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He Went for a Soldier

From The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, December 10, 1914. By Ruth Comfort Mitchell.

He marched away with a blithe young score of him
    With the first volunteers,
Clear-eyed and clean and sound to the core of him,
    Blushing under the cheers.
They were fine, new flags that swung a-flying there,
Oh, the pretty girls he glimpsed a-crying there,
    Pelting him with pinks and with roses —
    Billy, the Soldier Boy!

Not very clear in the kind young heart of him
    What the fuss was about,
But the flowers and the flags seemed part of him—
    The music drowned his doubt.
It’s a fine brave sight they were a-coming there
To the gay, bold tune they kept a-drumming there
    While the boasting fifes shrilled jauntily—
    Billy, the Soldier Boy!

Soon he is one with the blinding smoke of it —
    Volley and curse and groan;
Then he has done with the knightly joke of it —
    It’s rending flesh and bone.
There are pain-crazed animals a-shrieking there
And a warm blood stench that is a-reeking there;
    He fights like a rat in a corner —
    Billy the Soldier Boy!

There he lies now, like a ghoulish score of him,
    Left on the field for dead;
The ground all around is smeared with the gore of him—
    Even the leaves are red.
The Thing that was Billy lies a-dying there,
Writhing and a-twisting and a-crying there;
    A sickening sun grins down on him —
    Billy, the Soldier Boy!

Still not quite clear in the poor, wrung heart of him
    What the fuss was about,
See where he lies—or a ghastly part of him—
    While life is oozing out;
There are loathsome things he sees a-crawling there;
There are hoarse-voiced crows he hears a-calling there,
    Eager for the foul feast spread for them—
    Billy, the Soldier Boy!

How much longer, O Lord, shall we bear it all?
    How many more red years?
Story it and glory it and share it all,
    In seas of blood and tears?
They are braggart attitudes we’ve worn so long;
They are tinsel platitudes we’ve sworn so long—
    We who have turned the Devil’s Grindstone,
    Borne with the hell called War!

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