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FAIRIES AND FUSILIERS

BY

ROBERT GRAVES

1918


TO

THE ROYAL WELCH FUSILIERS

_I have to thank Mr. Harold Monro, of The
Poetry Book Shop, for permission to include
in this volume certain poems of which he
possesses the copyright; also the editor of the
"Nation" for a similar courtesy._

R.G.


CONTENTS

TO AN UNGENTLE CRITIC
AN OLD TWENTY-THIRD MAN
TO LUCASTA ON GOING TO THE WAR - FOR THE FOURTH TIME
TWO FUSILIERS
TO ROBERT NICHOLS
DEAD COW FARM
GOLIATH AND DAVID
BABYLON
MR. PHILOSOPHER
THE CRUEL MOON
FINLAND
A PINCH OF SALT
THE CATERPILLAR
SORLEY'S WEATHER
THE COTTAGE
THE LAST POST
WHEN I'M KILLED
LETTER TO S.S. FROM MAMETZ WOOD
A DEAD BOCHE
FAUN
THE SPOILSPORT
THE SHIVERING BEGGAR
JONAH
JOHN SKELTON
I WONDER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE DROWNED?
DOUBLE RED DAISIES
CAREERS
I'D LOVE TO BE A FAIRY'S CHILD
THE NEXT WAR
STRONG BEER
MARIGOLDS
THE LADY VISITOR IN THE PAUPER WARD
LOVE AND BLACK MAGIC
SMOKE-RINGS
A CHILD'S NIGHTMARE
ESCAPE
THE BOUGH OF NONSENSE
NOT DEAD
A BOY IN CHURCH
CORPORAL STARE
THE ASSAULT HEROIC
THE POET IN THE NURSERY
IN THE WILDERNESS
CHERRY-TIME
1915
FREE VERSE


TO AN UNGENTLE CRITIC

_The great sun sinks behind the town
Through a red mist of Volnay wine...._
But what's the use of setting down
That glorious blaze behind the town?
You'll only skip the page, you'll look
For newer pictures in this book;
You've read of sunsets rich as mine.

_A fresh wind fills the evening air
With horrid crying of night birds...._
But what reads new or curious there
When cold winds fly across the air?
You'll only frown; you'll turn the page,
But find no glimpse of your "New Age
Of Poetry" in my worn-out words.

Must winds that cut like blades of steel
And sunsets swimming in Volnay,
The holiest, cruellest pains I feel,
Die stillborn, because old men squeal
For something new: "Write something new:
We've read this poem - that one too,
And twelve more like 'em yesterday"?

No, no! my chicken, I shall scrawl
Just what I fancy as I strike it,
Fairies and Fusiliers, and all
Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl
Across my verse in the classic way.
And, sir, be careful what you say;
There are old-fashioned folk still like it.


AN OLD TWENTY-THIRD MAN

"Is that the Three-and-Twentieth, Strabo mine,
Marching below, and we still gulping wine?"
From the sad magic of his fragrant cup
The red-faced old centurion started up,
Cursed, battered on the table. "No," he said,
"Not that! The Three-and-Twentieth Legion's
dead,
Dead in the first year of this damned campaign -
The Legion's dead, dead, and won't rise again.
Pity? Rome pities her brave lads that die,
But we need pity also, you and I,
Whom Gallic spear and Belgian arrow miss,
Who live to see the Legion come to this,
Unsoldierlike, slovenly, bent on loot,
Grumblers, diseased, unskilled to thrust or shoot.
O, brown cheek, muscled shoulder, sturdy
thigh!
Where are they now? God! watch it struggle
by,
The sullen pack of ragged ugly swine.
Is that the Legion, Gracchus? Quick, the
wine!"
"Strabo," said Gracchus, "you are strange tonight.
The Legion is the Legion; it's all right.
If these new men are slovenly, in your thinking,
God damn it! you'll not better them by drinking.
They all try, Strabo; trust their hearts and hands.
The Legion is the Legion while Rome stands,
And these same men before the autumn's fall
Shall bang old Vercingetorix out of Gaul."


