Alfred Noyes: The Wine Press
From The Wine Press (1913)
A murdered man, ten miles away,
Will hardly shake your peace,
Like one red stain upon your hand;
And a tortured child in a distant land
Will never check one smile to-day,
Or bid one fiddle cease.
It comes along a little wire,
Sunk in a deep sea;
It thins in the clubs to a little smoke
Between one joke and another joke,
For a city in flames is less than the fire
That comforts you and me.
Each was honest after his way,
Lukewarm in faith, and old;
And blood, to them, was only a word,
And the point of a phrase their only sword,
And the cost of war, they reckoned it
In little disks of gold.
They were cleanly groomed. They were not to be bought.
And their cigars were good.
But they had pulled so many strings
In the tinselled puppet-show of kings
That, when they talked of war, they thought
Of sawdust, not of blood;
Not of the crimson tempest
Where the shattered city falls:
They thought, behind their varnished doors,
Of diplomats, ambassadors,
Budgets, and loans and boundary-lines,
Coercions and re-calls.
Slaughter! Slaughter! Slaughter!
The cold machines whirred on.
And strange things crawled amongst the wheat
With entrails dragging round their feet,
And over the foul red shambles
A fearful sunlight shone.…
The maxims cracked like cattle-whips
Above the struggling hordes.
They rolled and plunged and writhed like snakes
In the trampled wheat and the blackthorn brakes,
And the lightnings leapt among them
Like clashing crimson swords.
The rifles flogged their wallowing herds,
Flogged them down to die.
Down on their slain the slayers lay,
And the shrapnel thrashed them into the clay,
And tossed their limbs like tattered birds
Thro’ a red volcanic sky.