On The Western Front

By Alfred Noyes 1880–1958 Alfred Noyes

(1916)

I

I found a dreadful acre of the dead,
   Marked with the only sign on earth that saves.
The wings of death were hurrying overhead,
   The loose earth shook on those unquiet graves;

For the deep gun-pits, with quick stabs of flame,
   Made their own thunders of the sunlit air;
Yet, as I read the crosses, name by name,
   Rank after rank, it seemed that peace was there;

Sunlight and peace, a peace too deep for thought,
   The peace of tides that underlie our strife,
The peace with which the moving heavens are fraught,
   The peace that is our everlasting life.

The loose earth shook. The very hills were stirred.
The silence of the dead was all I heard.

II

We, who lie here, have nothing more to pray.
   To all your praises we are deaf and blind.
We may not ever know if you betray
   Our hope, to make earth better for mankind.

Only our silence, in the night, shall grow
   More silent, as the stars grow in the sky;
And, while you deck our graves, you shall not know
   How many scornful legions pass you by.

For we have heard you say (when we were living)
   That some small dream of good would “cost too much.”
But when the foe struck, we have watched you giving,
   And seen you move the mountains with one touch.

What can be done, we know. But, have no fear!
If you fail now, we shall not see or hear.

Source: Collected Poems (1947)

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Poet Alfred Noyes 1880–1958

POET’S REGION England

Subjects War & Conflict, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Living, Religion, Heroes & Patriotism, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Sonnet

 Alfred  Noyes

Biography

Alfred Noyes was born in England and attended Oxford, where he left before completing his degree. He published his first book of poems, The Loom of Years, at age 21, and published five more volumes of poetry in the next five years. In 1914, he began teaching at Princeton University, and became noted for his criticisms of such Modernist writers as James Joyce. Though his early work often evokes fantastic, dream-like, storybook . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Living, Religion, Heroes & Patriotism, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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