The year was young, and in the lovely land
  New life was waking ardent, eager-eyed.
  The very air called welcome, and we left
  Homesickness far behind.  We summoned mirth
  And whistled down those roads all poplar lined.
  We laughed at mud that April winds would dry,
  And in that grey square Market Place at ...
  Where we marched past the staff and gave salute
  There was baptized a new affinity,
  Young Canada with France and England blent.
  I tell you hearts beat faster, hopes rode high,
  The air was lighter, keener, there was joy,
  Great joy in our swift entrance to the fight
  That closed about us fast those April days.
  I think that never in its hottest hour
  Was love so lovely or life so supreme
  As in the sudden days of leaf and bud,
  Of bird song, and that quickening of the heart
  That heralds Great Adventure to the soul.
  There was the night we marched on Neuve Chapelle:
  Thousands of shadows in a shadow host.
  Beyond lay German legions, and that zone
  Invisible, illusive, moving on
  That men have called "The Front."
                            Fancy your heart
  Moving with other shadows all that night,
  Knowing yourself not flesh at all, but one--
  One pulse-beat in the world's great heart of flame.
  Perhaps a whistling youth on days of sun,
  One among shadows on this night of nights,
  Moving with other shadows all night long.
  One leaving little loves far, far behind,
  One pressing on with thousands of his kind
  To answer that great question life had asked
  Each one upon his hilltop back at home.

  We three marched near together through old France,
  Together trenched those days at Neuve Chapelle,
  And saw the heavens part and fires descend,
  And felt the roar of such a cannonade
  As all the world of battles had not known.
  The French lay close beside us, and near them
  The lithe, brown men from India--heroes they.
  We felt like children just discarding toys
  In face of those whose souls had long known war,
  Whose spirits flashed like rapiers in the face
  Of the Great Danger.  They were men indeed
  Whom it was good to look upon and know,
  And in those nights they learned of us to say,
  When German flares lit up the evening skies,
  "Behold the Northern Lights!"  St. Julien came,
  And that wild night in which old Edward fell.
  Those hours are hard to speak about at all.
  They went by like a flash in which we moved
  As one man altogether, and the hours
  Flared up to heaven like a burning torch.

  Nigel and I, one night just after Ypres,
  Were struggling with our ancient college-French
  Talking, or stumbling into talk, with one
  Called René Paule, from an adjacent trench,
  Who had been wounded in an early fight.
  And he with eloquence and poetry
  Like all his vivid race, made haste to tell
  Of a strange rumor we had heard before,
  How in the depths of plain unvarnished hell
  Quivering with anguish so he could not move
  And waiting for the stretcher-bearers' call,
  He suddenly felt healing, cool and sweet,
  As you might feel a fan on a hot day
  Swayed by an unseen hand.  And softly then
  Closing his eyes on blessed, stealing sleep
  He felt a touch, and looking up beheld
  The kindest, sweetest eyes in all the world.
  It was a Comrade in the khaki brown,
  His face was tired, but the eyes were keen
  And tender as a dewy flower at dawn.
  And René, feeling once again the pain,
  Grasped the hand tight, and looked into the eyes
  For succor, and they held him there, serene,
  And slowly, slowly conquered the strong pain.
  And René saw the khaki melt away
  Until the Comrade seemed all wrapt in white
  As though sheer light had woven a robe for him,
  And his strong eyes gleamed like an azure flame,
  And he held René through the bitter night,
  Until the stretcher-bearers came at dawn.
  "So the White Comrade often comes, my friends,"
  He said to us, and smiling, mused awhile.
  "These fields are not so difficult in death;
  Whether we live or die it all seems one.
  He has come back to us because we die
  As He did, long ago, for love of man."

  Often we talked of Edward, and he seemed
  To march beside us down the bright French roads.
  We moved into the firing line once more.
  So close the German lines, there only lay
  An orchard, in the loveliness of May,
  Between us and the armies of the Huns.