TO LUCASTA ON GOING TO THE WAR -
FOR THE FOURTH TIME

It doesn't matter what's the cause,
What wrong they say we're righting,
A curse for treaties, bonds and laws,
When we're to do the fighting!
And since we lads are proud and true,
What else remains to do?
Lucasta, when to France your man
Returns his fourth time, hating war,
Yet laughs as calmly as he can
And flings an oath, but says no more,
That is not courage, that's not fear -
Lucasta he's a Fusilier,
And his pride sends him here.

Let statesmen bluster, bark and bray,
And so decide who started
This bloody war, and who's to pay,
But he must be stout-hearted,
Must sit and stake with quiet breath,
Playing at cards with Death.
Don't plume yourself he fights for you;
It is no courage, love, or hate,
But let us do the things we do;
It's pride that makes the heart be great;
It is not anger, no, nor fear -
Lucasta he's a Fusilier,
And his pride keeps him here.


TWO FUSILIERS

And have we done with War at last?
Well, we've been lucky devils both,
And there's no need of pledge or oath
To bind our lovely friendship fast,
By firmer stuff
Close bound enough.

By wire and wood and stake we're bound,
By Fricourt and by Festubert,
By whipping rain, by the sun's glare,
By all the misery and loud sound,
By a Spring day,
By Picard clay.

Show me the two so closely bound
As we, by the red bond of blood,
By friendship, blossoming from mud,
By Death: we faced him, and we found
Beauty in Death,
In dead men breath.


TO ROBERT NICHOLS

(From Frise on the Somme in February, 1917, in answer
to a letter saying: "I am just finishing my 'Faun's
Holiday.' I wish you were here to feed him with
cherries.")


Here by a snowbound river
In scrapen holes we shiver,
And like old bitterns we
Boom to you plaintively:
Robert how can I rhyme
Verses for your desire -
Sleek fauns and cherry-time,
Vague music and green trees,
Hot sun and gentle breeze,
England in June attire,
And life born young again,
For your gay goatish brute
Drunk with warm melody
Singing on beds of thyme
With red and rolling eye,
All the Devonian plain,
Lips dark with juicy stain,
Ears hung with bobbing fruit?
Why should I keep him time?
Why in this cold and rime,
Where even to dream is pain?
No, Robert, there's no reason:
Cherries are out of season,
Ice grips at branch and root,
And singing birds are mute.


DEAD COW FARM

An ancient saga tells us how
In the beginning the First Cow
(For nothing living yet had birth
But Elemental Cow on earth)
Began to lick cold stones and mud:
Under her warm tongue flesh and blood
Blossomed, a miracle to believe:
And so was Adam born, and Eve.
Here now is chaos once again,
Primeval mud, cold stones and rain.
Here flesh decays and blood drips red,
And the Cow's dead, the old Cow's dead.


GOLIATH AND DAVID

(FOR D.C.T., KILLED AT FRICOURT, MARCH,
1916)


Yet once an earlier David took
Smooth pebbles from the brook:
Out between the lines he went
To that one-sided tournament,
A shepherd boy who stood out fine
And young to fight a Philistine
Clad all in brazen mail. He swears
That he's killed lions, he's killed bears,
And those that scorn the God of Zion
Shall perish so like bear or lion.
But ... the historian of that fight
Had not the heart to tell it right.

Striding within javelin range,
Goliath marvels at this strange
Goodly-faced boy so proud of strength.
David's clear eye measures the length;
With hand thrust back, he cramps one knee,
Poises a moment thoughtfully,
And hurls with a long vengeful swing.
The pebble, humming from the sling
Like a wild bee, flies a sure line
For the forehead of the Philistine;
Then ... but there comes a brazen clink,
And quicker than a man can think
Goliath's shield parries each cast.
Clang! clang! and clang! was David's last.
Scorn blazes in the Giant's eye,
Towering unhurt six cubits high.
Says foolish David, "Damn your shield!
And damn my sling! but I'll not yield."
He takes his staff of Mamre oak,
A knotted shepherd-staff that's broke
The skull of many a wolf and fox
Come filching lambs from Jesse's flocks.
Loud laughs Goliath, and that laugh
Can scatter chariots like blown chaff
To rout; but David, calm and brave,
Holds his ground, for God will save.
Steel crosses wood, a flash, and oh!
Shame for beauty's overthrow!
(God's eyes are dim, His ears are shut.)
One cruel backhand sabre-cut
"I'm hit! I'm killed!" young David cries,
Throws blindly forward, chokes ... and dies.
And look, spike-helmeted, grey, grim,
Goliath straddles over him.


