The straggled Soldier halted — stared at Him —
Then clumsily dumped down upon his knees,
Gasping ‘O blessed crucifix, I’m beat!’
And Christ, still sentried by the seraphim,
Near the front-line, between two splintered trees,
Spoke him: ‘My son, behold these hands and feet.’
The Soldier eyed him upward, limb by limb,
Paused at the Face, then muttered, ‘Wounds like these
Would shift a bloke to Blighty just a treat !’
Christ, gazing downward, grieving and ungrim,
Whispered, ‘I made for you the mysteries,
Beyond all battles moves the Paraclete.’
The Soldier chucked his rifle in the dust,
And slipped his pack, and wiped his neck, and said —
‘O Christ Almighty, stop this bleeding fight !’
Above that hill the sky was stained like rust
With smoke. In sullen daybreak flaring red
The guns were thundering bombardment’s blight.
The Soldier cried, ‘I was born full of lust,
With hunger, thirst, and wishfulness to wed.
Who cares today if I done wrong or right?’
Christ asked all pitying, ‘Can you put no trust
In my known word that shrives each faithful head?
Am I not resurrection, life and light ?’
Machine-guns rattled from below the hill;
High bullets flicked and whistled through the leaves;
And smoke came drifting from exploding shells.
Christ said ‘Believe; and I can cleanse your ill.
I have not died in vain between two thieves;
Nor made a fruitless gift of miracles.’
The soldier answered, ‘Heal me if you will,
Maybe there’s comfort when a soul believes
In mercy, and we need it in these hells.
But be you for both sides? I’m paid to kill
And if I shoot a man his mother grieves.
Does that come into what your teaching tells?’
A bird lit on the Christ and twittered gay;
Then a breeze passed and shook the ripening corn.
A Red Cross waggon bumped along the track.
Forsaken Jesus dreamed in the desolate day,
Uplifted Jesus, Prince of Peace forsworn,
An observation post for the attack.
‘Lord Jesus, ain’t you got no more to say?’
Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns.
The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack,
And slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.
‘O God,’ he groaned,’why ever was I born?’
The battle boomed, and no reply came back.
See the original handwritten text of this poem here: