Alfred Noyes: The men he must kill for a little pay. And once he had sickened to watch them slaughter an ox.
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)
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.
Then, hard behind the thunder, swept
Long ranks of arrowy gleams;
Out of the trenches, down the hill
The level bayonets charged to kill,
And the massed terror that took the shock
Screamed as a woman screams.
Before Johann a young face rose
Like a remembered prayer:
He could not halt or swerve aside
In the onrush of that murderous tide,
He jerked his bayonet out of the body
And swung his butt in the air.
He yelled like a wolf to drown the cry
Of his own soul in pain.
To stifle the God in his own breast,
He yelled and cursed and struck with the rest,
And the blood bubbled over his boots
And greased his hands again.
Faces like drowned things underfoot
Slipped as he swung round:
A red mouth crackled beneath his boot
Like thorns in spongy ground.
Slaughter? Slaughter? So easy it seemed
This work that, he thought so hard!
His eyes lit with a flicker of hell,
He licked his lips, and it tasted well;
And – once – he had sickened to watch them slaughter
An ox in the cattle-yard.
For lust of blood, for lust of blood,
His greasy bludgeon swung:
His rifle-butt sang in the air,
And the things that crashed beneath it there
Were a cluster of grapes in the wine press,
A savour of wine on his tongue.
The men he must kill for a little pay
Had marched beside him, yesterday!
Brothers in blood! By what foul lips
Was this war-trumpet blown?
Back from the heights they had stormed together,
The gulfs that had gorged their dead,
Back, by the rotting, shot-ripped plain,
Where the black wings fluttered and perched again,