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This first world war poem remains loyal to the patriotic ethos of its time, but the human cost of combat is never denied
The Unconquered Dead
“… defeated, with great loss.”Not we the conquered! Not to us the blameOf them that flee, of them that basely yield;Nor ours the shout of victory, the fameOf them that vanquish in a stricken field.That day of battle in the dusty heatWe lay and heard the bullets swish and singLike scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,And we the harvest of their garnering.Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swearBy these our wounds; this trench upon the hillWhere all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare,Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.We might have yielded, even we, but deathCame for our helper; like a sudden floodThe crashing darkness fell; our painful breathWe drew with gasps amid the choking blood.The roar fell faint and farther off, and soonSank to a foolish humming in our ears,Like crickets in the long, hot afternoonAmong the wheat fields of the olden years.Before our eyes a boundless wall of redShot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!Then a slow-gathering darkness overheadAnd rest came on us like a quiet rain.Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame,Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall ceaseTo hold them ever; victors we, who cameIn that fierce moment to our honoured peace.
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