Siegfried Sassoon: The Tombstone-Maker
He primmed his loose red mouth and leaned his head
Against a sorrowing angel’s breast, and said:
‘You’d think so much bereavement would have made
‘Unusual big demands upon my trade.
‘The War comes cruel hard on some poor folk;
‘Unless the fighting stops I’ll soon be broke.’
He eyed the Cemetery across the road.
‘There’s scores of bodies out abroad, this while,
‘That should be here by rights. They little know’d
‘How they’d get buried in such wretched style.’
I told him with a sympathetic grin,
That Germans boil dead soldiers down for fat;
And he was horrified. ‘What shameful sin!
‘O sir, that Christian souls should come to that!’
‘Pass it along, the wiring party’s going out’—
And yawning sentries mumble, ‘Wirers going out.’
Unravelling; twisting; hammering stakes with muffled thud,
They toil with stealthy haste and anger in their blood.
The Boche sends up a flare. Black forms stand rigid there,
Stock-still like posts; then darkness, and the clumsy ghosts
Stride hither and thither, whispering, tripped by clutching snare
Of snags and tangles.
Ghastly dawn with vaporous coasts
Gleams desolate along the sky, night’s misery ended.
Young Hughes was badly hit; I heard him carried away,
Moaning at every lurch; no doubt he’ll die to-day.
But we can say the front-line wire’s been safely mended.