BABYLON

The child alone a poet is:
Spring and Fairyland are his.
Truth and Reason show but dim,
And all's poetry with him.
Rhyme and music flow in plenty
For the lad of one-and-twenty,
But Spring for him is no more now
Than daisies to a munching cow;
Just a cheery pleasant season,
Daisy buds to live at ease on.
He's forgotten how he smiled
And shrieked at snowdrops when a child,
Or wept one evening secretly
For April's glorious misery.
Wisdom made him old and wary
Banishing the Lords of Faery.
Wisdom made a breach and battered
Babylon to bits: she scattered
To the hedges and ditches
All our nursery gnomes and witches.
Lob and Puck, poor frantic elves,
Drag their treasures from the shelves.
Jack the Giant-killer's gone,
Mother Goose and Oberon,
Bluebeard and King Solomon.
Robin, and Red Riding Hood
Take together to the wood,
And Sir Galahad lies hid
In a cave with Captain Kidd.
None of all the magic hosts,
None remain but a few ghosts
Of timorous heart, to linger on
Weeping for lost Babylon.


MR. PHILOSOPHER

Old Mr. Philosopher
Comes for Ben and Claire,
An ugly man, a tall man,
With bright-red hair.

The books that he's written
No one can read.
"In fifty years they'll understand:
Now there's no need.

"All that matters now
Is getting the fun.
Come along, Ben and Claire;
Plenty to be done."

Then old Philosopher,
Wisest man alive,
Plays at Lions and Tigers
Down along the drive -

Gambolling fiercely
Through bushes and grass,
Making monstrous mouths,
Braying like an ass,

Twisting buttercups
In his orange hair,
Hopping like a kangaroo,
Growling like a bear.

Right up to tea-time
They frolic there.
"My legs _are_ wingle,"
Says Ben to Claire.


THE CRUEL MOON

The cruel Moon hangs out of reach
Up above the shadowy beech.
Her face is stupid, but her eye
Is small and sharp and very sly.
Nurse says the Moon can drive you mad?
No, that's a silly story, lad!
Though she be angry, though she would
Destroy all England if she could,
Yet think, what damage can she do
Hanging there so far from you?
Don't heed what frightened nurses say:
Moons hang much too far away.


FINLAND

Feet and faces tingle
In that frore land:
Legs wobble and go wingle,
You scarce can stand.

The skies are jewelled all around,
The ploughshare snaps in the iron ground,
The Finn with face like paper
And eyes like a lighted taper
Hurls his rough rune
At the wintry moon
And stamps to mark the tune.


A PINCH OF SALT

When a dream is born in you
With a sudden clamorous pain,
When you know the dream is true
And lovely, with no flaw nor stain,
O then, be careful, or with sudden clutch
You'll hurt the delicate thing you prize so much.

Dreams are like a bird that mocks,
Flirting the feathers of his tail.
When you seize at the salt-box
Over the hedge you'll see him sail.
Old birds are neither caught with salt nor chaff:
They watch you from the apple bough and laugh.

Poet, never chase the dream.
Laugh yourself and turn away.
Mask your hunger, let it seem
Small matter if he come or stay;
But when he nestles in your hand at last,
Close up your fingers tight and hold him fast.


THE CATERPILLAR

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A creeping, coloured caterpillar,
I gnaw the fresh green hawthorn spray,
I nibble it leaf by leaf away.

Down beneath grow dandelions,
Daisies, old-man's-looking-glasses;
Rooks flap croaking across the lane.
I eat and swallow and eat again.

Here come raindrops helter-skelter;
I munch and nibble unregarding:
Hawthorn leaves are juicy and firm.
I'll mind my business: I'm a good worm.

When I'm old, tired, melancholy,
I'll build a leaf-green mausoleum
Close by, here on this lovely spray,
And die and dream the ages away.

