First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Letter To S.S. From Bryn-Y-Pin

LETTER TO S.S. FROM BRYN-Y-PIN by ROBERT GRAVES

Poor Fusilier aggrieved with fate That lets you lag in France so late, When all our friends of two years past Are free of trench and wire at last Dear lads, one way or the other done With grim-eyed War and homeward gone Crippled with wounds or daft or blind, Or leaving their dead clay behind, Where still you linger, lone and drear, Last of the flock, poor Fusilier. Now your brief letters home pretend Anger and scorn that this false friend This fickle Robert whom you knew To writhe once, tortured just like you, By world-pain and bound impotence Against all Europe's evil sense Now snugly lurks at home to nurse His wounds without complaint, and worse Preaches 'The Bayonet' to Cadets On a Welsh hill-side, grins, forgets. 20 That now he rhymes of trivial things Children, true love and robins' wings Using his tender nursery trick. Though hourly yet confused and sick From those foul shell-holes drenched in gas The stumbling shades to Lethe pass--- 'Guilty' I plead and by that token Confess my haughty spirit broken And my pride gone; now the least chance Of backward thought begins a dance Of marionettes that jerk cold fear Against my sick mind: either ear Rings with dark cries, my frightened nose Smells gas in scent of hay or rose, I quake dumb horror, till again I view that dread La Bassée plain Drifted with smoke and groaning under The echoing strokes of rival thunder That crush surrender from me now. Twelve months ago, on an oak bough I hung, absolved of further task, My dinted helmet, my gas mask, My torn trench tunic with grim scars Of war; so tamed the wrath of Mars With votive gifts and one short prayer. 'Spare me! Let me forget, O spare!' 'Guilty' I've no excuse to give While in such cushioned ease I live With Nancy and fresh flowers of June And poetry and my young platoon, Daring how seldom search behind In those back cupboards of my mind Where lurk the bogeys of old fear, To think of you, to feel you near By our old bond, poor Fusilier.

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