The Souls of the Slain


   The thick lids of Night closed upon me
   Alone at the Bill
   Of the Isle by the Race {1} -
   Many-caverned, bald, wrinkled of face -
And with darkness and silence the spirit was on me
   To brood and be still.


   No wind fanned the flats of the ocean,
   Or promontory sides,
   Or the ooze by the strand,
   Or the bent-bearded slope of the land,
Whose base took its rest amid everlong motion
   Of criss-crossing tides.


   Soon from out of the Southward seemed nearing
   A whirr, as of wings
   Waved by mighty-vanned flies,
   Or by night-moths of measureless size,
And in softness and smoothness well-nigh beyond hearing
   Of corporal things.


   And they bore to the bluff, and alighted -
   A dim-discerned train
   Of sprites without mould,
   Frameless souls none might touch or might hold -
On the ledge by the turreted lantern, farsighted
   By men of the main.


   And I heard them say "Home!" and I knew them
   For souls of the felled
   On the earth's nether bord
   Under Capricorn, whither they'd warred,
And I neared in my awe, and gave heedfulness to them
   With breathings inheld.


   Then, it seemed, there approached from the northward
   A senior soul-flame
   Of the like filmy hue:
   And he met them and spake: "Is it you,
O my men?" Said they, "Aye! We bear homeward and hearthward
   To list to our fame!"


   "I've flown there before you," he said then:
   "Your households are well;
   But--your kin linger less
   On your glory arid war-mightiness
Than on dearer things."--"Dearer?" cried these from the dead then,
   "Of what do they tell?"


   "Some mothers muse sadly, and murmur
   Your doings as boys -
   Recall the quaint ways
   Of your babyhood's innocent days.
Some pray that, ere dying, your faith had grown firmer,
   And higher your joys.


   "A father broods: 'Would I had set him
   To some humble trade,
   And so slacked his high fire,
   And his passionate martial desire;
Had told him no stories to woo him and whet him
   To this due crusade!"


   "And, General, how hold out our sweethearts,
   Sworn loyal as doves?"
   --"Many mourn; many think
   It is not unattractive to prink
Them in sables for heroes. Some fickle and fleet hearts
   Have found them new loves."


   "And our wives?" quoth another resignedly,
   "Dwell they on our deeds?"
   --"Deeds of home; that live yet
   Fresh as new--deeds of fondness or fret;
Ancient words that were kindly expressed or unkindly,
   These, these have their heeds."


   --"Alas! then it seems that our glory
   Weighs less in their thought
   Than our old homely acts,
   And the long-ago commonplace facts
Of our lives--held by us as scarce part of our story,
   And rated as nought!"


   Then bitterly some: "Was it wise now
   To raise the tomb-door
   For such knowledge? Away!"
   But the rest: "Fame we prized till to-day;
Yet that hearts keep us green for old kindness we prize now
   A thousand times more!"


   Thus speaking, the trooped apparitions
   Began to disband
   And resolve them in two:
   Those whose record was lovely and true
Bore to northward for home: those of bitter traditions
   Again left the land,


   And, towering to seaward in legions,
   They paused at a spot
   Overbending the Race -
   That engulphing, ghast, sinister place -
Whither headlong they plunged, to the fathomless regions
   Of myriads forgot.


   And the spirits of those who were homing
   Passed on, rushingly,
   Like the Pentecost Wind;
   And the whirr of their wayfaring thinned
And surceased on the sky, and but left in the gloaming
   Sea-mutterings and me.

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