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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Dance of death

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Ragtime

A minx in khaki struts the limelit boards:
With false moustache, set smirk and ogling eyes
And straddling legs and swinging hips she tries
To swagger it like a soldier, while the chords
Of rampant ragtime jangle, clash, and clatter;
And over the brassy blare and drumming din
She strains to squirt her squeaky notes and thin
Spirtle of sniggering lascivious patter.

Then out into the jostling Strand I turn,
And down a dark lane to the quiet river,
One stream of silver under the full moon,
And think of how cold searchlights flare and burn
Over dank trenches where men crouch and shiver.
Humming, to keep their hearts up, that same tune.

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The Dancers

All day beneath the hurtling shells
Before my burning eyes
Hover the dainty demoiselles –
The peacock dragon-flies.

Unceasingly they dart and glance
Above the stagnant stream –
And I am fighting here in France
As in a senseless dream.

A dream of shattering black shells
That hurtle overhead,
And dainty dancing demoiselles
Above the dreamless dead.

****

The Quiet

I could not understand the sudden quiet –
The sudden darkness – in the crash of fight,
The din and glare of day quenched in a twinkling
In utter starless night.

I lay an age and idly gazed at nothing,
Half-puzzled that I could not lift my head;
And then I knew somehow that I was lying
Among the other dead.

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The Light-Ship

Stretched on the foam-white deck, taking their ease,
The crew were basking on the Summer day,
We passed the anchored light-ship on our way;
Running all out before a following breeze
When, sighting us, those men who have lived to keep
Watch over the dark treachery of the deep,
Lighting the shoals that lurk beneath the seas,
Arose and leaning on the bulwarks, hailed
Our little yawl; and as we Northward sailed
We kept on thinking of the friendly crew –
That friend crew – although we little knew
That in a few short months their living light
Would be for ever quenched when brutally
A bomber swooping out of the black night
Should sink their helpless vessel in the sea
Whose peril that had beaconed faithfully
Through fog and storm above the shifting shoals –
For ever quenched – nay, but the memory
Of that brave vessel and those friendly  souls
Basking in sunshine ‘mid the treachery
And malice of war’s tempest burns more bright,
With quenchless courage beaconing the night.

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