Some say worms win resurrection,
With white wings beating flitter-flutter,
But wings or a sound sleep, why should I care?
Either way I'll miss my share.

Under this loop of honeysuckle,
A hungry, hairy caterpillar,
I crawl on my high and swinging seat,
And eat, eat, eat - as one ought to eat.


SORLEY'S WEATHER

When outside the icy rain
Comes leaping helter-skelter,
Shall I tie my restive brain
Snugly under shelter?

Shall I make a gentle song
Here in my firelit study,
When outside the winds blow strong
And the lanes are muddy?

With old wine and drowsy meats
Am I to fill my belly?
Shall I glutton here with Keats?
Shall I drink with Shelley?

Tobacco's pleasant, firelight's good:
Poetry makes both better.
Clay is wet and so is mud,
Winter rains are wetter.

Yet rest there, Shelley, on the sill,
For though the winds come frorely,
I'm away to the rain-blown hill
And the ghost of Sorley.


THE COTTAGE

Here in turn succeed and rule
Carter, smith, and village fool,
Then again the place is known
As tavern, shop, and Sunday-school;
Now somehow it's come to me
To light the fire and hold the key,
Here in Heaven to reign alone.

All the walls are white with lime,
Big blue periwinkles climb
And kiss the crumbling window-sill;
Snug inside I sit and rhyme,
Planning, poem, book, or fable,
At my darling beech-wood table
Fresh with bluebells from the hill.

Through the window I can see
Rooks above the cherry-tree,
Sparrows in the violet bed,
Bramble-bush and bumble-bee,
And old red bracken smoulders still
Among boulders on the hill,
Far too bright to seem quite dead.

But old Death, who can't forget,
Waits his time and watches yet,
Waits and watches by the door.
Look, he's got a great new net,
And when my fighting starts afresh
Stouter cord and smaller mesh
Won't be cheated as before.

Nor can kindliness of Spring,
Flowers that smile nor birds that sing.
Bumble-bee nor butterfly,
Nor grassy hill nor anything
Of magic keep me safe to rhyme
In this Heaven beyond my time.
No! for Death is waiting by.


THE LAST POST

The bugler sent a call of high romance -
"Lights out! Lights out!" to the deserted square.
On the thin brazen notes he threw a prayer,
"God, if it's _this_ for me next time in France ...
O spare the phantom bugle as I lie
Dead in the gas and smoke and roar of guns,
Dead in a row with the other broken ones
Lying so stiff and still under the sky,
Jolly young Fusiliers too good to die."


WHEN I'M KILLED

When I'm killed, don't think of me
Buried there in Cambrin Wood,
Nor as in Zion think of me
With the Intolerable Good.
And there's one thing that I know well,
I'm damned if I'll be damned to Hell!

So when I'm killed, don't wait for me,
Walking the dim corridor;
In Heaven or Hell, don't wait for me,
Or you must wait for evermore.
You'll find me buried, living-dead
In these verses that you've read.

So when I'm killed, don't mourn for me,
Shot, poor lad, so bold and young,
Killed and gone - don't mourn for me.
On your lips my life is hung:
O friends and lovers, you can save
Your playfellow from the grave.


LETTER TO S.S. FROM MAMETZ WOOD

I never dreamed we'd meet that day
In our old haunts down Fricourt way,
Plotting such marvellous journeys there
For jolly old "Après-la-guerre."

