First World War Poetry Digital Archive

The Sentry


We'd found an old Boche dug-out, and he knew, And gave us hell; for shell on frantic shell Lit full on top, but never quite burst through. Rain, guttering down in waterfalls of slime, Kept slush waist-high and rising hour by hour, And choked the steps too thick with clay to climb. What murk of air remained stank old, and sour With fumes from whizz-bangs, and the smell of men Who'd lived there years, and left their curse in the den, If not their corpses... There we herded from the blast Of whizz-bangs; but one found our door at last,--- Buffeting eyes and breath, snuffing the candles, And thud! flump! thud! down the steep steps came thumping And sploshing in the flood, deluging muck, The sentry's body; then his rifle, handles Of old Boche bombs, and mud in ruck on ruck. We dredged it up, for dead, until he whined, 'O sir---my eyes,---I'm blind,---I'm blind,---I'm blind.' Coaxing, I held a flame against his lids And said if he could see the least blurred light He was not blind; in time they'd get all right 'I can't,' he sobbed. Eyeballs, huge-bulged like squids', Watch my dreams still,---yet I forgot him there In posting Next for duty, and sending a scout To beg a stretcher somewhere, and flound' ring about To other posts under the shrieking air.

Those other wretches, how they bled and spewed, And one who would have drowned himself for good,--- I try not to remember these things now. Let Dread hark back for one word only: how, Half-listening to that sentry's moans and jumps, And the wild chattering of his shivered teeth, Renewed most horribly whenever crumps Pummelled the roof and slogged the air beneath,--- Through the dense din, I say, we heard him shout 'I see your lights!'---But ours had long gone out.

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