  Sometimes I think that Festubert will hold
  Rank equal with St. Julien, for those
  Who lived through its abandonment of fire.
  It was the Gunners' day.  We had to shell
  Those trenches that were fortresses indeed,
  And pouring hell's own native thunder out.
  The orchard lay between us, and it seemed
  We simply had to take that place by storm.
  They tried to ditch us with their hedge of wire;
  We plunged and made for gaps, and all the while
  They rained on us artillery fire, until
  Ear drums were stilled and nerves quite ceased to work;
  Machine gun, shrapnel, rifle-fire as one
  Kept up the deadly dance of death.  And we
  Dashed at them, through that dance, till hand to hand
  We cleared our orchard, or they say we did.
  It was the Gunners' Day.  I know that much.
  Some of the fun I missed, for at the height,
  Just when is lost completely every thought
  Of one's own entity, or reason why
  It is not, after all, good sport to die
  In such a whirlwind of emotion,--then,
  Out of a little puff of air it came,
  The one shot meant for me.
                              I fell inert
  And sank into unconsciousness, till one
  Dragging me off made torture of my wound,
  Then left me under some small spreading shrubs.
  Surely one needed shelter from the sun
  And hottest air that ever poured on pain.
  I longed for water, looked for human aid,
  But no one came.  Only the roar of guns
  And a far distant sound that meant the play
  Of men in action, that and drilling pain
  Met in a hideous duet of war.
  I called to Nigel with my aching mind
  And knew it was in vain.  Again I called
  To youth, and to some Force in other worlds
  That might put me to death or ease my pain.
  A thousand swords were running through my brain,
  The blood thumped like an engine in my head.
  If I should faint the Comrade White might come!

  Only in dreams, in dying dreams of pain
  He comes, I thought.  Or else it is quite vain
  To trust such fairy tales as René told.
  Oh, for a glass of water!  It was noon
  And o'er the grassy plain the sleepy hum
  Of insects, moving in a drowsy swoon,
  Sang to me through my pain, as if they were
  A near vibration of the guns of war.

  "War, war, O hot and hideous and hard,
  The ways you lead, the deaths you make one die!
  I have died fifty times this noon!"  So ran
  The anguished brain within me, on and on,
  All the long way of quivering mortal woe.
  The world was gone.  I, swooning, felt it go,
  Was at the point of nothingness, when there,
  Moving across the grass on hands and knees,
  I saw a brown-clad figure crawling slow
  As if he were a part of the hot plain,
  And wondered if I'd last until he came.

  Never that troop of angels in the air
  At Mons showed brighter wings or lovelier light
  Than the worn khaki of that Comrade dear.
  I felt him bind my wounds with tender touch,
  And at his touch the ghosts of pain escaped.
  I saw him smile above me, and I swooned
  For joy of waking up not all alone.
  I begged "Stay with me till they come!" and then
  Looked up into his face for the first time
  And saw it was old Edward who had died
  At Julien.  We left him lying there
  White in the moonlight as we all rushed on.
  We buried him, Edward the loved and brave,
  And now I stared through pain and saw his face.
  I saw his eyes, shining and lit with love:
  The old eyes, staunch and loyal as they were
  All through our youth together, and these days
  Of the great camaraderie of war.

  "Edward," I murmured, and he only smiled
  And waved across the grass right at the guns
  Whose thunder sounded fainter in my ears.
  "How did you come?" I asked him, as I held
  Tight to his hand, that big brown hand of his.
  Oh, it was good to die and have him back!
  For I had died.  That was quite clear to me.
  He only said, "The pain will go, old chap!"
  Just the same voice, with the accustomed burr
  Of his Scotch father sounding through its tones.
  And we sat silent in the burning noon.

  Then in the distance two small figures moved,
  A third behind them, and I knew the boys
  Bearing the stretchers were quite close at hand,
  And Edward waved them so they came on fast.
  To have him leave me!  That were a new death
  And something told me that he could not stay.

  "I long to die, just now, before they come!"
  This I told Edward with what strength I had.
  And he laughed softly, and I held his hand,
  Looked at him long, until the blinding noon
  Came to bend down between us, and his face,
  Tender and brown and kindly, seemed enwrapt
  In a white light, mysterious and strong,
  Turning the khaki silver.  And the hand
  Holding me fast was part of the great light.

  I closed my eyes.  And now the boys had come,
  Lifted me up, taken me quite away
  To a camp hospital where Nigel lay
  Wounded as I was, out of all vain hope
  Of further fighting for a long half year.