Well, when it's over, first we'll meet
At Gweithdy Bach, my country seat
In Wales, a curious little shop
With two rooms and a roof on top,
A sort of Morlancourt-ish billet
That never needs a crowd to fill it.
But oh, the country round about!
The sort of view that makes you shout
For want of any better way
Of praising God: there's a blue bay
Shining in front, and on the right
Snowden and Hebog capped with white,
And lots of other jolly peaks
That you could wonder at for weeks,
With jag and spur and hump and cleft.
There's a grey castle on the left,
And back in the high Hinterland
You'll see the grave of Shawn Knarlbrand,
Who slew the savage Buffaloon
By the Nant-col one night in June,
And won his surname from the horn
Of this prodigious unicorn.
Beyond, where the two Rhinogs tower,
Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr,
Close there after a four years' chase
From Thessaly and the woods of Thrace,
The beaten Dog-cat stood at bay
And growled and fought and passed away.
You'll see where mountain conies grapple
With prayer and creed in their rock chapel
Which Ben and Claire once built for them;
They call it Söar Bethlehem.
You'll see where in old Roman days,
Before Revivals changed our ways,
The Virgin 'scaped the Devil's grab,
Printing her foot on a stone slab
With five clear toe-marks; and you'll find
The fiendish thumbprint close behind.
You'll see where Math, Mathonwy's son,
Spoke with the wizard Gwydion
And bad him from South Wales set out
To steal that creature with the snout,
That new-discovered grunting beast
Divinely flavoured for the feast.
No traveller yet has hit upon
A wilder land than Meirion,
For desolate hills and tumbling stones,
Bogland and melody and old bones.
Fairies and ghosts are here galore,
And poetry most splendid, more
Than can be written with the pen
Or understood by common men.

In Gweithdy Bach we'll rest awhile,
We'll dress our wounds and learn to smile
With easier lips; we'll stretch our legs,
And live on bilberry tart and eggs,
And store up solar energy,
Basking in sunshine by the sea,
Until we feel a match once more
For _anything_ but another war.

So then we'll kiss our families,
And sail across the seas
(The God of Song protecting us)
To the great hills of Caucasus.
Robert will learn the local _bat_
For billeting and things like that,
If Siegfried learns the piccolo
To charm the people as we go.

The jolly peasants clad in furs
Will greet the Welch-ski officers
With open arms, and ere we pass
Will make us vocal with Kavasse.
In old Bagdad we'll call a halt
At the Sâshuns' ancestral vault;
We'll catch the Persian rose-flowers' scent,
And understand what Omar meant.
Bitlis and Mush will know our faces,
Tiflis and Tomsk, and all such places.
Perhaps eventually we'll get
Among the Tartars of Thibet.
Hobnobbing with the Chungs and Mings,
And doing wild, tremendous things
In free adventure, quest and fight,
And God! what poetry we'll write!


A DEAD BOCHE

To you who'd read my songs of War
And only hear of blood and fame,
I'll say (you've heard it said before)
"War's Hell!" and if you doubt the same,
Today I found in Mametz Wood
A certain cure for lust of blood:

Where, propped against a shattered trunk,
In a great mess of things unclean,
Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk
With clothes and face a sodden green,
Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,
Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.


FAUN

Here down this very way,
Here only yesterday
King Faun went leaping.
He sang, with careless shout
Hurling his name about;
He sang, with oaken stock
His steps from rock to rock
In safety keeping,
"Here Faun is free,
Here Faun is free!"

Today against yon pine,
Forlorn yet still divine,
King Faun leant weeping.
"They drank my holy brook,
My strawberries they took,
My private path they trod."
Loud wept the desolate God,
Scorn on scorn heaping,
"Faun, what is he,
Faun, what is he?"


THE SPOILSPORT

My familiar ghost again
Comes to see what he can see,
Critic, son of Conscious Brain,
Spying on our privacy.

Slam the window, bolt the door,
Yet he'll enter in and stay;
In tomorrow's book he'll score
Indiscretions of today.

Whispered love and muttered fears,
How their echoes fly about!
None escape his watchful ears,
Every sigh might be a shout.

No kind words nor angry cries
Turn away this grim spoilsport;
No fine lady's pleading eyes,
Neither love, nor hate, nor ... port.

Critics wears no smile of fun,
Speaks no word of blame nor praise,
Counts our kisses one by one,
Notes each gesture, every phrase.

My familiar ghost again
Stands or squats where suits him best;
Critic, son of Conscious Brain,
Listens, watches, takes no rest.


THE SHIVERING BEGGAR

Near Clapham village, where fields began,
Saint Edward met a beggar man.
It was Christmas morning, the church bells tolled,
The old man trembled for the fierce cold.

Saint Edward cried, "It is monstrous sin
A beggar to lie in rags so thin!
An old grey-beard and the frost so keen:
I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine."

He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet
And wrapped it round the aged varlet,
Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,
Quaking and chattering seven times worse.

Said Edward, "Sir, it would seem you freeze
Most bitter at your extremities.
Here are gloves and shoes and stockings also,
That warm upon your way you may go."

