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

Grace Fallow Norton

The Mobilization in Brittany

IT was silent in the street.

I did not know until a woman told me,

Sobbing over the muslin she sold me.

Then I went out and walked to the square

And saw a few dazed people standing there.

And then the drums beat, the drums beat!

O then the drums beat!

And hurrying, stumbling through the street

Came the hurrying stumbling feet.

O I have heard the drums beat

For war!

I have heard the townsfolk come,

I have heard the roll and thunder of the nearest drum

As the drummer stopped and cried, “Hear!

Be strong! The summons comes! Prepare!”

Closing he prayed us to be calm …

And there was calm in my heart of the desert, of the dead sea,

Of vast plains of the West before the coming storm,

And there was calm in their eyes like the last calm that shall be.

And then the drum beat,

The fatal drum beat,

And the drummer marched through the street

And down to another square,

And the drummer above took up the beat

And sent it onward where

Huddled, we stood and heard the drums roll,

And then a bell began to toll.

O I have heard the thunder of drums

Crashing into simple poor homes.

I have heard the drums roll “Farewell!”

I have heard the tolling cathedral bell.

Will it ever peal again?

Shall I ever smile or feel again?

What was joy? What was pain?

For I have heard the drums beat,

I have seen the drummer striding from street to street,

Crying, “Be strong! Hear what I must tell!”

While the drums roared and rolled and beat

For war!

Last night the men of this region were leaving. Now they are far.

Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.

So this is the way of war …

The train was full and we all shouted as it pulled away.

They sang an old war-song, they were true to themselves, they were gay!

We might have thought they were going for a holiday—

Except for something in the air,

Except for the weeping of the ruddy old women of Finistère.

The younger women do not weep. They dream and stare.

They seem to be walking in dreams. They seem not to know

It is their homes, their happiness, vanishing so.

(Every strong man between twenty and forty must go.)

They sang an old war-song. I have heard it often in other days,

But never before when War was walking the world’s highways.

They sang, they shouted, the Marseillaise!

The train went and another has gone, but none, coming, has brought word.

Though you may know, you, out in the world, we have not heard,

We are not sure that the great battalions have stirred—

Except for something, something in the air,

Except for the weeping of the wild old women of Finistère.

How long will the others dream and stare?

The train went. The strong men of this region are all away, afar.

Rough and strong they are, proud and gay they are.

So this is the way of war …