The Whistle Of Sandy McGraw

You may talk o' your lutes and your dulcimers fine,
    Your harps and your tabors and cymbals and a',
But here in the trenches jist gie me for mine
    The wee penny whistle o' Sandy McGraw.
Oh, it's: "Sandy, ma lad, will you lilt us a tune?"
    And Sandy is willin' and trillin' like mad;
Sae silvery sweet that we a' throng aroun',
    And some o' it's gay, but the maist o' it's sad.
Jist the wee simple airs that sink intae your hert,
    And grup ye wi' love and wi' longin' for hame;
And ye glour like an owl till you're feelin' the stert
    O' a tear, and you blink wi' a feelin' o' shame.
For his song's o' the heather, and here in the dirt
    You listen and dream o' a land that's sae braw,
And he mak's you forget a' the harm and the hurt,
    For he pipes like a laverock, does Sandy McGraw.

    * * * * *

At Eepers I mind me when rank upon rank
    We rose from the trenches and swept like the gale,
Till the rapid-fire guns got us fell on the flank
    And the murderin' bullets came swishin' like hail:
Till a' that were left o' us faltered and broke;
    Till it seemed for a moment a panicky rout,
When shrill through the fume and the flash and the smoke
    The wee valiant voice o' a whistle piped out.
`The Campbells are Comin'': Then into the fray
    We bounded wi' bayonets reekin' and raw,
And oh we fair revelled in glory that day,
    Jist thanks to the whistle o' Sandy McGraw.

    * * * * *

At Loose, it wis after a sconnersome fecht,
    On the field o' the slain I wis crawlin' aboot;
And the rockets were burnin' red holes in the nicht;
    And the guns they were veciously thunderin' oot;
When sudden I heard a bit sound like a sigh,
    And there in a crump-hole a kiltie I saw:
"Whit ails ye, ma lad? Are ye woundit?" says I.
    "I've lost ma wee whustle," says Sandy McGraw.
"'Twas oot by yon bing where we pressed the attack,
    It drapped frae ma pooch, and between noo and dawn
There isna much time so I'm jist crawlin' back. . . ."
    "Ye're daft, man!" I telt him, but Sandy wis gone.
Weel, I waited a wee, then I crawled oot masel,
    And the big stuff wis gorin' and roarin' around,
And I seemed tae be under the oxter o' hell,
    And Creation wis crackin' tae bits by the sound.
And I says in ma mind: "Gang ye back, ye auld fule!"
    When I thrilled tae a note that wis saucy and sma';
And there in a crater, collected and cool,
    Wi' his wee penny whistle wis Sandy McGraw.
Ay, there he wis playin' as gleg as could be,
    And listenin' hard wis a spectacled Boche;
Then Sandy turned roon' and he noddit tae me,
    And he says: "Dinna blab on me, Sergeant McTosh.
The auld chap is deein'. He likes me tae play.
    It's makin' him happy. Jist see his een shine!"
And thrillin' and sweet in the hert o' the fray
    Wee Sandy wis playin' The Watch on the Rhine.

    * * * * *

The last scene o' a' -- 'twas the day that we took
    That bit o' black ruin they ca' Labbiesell.
It seemed the hale hillside jist shivered and shook,
    And the red skies were roarin' and spewin' oot shell.
And the Sergeants were cursin' tae keep us in hand,
    And hard on the leash we were strainin' like dugs,
When upward we shot at the word o' command,
    And the bullets were dingin' their songs in oor lugs.
And onward we swept wi' a yell and a cheer,
    And a' wis destruction, confusion and din,
And we knew that the trench o' the Boches wis near,
    And it seemed jist the safest bit hole tae be in.
So we a' tumbled doon, and the Boches were there,
    And they held up their hands, and they yelled: "Kamarad!"
And I merched aff wi' ten, wi' their palms in the air,
    And my! I wis prood-like, and my! I wis glad.
And I thocht: if ma lassie could see me jist then. . . .
    When sudden I sobered at somethin' I saw,
And I stopped and I stared, and I halted ma men,
    For there on a stretcher wis Sandy McGraw.
Weel, he looks in ma face, jist as game as ye please:
    "Ye ken hoo I hate tae be workin'," says he;
"But noo I can play in the street for bawbees,
    Wi' baith o' ma legs taken aff at the knee."
And though I could see he wis rackit wi' pain,
    He reached for his whistle and stertit tae play;
And quaverin' sweet wis the pensive refrain:
    The floors o' the forest are a' wede away.
Then sudden he stoppit: "Man, wis it no grand
    Hoo we took a' them trenches?" . . . He shakit his heid:
"I'll -- no -- play -- nae -- mair ----&q
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 01, 2023

4:17 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 4,315
Words 856
Stanzas 7
Stanza Lengths 16, 1, 12, 1, 28, 1, 31

Robert William Service

Robert William Service was a poet and writer sometimes referred to as the Bard of the Yukon He is best-known for his writings on the Canadian North including the poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew The Law of the Yukon and The Cremation of Sam McGee His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was Robert William Service was born 16 January 1874 in Preston England but also lived in Scotland before emigrating to Canada in 1894 Service went to the Yukon Territory in 1904 as a bank clerk and became famous for his poems about this region which are mostly in his first two books of poetry He wrote quite a bit of prose as well and worked as a reporter for some time but those writings are not nearly as well known as his poems He travelled around the world quite a bit and narrowly escaped from France at the beginning of the Second World War during which time he lived in Hollywood California He died 11 September 1958 in France Incidentally he played himself in a movie called The Spoilers starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich more…

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