“OH, SHOW me how a rose can shut and be a bud again!”
Nay, watch my Lords of the Admiralty, for they have the work in train.
They have taken the men that were careless lads at Dartmouth in ’Fourteen
And entered them at the landward schools as though no war had been.
They have piped the children off all the seas from the Falklands to the Bight,
And quartered them on the Colleges to learn to read and write!
Their books were rain and sleet and fog—the dry gale and the snow,
Their teachers were the horned mines and the hump-backed Death below.
Their schools were walled by the walking mist and roofed by the waiting skies,
When they conned their task in a new-sown field with the Moonlight Sacrifice.
They were not rated too young to teach, nor reckoned unfit to guide
When they formed their class on Helles’ beach at the bows of the “River Clyde.”
Their eyes are sunk by endless watch, their faces roughed by the spray,
Their feet are drawn by the wet sea-boots they changed not night or day
When they guarded the six-knot convoy’s flank on the road to Norroway.
Their ears are stuffed with the week-long roar of the West-Atlantic gale
When the sloops were watching the Irish Shore from Galway to Kinsale.
Their hands are scored where the life-lines cut or the dripping funnel-stays
When they followed their leader at thirty knot between the Skaw and the Naze.
Their mouths are filled with the magic words they learned at the collier’s hatch
When they coaled in the foul December dawns and sailed in the forenoon-watch;
Or measured the weight of a Pentland tide and the wind off Ronaldshay,
Till the target mastered the breathless tug and the hawser carried away.
They know the price to be paid for a fault—for a gauge-clock wrongly read,
Or a picket-boat to the gangway brought bows-on and fullahead,
Or the drowsy second’s lack of thought that costs a dozen dead.
They have touched a knowledge outreaching speech—as when the cutters were sent
To harvest the dreadful mile of beach after the Vanguard went.
They have learned great faith and little fear and a high heart in distress,
And how to suffer each sodden year of heaped-up weariness.
They have borne the bridle upon their lips and the yoke upon their neck,
Since they went down to the sea in ships to save the world from wreck—
Since the chests were slung down the College stair at Dartmouth in ’Fourteen,
And now they are quit of the sea-affair as though no war had been.
Far have they steamed and much have they known, and most would they fain forget;
But now they are come to their joyous own with all the world in their debt.
. . . . .
Soft—blow soft on them, little East Wind! Be smooth for them, mighty stream!
Though the cams they use are not of your kind, and they bump, for choice, by steam.
Lightly dance with them, Newnham maid—but none too lightly believe.
They are hot from the fifty-month blockade, and they carry their hearts on their sleeve.
Tenderly, Proctor, let them down, if they do not walk as they should:
For, by God, if they owe you half a crown, you owe ’em your four years’ food!
. . . . .
Hallowed River, most gracious Trees, Chapel beyond compare,
Here be gentlemen sick of the seas—take them into your care.
Far have they come, much have they braved. Give them their hour of play,
While the hidden things their hands have saved work for them day by day:
Till the grateful Past their youth redeemed return them their youth once more,
And the Soul of the Child at last lets fall the unjust load that it bore!