Home > Uncategorized > Alfred Noyes: A shuddering lump of tattered wounds lifted up a mangled head and whined

Alfred Noyes: A shuddering lump of tattered wounds lifted up a mangled head and whined

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

portrait-of-alfred-noyes-english-poet

The lightnings leapt among the lines
Like a mountain-stream in flood.
Scattering the red clay they ran
A river of fire around Johann,
And, thrice, a spatter of human flesh
Blinded him with blood.

Then all the hills grew quiet
And the sun slept on the field,
There was no cloud in the blue sky,
No sight, no sound of an enemy;
But, over them, like a scourge of brass
The scornful bugles pealed.

Forward! At the double,
Not questioning what it means!
The long rows of young men
Carried their quivering flesh again
Over those wide inhuman zones
Against the cold machines.

Flesh against things fleshless,
Never the soul’s desire,
Never the flash of steel on steel,
But the brain that is mangled under the wheel,
The nerves that shrivel, the limbs that reel
Against a sheet of fire.

***

A dead man makes good covering;
Or, if the man be breathing yet,
There is none to save him now.

Across a heap of flesh, Johann
Fired at the unseen mark.
He had not fired a dozen rounds
When the shuddering lump of tattered wounds
Lifted up a mangled head
And whined, like a child, in the dark.

Its eyes were out. The raw strings
Along its face lay red;
It caught the barrel in its hands
And set it to its head.

Its jaw dropped dumbly, but Johann
Saw and understood:
The rifle flashed, and the dead man
Lay quiet in his blood.

***

Then all along the reeking hills
And up the dark ravines,
The long rows of young men
Leapt in the glory of life again
To carry their warm and breathing breasts
Against the cold machines;

Against the Death that mowed them down
With a cold indifferent hand;
And every gap at once was fed
With more life from the fountain-head,
Filled up from endless ranks behind
In the name of the Fatherland,

Mown down! Mown down! Mown
down! Mown down!
They staggered in sheets of fire,
They reeled like ships in a sudden blast,
And shreds of flesh went spattering past,
And the hoarse bugles laughed on high,
Like fiends from hell Retire!

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