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George Herbert Clarke, ed. (1873–1953). A Treasury of War Poetry. 1917.

Ronald Ross

The Death of Peace

NOW slowly sinks the day-long labouring Sun

Behind the tranquil trees and old church-tower;

And we who watch him know our day is done;

For us too comes the evening—and the hour.

The sunbeams slanting through those ancient trees,

The sunlit lichens burning on the byre,

The lark descending, and the homing bees,

Proclaim the sweet relief all things desire.

Golden the river brims beneath the west,

And holy peace to all the world is given;

The songless stockdove preens her ruddied breast;

The blue smoke windeth like a prayer to heaven.

O old, old England, land of golden peace,

Thy fields are spun with gossameres of gold,

And golden garners gather thy increase,

And plenty crowns thy loveliness untold.

By sunlight or by starlight ever thou

Art excellent in beauty manifold;

The still star victory ever gems thy brow;

Age canot age thee, ages make thee old.

Thy beauty brightens with the evening sun

Across the long-lit meads and distant spire:

So sleep thou well—like his thy labour done;

Rest in thy glory as he rests in fire.

But even in this hour of soft repose

A gentle sadness chides us like a friend—

The sorrow of the joy that overflows,

The burden of the beauty that must end.

And from the fading sunset comes a cry,

And in the twilight voides wailing past,

Like wild-swans calling, “When we rest we die,

And woe to them that linger and are last”;

And as the Sun sinks, sudden in heav’n new born

There shines an armèd Angel like a Star,

Who cries above the darkling world in scorn,

“God comes to Judgment. Learn ye what ye are.”

From fire to umber fades the sunset-gold,

From umber into silver and twilight;

The infant flowers their orisons have told

And turn together folded for the night;

The garden urns are black against the eve;

The white moth flitters through the fragrant glooms;

How beautiful the heav’ns!—But yet we grieve

And wander restless from the lighted rooms.

For through the world to-night a murmur thrills

As at some new-born prodigy of time—

Peace dies like twilight bleeding on the hills,

And Darkness creeps to hide the hateful crime.

Art thou no more, O Maiden Heaven-born,

O Peace, bright Angel of the windless morn?

Who comest down to bless our furrow’d fields,

Or stand like Beauty smiling ’mid the corn:

Mistress of mirth and ease and summer dreams,

Who lingerest among the woods and streams

To help us heap the harvest ’neath the moon,

And homeward laughing lead the lumb’ring teams:

Who teachest to our children thy wise lore;

Who keepest full the goodman’s golden store;

Who crownest Life with plenty, Death with flow’rs;

Peace, Queen of Kindness—but of earth, no more.

Not thine but ours the fault, thy care was vain;

For this that we have done be ours the pain;

Thou gavest much, as He who gave us all,

And as we slew Him for it thou art slain.

Heav’n left to men the moulding of their fate:

To live as wolves or pile the pillar’d State—

Like boars and bears to grunt and growl in mire,

Or dwell aloft, effulgent gods, elate.

Thou liftedst us: we slew and with thee fell—

From golden thrones of wisdom weeping fell.

Fate rends the chaplets from our feeble brows;

The spires of Heaven fade in fogs of hell.

She faints, she falls; her dying eyes are dim;

Her fingers play with those bright buds she bore

To please us, but that she can bring no more;

And dying yet she smiles—as Christ on him

Who slew Him slain. Her eyes so beauteous

Are lit with tears shed—not for herself but us.

The gentle Beings of the hearth and home;

The lovely Dryads of her aislèd woods;

The Angels that do dwell in solitudes

Where she dwelleth; and joyous Spirits that roam

To bless her bleating flocks and fruitful lands;

Are gather’d there to weep, and kiss her dying hands.

“Look, look,” they cry, “she is not dead, she breathes!

And we have staunched the damnèd wound and deep,

The cavern-carven wound. She doth but sleep

And will awake. Bring wine, and new-wound wreaths

Wherewith to crown awaking her dear head,

And make her Queen again.”—But no, for Peace was dead.

And then there came black Lords; and Dwarfs obscene

With lavish tongues; and Trolls; and treacherous Things

Like loose-lipp’d Councillors and cruel Kings

Who sharpen lies and daggers subterrene:

And flashed their evil eyes and weeping cried,

“We ruled the world for Peace. By her own hand she died.”

In secret he made sharp the bitter blade,

And poison’d it with bane of lies and drew,

And stabb’d—O God! the Cruel Cripple slew;

And cowards fled or lent him trembling aid.

She fell and died—in all the tale of time

The direst deed e’er done, the most accursèd crime.