Richard Aldington: Pools and ponds of blood, the huge black dogs of hell
From Images of War (1919)
In the Trenches
Not that we are weary,
Not that we fear,
Not that we are lonely
Though never alone –
Not these, not these destroy us;
But that each rush and crash
Of mortar and shell,
Each cruel bitter shriek of bullet
That tears the wind like a blade,
Each wound on the breast of earth,
Of Demeter, our Mother, wound us also,
Sever and rend the fine fabric
Of the wings of our frail souls,
Scatter into dust the bright wings
How important is all this clamour,
This destruction and contest
Night after night comes the moon
Haughty and perfect;
Night after night the Pleiades sing
And Orion swings his belt across the sky.
Night after night the frost
Crumbles the hard earth.
Soon the spring will drop flowers
And patient creeping stalk and leaf
Along these barren lines
Where the huge rats scuttle
And the hawk shrieks to the carrion crow.
Can you stay them with your noise?
Then kill winter with your cannon,
Hold back Orion with your bayonets
And crush the spring leaf with your armies?
The grim dawn lightens thin bleak clouds;
In the hill-clefts beyond the flooded meadows
Lies death-pale, death-still mist.
We trudge along wearily,
Heavy with lack of sleep,
Spiritless, yet with pretence of gaiety.
The sun brings crimson to the colourless sky;
Light gleams from brass and steel—
We trudge on wearily—
0 God, end this bleak anguish
Soon, soon, with vivid crimson death,
End it in mist-pale sleep!
First Watch: Night
The stars which night by night of late
Were plain to all men’s eyes
Are veiled in cloud,
As my clear happy mind
In this brief solitude.
Last Watch: Dawn
Dusk and deep silence…
Three soldiers huddled on a bench
Over a red-hot brazier,
And a fourth one stands apart
Watching the cold rainy dawn.
Then the familiar sound of birds—
Clear cock-crow, caw of rooks,
Frail pipe of linnet, the “ting! ting!” of chaffinches,
And over all the lark
Outpiercing even the robin…
Wearily the sentry moves
Muttering the one word: “Peace.”
The gallop of innumerable Walkyrie impetuous for battle,
The beating of vast eagle wings above Prometheus,
The contest of tall barbaric gods smitten by the hammer of Thor,
Pursuit! Pursuit! Pursuit!
The huge black dogs of hell
Leaping, full-mouthed, in murderous pursuit!
Four days the earth was rent and torn
By bursting steel,
The houses fell about us;
Three nights we dared not sleep,
Sweating, and listening for the imminent crash
Which meant our death.
The fourth night every man,
Nerve-tortured, racked to exhaustion,
Slept, muttering and twitching,
While the shells crashed overhead.
The fifth day there came a hush;
We left our holes
And looked above the wreckage of the earth
To where the white clouds moved in silent lines
Across the untroubled blue.
The Blood of the Young Men
Give us back the close veil of the senses,
Let us not see, ah, hide from us
The red blood splashed upon the walls,
The good red blood, the young, the lovely blood
Trampled unseeingly by passing feet,
Feet of the old men, feet of the cold cruel women,
Feet of the careless children, endlessly passing…
Day has become an agony, night alone now,
That leisurely shadow, hides the blood-stains,
The horrible stains and clots of day-time.
All the garments of all the people,
All the wheels of all the traffic,
All the cold indifferent faces,
All the fronts of the houses,
All the stones of the street —
Ghastly! Horribly smeared with blood-stains.
The horror of it!
When a woman holds out a white hand
Suddenly to know it drips black putrid blood;
When an old man sits, serene and healthy,
In clean white linen, with clean white hair,
Suddenly to know the linen foully spotted,
To see the white hair streaked with dripping blood.
O these pools and ponds of blood,
Slowly dripped in, slowly brimming lakes,
Blood of the young men, blood of their bodies,
Squeezed and crushed out to purple the garments of
Poured out to colour the lips of Magdalen,
Magdalen who loves not, whose sins are loveless.
O this steady drain of the weary bodies,
This beating of hearts growing dimmer and dimmer,
This bitter indifference of the old men,
This exquisite indifference of women.
Old men, you will grow stronger and healthier
With broad red cheeks and clear hard eyes —
Is not your meat and drink the choicest?
Blood of the young, dear flesh of the young men?
Ah, you women, cruel exquisite women,
What a love-fountain is poured out for you,
What coloured streams for your pleasure!
Go your ways, pass on, forget them;
Give your lips and breasts to the old men,
The kindly, impetuous, glowing, old men!
They who will love you indeed, indeed, dears,
Not as we do, drained of our blood, with weeping.
Sell yourselves, oh, give yourselves to the cripples,
Give yourselves to the weak, the poor forgotten,
Give yourselves to those who escape the torture
And buy their blood from the pools with weight of
Give yourselves to them, pass on, forget us;
We, any few that are left, a remnant,
Sit alone together in cold and darkness,
Dare not face the light for fear we discover
The dread woe, the agony in our faces,
Sit alone without sound in bitter dreaming
Of our friends, our dear brothers, the young men,
Who were mangled and abolished, squeezed dry of
Emptied and cast aside that the lakes might widen,
That the lips of the women might be sweet to the old men.
Go your ways, you women, pass and forget us,
We are sick of blood, of the taste and sight of it;
Go now to those who bleed not and to the old men,
They will give you beautiful love in answer!
But we, we are alone, we are desolate,
Thinning the blood of our brothers with weeping,
Crying for our brothers, the men we fought with,
Crying out, mourning them, alone with our dead ones;
Praying that our eyes may be blinded
Lest we go mad in a world of scarlet,
Dripping, oozing from the veins of our brothers.