The Due of the Dead

I sit beside my peaceful hearth,
With curtains drawn and lamp trimmed bright
I watch my children's noisy mirth;
I drink in home, and its delight.

I sip my tea, and criticise
The war, from flying rumours caught;
Trace on the map, to curious eyes,
How here they marched, and there they fought.

In intervals of household chat,
I lay down strategetic laws;
Why this manoeuvre, and why that;
Shape the event, or show the cause.

Or, in smooth dinner-table phrase,
'Twixt soup and fish, discuss the fight;
Give to each chief his blame or praise;
Say who was wrong and who was right.

Meanwhile o'er Alma's bloody plain
The scathe of battle has rolled by--
The wounded writhe and groan--the slain
Lie naked staring to the sky.

The out-worn surgeon plies his knife,
Nor pauses with the closing day;
While those who have escaped with life
Find food and fuel as they may.

And when their eyes in sleep they close,
After scant rations duly shared,
Plague picks his victims out, from those
Whom chance of battle may have spared.

Still when the bugle sounds the march,
He tracks his prey through steppe and dell;
Hangs fruit to tempt the throats that parch,
And poisons every stream and well.

All this with gallant hearts is done;
All this with patient hearts is borne:
And they by whom the laurel's won
Are seldom they by whom 'tis worn.

No deed, no suffering of the war,
But wins us fame, or spares us ill;
Those noble swords, though drawn afar,
Are guarding English homesteads still.

Owe we a debt to these brave men,
Unpaid by aught that's said or sung;
By leaders from a ready pen,
Or phrases from a flippant tongue.

The living, England's hand may crown
With recognition, frank and free;
With titles, medals, and renown;
The wounded shall our pensioners be.

But they, who meet a soldier's doom--
Think you, it is enough, good friend,
To plant the laurel at their tomb,
And carve their names--and there an end?

No. They are gone: but there are left
Those they loved best while they were here--
Parents made childless, babes bereft,
Desolate widows, sisters dear.

All these let grateful England take;
And, with a large and liberal heart,
Cherish, for her slain soldiers' sake,
And of her fullness give them part.

Fold them within her sheltering breast;
Their parent, husband, brother, prove.
That so the dead may be at rest,
Knowing those cared for whom they love.
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