  The stretcher-bearers story?  It was this:
  That a strange glow had rested on the shrubs
  'Neath which I lay--just a broad patch of light
  To show there was a human being there
  In need of human aid.  And so they came.
  "You were half gone, my friend," they said to me,
  "It was a wonder that we saw you there!
  Strange that the sun so centred on that spot!"
  And Nigel, when I told him, said "I think
  You were mistaken, but I dare not say
  What is revealed to any man these days.
  You know the angels that appeared at Mons!
  Many have seen bright angels on the field.
  I have not seen, but then my eyes are dim,
  My vision turns back home so constantly.
  If I were dying I should think of her,
  She is my Christ, my angel and my hope.
  Before each battle I make prayers to her,
  And so the earthly love is still my goal.
  There are two Comrades, Love and Loneliness,
  Perhaps Christ enters when we touch the last.
  Loneliness waiteth long, until we give
  The last glad hold we have on life, and I--
  I have not given yet my hold on life."

  * * * * *

  And now in this green England that we saw
  Radiant and smiling in our early dreams,
  We two are marking time, looking at hills
  And these small village streets, and playing cards
  And telling yarns, and idling in the sun.
  And as we limp about and wait, sing songs,
  Exchange the tales of trench and hot assault
  And hear again the whistling shrapnel call,
  Muse in the firelight, laugh at old alarms,
  And wait impatient to be off again,
  Sometimes we two, amid the comrades here,
  Sometimes we two go silent.  Then look up
  To see if we can find in others' eyes
  A knowledge that has grown with us from out
  The fields of France, when in those awful nights
  _Some of us heard a rumor, saw a Form._

  * * * * *

  And so, my friends, this word I bring to you
  Hot from the hell of conflict whence I come,
  Where life and death, binding men's spirits close,
  Have sealed a certain knowledge on our souls.
  Christ has come back to earth in these great days,
  I, but a young Canadian, tell you this.
  The stories of our battles,--Neuve Chapelle,
  St. Julien, Festubert, and all the rest--
  They have been told already scores of times,
  Sung, written, painted, burned in words of flame.
  My words are homely as a tallow dip,
  As crude as that, but just as stoutly true.
  Christ has come back to earth in these great days,
  He has come back, as in the centuries past
  He suddenly appeared upon the streets
  Of old Judean towns.  Let people talk
  Of ancient creeds and dogmas as they will,
  That helps not, hinders not, the vital truth
  That one young man in his most ardent youth
  So loved life, felt life, understood its laws,
  So took pain to his heart, so took great love,
  And knew that pain and love are always one,
  And knew that death can be lived through to life,
  Till he commanded death, and death obeyed.

  So comes the Comrade White, down silent pain.
  He comes to woods and battlefields to-day,
  (Sometimes I think he loves the woods the best)
  And finds free souls flung skyward, glad to go.
  Among the lonely and the pain-racked ones
  He comes--not death at all, but radiant life,
  Comes in the eyes of comrades, lives in hearts
  That give all, taking nothing in return.
  He is a rumor and a far white light,
  He is the singing bird, the children's flute
  That called us wooing forth to give our all.
  The floating glad things of the buoyant air,
  Young earth's warm children, music and delight,
  Live in His eyes: those deathless azure eyes,
  That smile upon the moment we thought hard,
  And turn our sacrifice to kindling light.
  _They pass through radiant gates on whom He smiles._



  THE AWAKENING

  How like a giant stretching in the sun,
  We have slept through the ages; even we
  Whom the gods moulded for a people free,
  And made tremendous for the race not run.

  See we have slept a magic cycle round,
  And in the dream we have imagined much;
  Felt the soft wings of years we did not touch,
  Dallied with somnolence that deadens sound.

  With untried strength what we have done is done.
  The wandering, drowsy brain has vaguely stirred,
  As though from out infinitude it heard
  A great voice speaking from behind the sun.

  Closer and clear the calling, strangely loud,
  And the great country, rousing from long sleep
  Murmurs to its own soul, as deep to deep
  Beckons a day's new dawn, so sure and proud.

  These were the visions of a passing night,
  Visions now caught in bugle notes of flame,
  _And lo, through storms of war we hear our name
  Called by an angel, terrible and bright._



  THE HEARTS OF MOTHERS

  The hearts of mothers are hid things
  In these the days of woe,
  And troops of strange thoughts move therein
  Silently to and fro.

  They are not thoughts of yester-year,
  Or thoughts of you and me
  And that which we have done, or do,
  By air, or land, or sea.

  But these are thoughts steel-bright with pain,
  And death-thoughts bare and stark,
  And shining thoughts of armaments
  That glitter through the dark.

  They move, old passions and revolts,
  Fresh-called, yet stiff with scars,
  To music crimsoned with the clash
  Of endless ancient wars.

  And those who summon memories
  From pathways of the sun,
  When death spoke life most solemnly
  Ere new life was begun,

  They dream of a strange blooming
  That dawns in greater birth:
  The frail, bright flower of selflessness
  Brought back again to earth.

  They feel, the Givers of all Life,
  Great need to give again
  The utmost dower of womanhood,
  All mystery--all pain.



  SOUL OF THE EARTH

  I saw a tired soldier vainly searching
  For room to bury deeply the new dead.
  "The old dead they are there, forever perching
  About the space we need," he grimly said.
  "The old dead, slaughtered, just beneath the sod
  Of Earth that once was well-beloved of God."

  I heard a woman desperate in her wooing
  Of empty space and echoing aisles of air,
  Calling upon the gods of her undoing
  To stem the fearful flood of her despair.
  "Somewhere in France he lies so deep," she said.
  "That Earth must make me answer for my dead."

  And all the while a wondrous bloom was springing
  Above the fields where lie these broken boys,
  Thousands of souls like butterflies upwinging
  In troop on radiant troop of shining joys.
  Host upon host they seek eternal breath
  Above the little mounds of lonely death.

  "Thus," saith the Earth, "my poppies pass in splendor,
  Flame of young hearts, for still my world is young,
  And in great Ages, wise because more tender,
  The passion of their passing shall be sung.
  Ask of these Ages!  For the soul of me
  Knows endless blooming--vivid, changing, free."



  I USED TO WEAR A GOWN OF GREEN

  I used to wear a gown of green
    And sing a song to May,
  When apple blossoms starred the stream
    And Spring came up the way.

  I used to run along with Love
    By lanes the world forgets,
  To find in an enchanted wood
    The first frail violets.

  And ever 'mid the fairy blooms
    And murmur of the stream,
  We used to hear the pipes of Pan
    Call softly through our dream.

  But now, in outcry vast, that tune
    Fades like some little star
  Lost in an anguished judgment day
    And scarlet flames of war.

  What can it mean that Spring returns
    And purple violets bloom,
  Save that some gypsy flower may stray
    Beside his nameless tomb!

  To pagan Earth her gown of green,
    Her elfin song to May--
  _With all my soul I must go on
    Into the scarlet day._



  THE DEPARTURE

"We watched the boys march singing through the streets of Kingston.
We cheered to them and waved to them as the train pulled out."
CONINGSBY DAWSON, in "_The Passing of the 34th._"


  How you passed out singing on that winter day!
  All the air was ringing with your laughter gay;
  With the song and banter that made light the way.

  There were few sighs wasted on dividing years,
  There was mirth and music, kisses, hopes and fears,
  Cigarettes and banners, chocolates, socks and tears.

  Swifter than your passing did the fancy run,
  Soldiers, horses, bayonets--how you all seemed one,
  Flashing through the snowflakes and the veiled sun;

  Every woman cheered you, some few women wept,
  Graybeards longed to join you, peaceful babies slept;
  But the land that bore you her own counsel kept.

  Only, through the snowflakes sped a rift of light,
  Keen as pointed sword-blade and intensely bright--
  Like the Lord's hand resting on the ranks of right.

  And our hearts would send you, as a song of spring,
  Unforgotten echoes of the songs you sing,
  And the hope and courage that the new days bring.

  Here's our love and greeting from the old home town;
  Here's to speedy meeting, and to your renown;
  Here's to every gallant heart in the khaki brown!





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