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Vincent Godfrey Burns: Hell à la mode

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

American writers on peace and against war

Vincent Godfrey Burns: An Ex-Serviceman Makes a Vow

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Vincent Godfrey Burns
Hell à la mode

Zero hour!
Advance!
The military Power
Decrees….
Out from their trenches, mud-holes, trees,
The doughboys, trembling in a trance,
Knee-deep in mud
And blood,
Through dark like pitch
Pierced by stabs of flame,
Teeth-clenched and faces tense,
Move forward with that haunting sense
Of a horrible fear too wild to tame,
Fear like some mad shrieking witch
Driving them stumbling, staggering, stubbornly on –
On through the chaos and horrors of a million hells –
On through the shower of a million shells –
On, on through the dark and the mud and the thunder,
Thunder like one brazen wall of noise.
On, on, heels crunching out the brains of boys
As rank after rank goes under!
For before the hurtlings of that red-hot steel
Lines break like paper, bodies sway and reel,
Nothing can live on that bullet-swept plain,
Even tank or trench or tree is vain
To stand up against that iron rain,
(Rain for a crop grim Death will reap
When the scythe of War leaves its bloody heap….)
Like trees struck by lightning human bodies fall;
And the killing continues as cruel as fate
Until nothing is left on the field at all,
Nothing – but mud and blood and wire,
And in the slough of that awful mire,
Fragments of sons that were slaughtered and slain,
And cries of their anguish in the hellish gloom,
Cries that sound like the Day of Doom,
Cries of beings gone mad with pain,
Cries of suffering and terrible hate,
Cries of a host’s last gasping breath,
And over it all, at last, at last,
When the fearful fury of the battle is past,
The silence of wreckage and ruin and death!

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