The man took stocking and shoe and glove,
Blaspheming Christ our Saviour's love,
Yet seemed to find but little relief,
Shaking and shivering like a leaf.

Said the saint again, "I have no great riches,
Yet take this tunic, take these breeches,
My shirt and my vest, take everything,
And give due thanks to Jesus the King."

The saint stood naked upon the snow
Long miles from where he was lodged at Bowe,
Praying, "O God! my faith, it grows faint!
This would try the temper of any saint.

"Make clean my heart, Almighty, I pray,
And drive these sinful thoughts away.
Make clean my heart if it be Thy will,
This damned old rascal's shivering still!"

He stooped, he touched the beggar man's shoulder;
He asked him did the frost nip colder?
"Frost!" said the beggar, "no, stupid lad!
'Tis the palsy makes me shiver so bad."


JONAH

A purple whale
Proudly sweeps his tail
Towards Nineveh;
Glassy green
Surges between
A mile of roaring sea.

"O town of gold,
Of splendour multifold,
Lucre and lust,
Leviathan's eye
Can surely spy
Thy doom of death and dust."

On curving sands
Vengeful Jonah stands.
"Yet forty days,
Then down, down,
Tumbles the town
In flaming ruin ablaze."

With swift lament
Those Ninevites repent.
They cry in tears,
"Our hearts fail!
The whale, the whale!
Our sins prick us like spears."

Jonah is vexed;
He cries, "What next? what next?"
And shakes his fist.
"Stupid city,
The shame, the pity,
The glorious crash I've missed."

Away goes Jonah grumbling,
Murmuring and mumbling;
Off ploughs the purple whale,
With disappointed tail.


JOHN SKELTON

What could be dafter
Than John Skelton's laughter?
What sound more tenderly
Than his pretty poetry?
So where to rank old Skelton?
He was no monstrous Milton,
Nor wrote no "Paradise Lost,"
So wondered at by most,
Phrased so disdainfully,
Composed so painfully.
He struck what Milton missed,
Milling an English grist
With homely turn and twist.
He was English through and through,
Not Greek, nor French, nor Jew,
Though well their tongues he knew,
The living and the dead:
Learned Erasmus said,
_Hie 'unum Britannicarum
Lumen et decus literarum._
But oh, Colin Clout!
How his pen flies about,
Twiddling and turning,
Scorching and burning,
Thrusting and thrumming!
How it hurries with humming,
Leaping and running,
At the tipsy-topsy Tunning
Of Mistress Eleanor Rumming!
How for poor Philip Sparrow
Was murdered at Carow,
How our hearts he does harrow
Jest and grief mingle
In this jangle-jingle,
For he will not stop
To sweep nor mop,
To prune nor prop,
To cut each phrase up
Like beef when we sup,
Nor sip at each line
As at brandy-wine,
Or port when we dine.
But angrily, wittily,
Tenderly, prettily,
Laughingly, learnedly,
Sadly, madly,
Helter-skelter John
Rhymes serenely on,
As English poets should.
Old John, you do me good!


I WONDER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE DROWNED?

Look at my knees,
That island rising from the steamy seas!
The candles a tall lightship; my two hands
Are boats and barges anchored to the sands,
With mighty cliffs all round;
They're full of wine and riches from far lands....
_I wonder what it feels like to be drowned?_

I can make caves,
By lifting up the island and huge waves
And storms, and then with head and ears well under
Blow bubbles with a monstrous roar like thunder,
A bull-of-Bashan sound.
The seas run high and the boats split asunder....
_I wonder what it feels like to be drowned?_

The thin soap slips
And slithers like a shark under the ships.
My toes are on the soap-dish - that's the effect
Of my huge storms; an iron steamer's wrecked.
The soap slides round and round;
He's biting the old sailors, I expect....
_I wonder what it feels like to be drowned?_


DOUBLE RED DAISIES

Double red daisies, they're my flowers,
Which nobody else may grow.
In a big quarrelsome house like ours
They try it sometimes - but no,
I root them up because they're my flowers,
Which nobody else may grow.

_Claire has a tea-rose, but she didn't plant it;


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