First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Bazentin, 1916

BAZENTIN, 1916 by ROBERT GRAVES (A Reminiscence --- Robert and David)

R. That was a curious night, two years ago, Relieving those tired Dockers at Bazentin. Remember climbing up between the ruins? The guide that lost his head when the gas-shells came, Lurching about this way and that, half-witted, Till we were forced to find the way ourselves?

D. Yes, twilight torn with flashes, faces muffled, In stinking masks, and eyes all sore and crying With lachrymatory stuff, and four men gassed.

R. Yet we got up there safely, found the trenches Untraversed shallow ditches, along a road With dead men sprawled about, some ours, some theirs---

D. Ours mostly, and those Dockers doing nothing, Tired out, poor devils; much too tired to dig, Or to do anything but just hold the ground: No touch on either flank, no touch in front, Everything in the air. I cursed, I tell you. Out went the Dockers, quick as we filed in, And soon we'd settled down and put things straight, Posted the guns, dug in, got out patrols, And sent to right and left to restore touch.

R. There was a sunken road out on the right, With rifle-pits half dug; at every pit A dead man had his head thrust in for shelter.

D. Dawn found us happy enough; a funny day--- The strangest I remember in all those weeks. German five-nines were bracketting down our trenches Morning and afternoon.

R. Why, yes; at dinner, Three times my cup was shaken out of my hand And filled with dirt: I had to pour out fresh.

D. That was the mug you took from the Boche gun. Remember that field gun, with the team killed By a lucky shot just as the German gunners Were limbering up? We found the gunner's treasures In a box behind, his lump of fine white chalk Carefully carved, and painted with a message Of love to his dear wife, and Allied flags, A list of German victories, and an eagle. Then his clean washing, and his souvenirs --- British shell-heads, French bullets, lumps of shrapnel, Nothing much more. I never thought it lucky To take that sort of stuff.

R. Then a tame magpie--- German, we guessed---came hopping into the trench, Picking up scraps of food. That's 'One for sorrow' I said to little Owen.

D. Not much mistaken In the event, when only three days later They threw us at High Wood and (mind, we got there!) Smashed up the best battalion in the whole corps. But, Robert, quite the queerest thing that day Happened in the late afternoon. Worn out, I snatched two hours of sleep; the Boche bombardment Roared on, but I commended my soul to God, And slept half through it; but as I lay there snoring A mouse, in terror of all these wild alarms, Crept down my neck for shelter, and woke me up In a great sweat. Blindly I gave one punch And slew the rascal at the small of my back. That was a strange day!

R. Yes, and a merry one.

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