The Wayside Cross.
Beneath a hawthorn bush, dying, he lay
Upon an orchard slope, a gentle hill;
The silvery moonlight thro' the night did play
Upon his blood-stained form silent and still.
The gentle breezes of the night did fan
The perfumes of the spring-time all around;
Through the night a nightingale did scan
His amorous song in tireless, ceaseless round.
Prostrate he lay upon a mossy bed-
The stars of night watching above his head.
That morning thro' the village there had tramped
His regiment with a joyous, mocking lilt,
Marching unto the line, their faces stamp'd
With purpose, bodies wiry, sinewy built.
Thro' the ruined, shatter'd village he
With comrades brave that morn had passed and gone.
Nor thought to these return for sanctuary
Tired and wounded when the day was done.
Within the maze of the entrenchments he
Scarce had set foot ere a shell did place
Him on the list of casualties, then he
Returned unto the first-aid ambulance base.
Since he could walk ('twas but a wounded arm)
He tramped back with a comrade, going well
Until at sundown near the village farm
He met his fate (his comrade too)-a shell.
His pal was dead, no succour was there nigh.
The sunset died, the moon rose in the sky;
He crawled unto the bank beneath the thorn
And lay beneath the night, dying-forlorn.
From out the bourne whose outer marge is Death
His spirit waver'd, plumed its broken wings,
Tried to renew beneath each gasping breath
Its vigour at Life's quickly dying springs.
His throat was parched, his body throbbed with pain,
He fought the wave of sleep that numbed his brain;
He cried for water, help-none were to bless,
To soothe his pain, delirious consciousness.
Sudden his body seemed to lose the throb
Of pain, his spirit fought the shadows vast
That seemed to cloud his memory and rob
Him of the life, the glory of the past.
The moon still shone ; the wind so tenderly
Whispered the tale of night's serenity.
A light rushed to his sense, a shadow leapt
Athwart his brain, his vision cleared, across
The pool where wandering moonbeams fell and slept
He saw the silhouette of a wayside cross.
Was it a devil, nightmare, that stood there?
Was he on earth or in some haunt of hell?
Ah No! perfumes of flowers were on the air-
Surely he lay in some sweet English dell
Where love-birds sang, where bluebells rang their rune,
Where roses flamed upon the banks of June!
Or in some meadow with sweet violets nigh,
With wild larks trilling love-songs in the sky!
His vision cleared . . . that figure was the Christ,
The Man who died for men, the God who came
And kept on Calvary a woeful tryst
To save humanity from guilt and shame.
He swept across the gulf: he was a child
Kneeling at mother's knee, chanting a prayer
Unto a God, a Saviour meek and mild,
Then in that hour he lived again the past,
Its childhood, youth, its visions and its loss,
Its love, its grief, its hope, illusions vast,
The meaning of the suffering of the Cross.
He scampered down the dell, gathered the flowers,
A child enchanted with the sunny hours;
Sought out the wild-bird in the leafy thorn,
Sought out the wonder in the world just born.
He trod its paths flushed with his youthful dreams,
Mad with the urge of love, of high desire,
Cherished his visions by the woodland streams
And flung abroad his chansons wing'd with fire.
He felt the touch of hair upon his face;
He heard a voice whose softest tones were bliss;
He felt the joy, the mastery of his race
When he had won that burning, deathless kiss.
Then pain, then loss, the falsity of friend,
The crush of life, its Herculean strife,
Monotony outwearing, without end,
That which we love, we hate, mysterious-- Life !
And then he read the Cross, saw in that dark
Black silhouette against the waning moon
The symbol of man's greatness; the quick spark
That lights man onward thro' the raven gloom.
He felt the pain, the agony of the Christ
Within the shadows of Gethsemane;
He felt the pain, the glory of that tryst
Kept long ago out there at Calvary.
And with that vision grand at morn he passed-
That he with others yielded up his life
For love of race, Truth's victory at last,
To win a wider vision from the strife;
The " greater love " that more no man can give,
The sacrifice outpoured that men may live;
The crown of thorns worn proudly just like He
Who went before--showed men their Calvary.
The thought thrilled thro' his brain and warmed his heart:
He gave one shudder, momently did start,
And then met proudly Death in that lone tryst,
Murmuring as he died: " Mother! England! Christ!"
The moon did wane, dawn stole above the hill,
The lark in heaven poured forth his ecstasy;
The orchard bloom'd, the winds were hushed and still
And there amid the moon's serenity
Firm-lipp'd and proud with victory on his face
A soldier lay, " he died for love of race."