The Souls of the Slain.

Thomas Hardy 1840 (Stinsford) – 1928 (Dorchester, Dorset)



I

  The thick lids of Night closed upon me
     Alone at the Bill
     Of the Isle by the Race -
  Many-caverned, bald, wrinkled of face -
And with darkness and silence the spirit was on me
     To brood and be still.

II

  No wind fanned the flats of the ocean,
     Or promontory sides,
     Or the ooze by the strand,
  Or the bent-bearded slope of the land,
Whose base took its rest amid everlong motion
     Of criss-crossing tides.

III

  Soon from out of the Southward seemed nearing
     A whirr, as of wings
     Waved by mighty-vanned flies,
  Or by night-moths of measureless size,
And in softness and smoothness well-nigh beyond hearing
     Of corporal things.

IV

  And they bore to the bluff, and alighted -
     A dim-discerned train
     Of sprites without mould,
  Frameless souls none might touch or might hold -
On the ledge by the turreted lantern, farsighted
     By men of the main.

V

  And I heard them say "Home!" and I knew them
     For souls of the felled
     On the earth's nether bord
  Under Capricorn, whither they'd warred,
And I neared in my awe, and gave heedfulness to them
     With breathings inheld.

VI

  Then, it seemed, there approached from the northward
     A senior soul-flame
     Of the like filmy hue:
  And he met them and spake:  "Is it you,
O my men?"  Said they, "Aye!  We bear homeward and hearthward
     To list to our fame!"

VII

  "I've flown there before you," he said then:
     "Your households are well;
     But--your kin linger less
  On your glory arid war-mightiness
Than on dearer things."--"Dearer?" cried these from the dead then,
     "Of what do they tell?"

VIII

  "Some mothers muse sadly, and murmur
     Your doings as boys -
     Recall the quaint ways
  Of your babyhood's innocent days.
Some pray that, ere dying, your faith had grown firmer,
     And higher your joys.

IX

  "A father broods:  'Would I had set him
     To some humble trade,
     And so slacked his high fire,
  And his passionate martial desire;
Had told him no stories to woo him and whet him
     To this due crusade!"

X

  "And, General, how hold out our sweethearts,
     Sworn loyal as doves?"
    --"Many mourn; many think
  It is not unattractive to prink
Them in sables for heroes.   Some fickle and fleet hearts
     Have found them new loves."

XI

  "And our wives?" quoth another resignedly,
     "Dwell they on our deeds?"
    --"Deeds of home; that live yet
  Fresh as new--deeds of fondness or fret;
Ancient words that were kindly expressed or unkindly,
     These, these have their heeds."

XII

 --"Alas! then it seems that our glory
     Weighs less in their thought
     Than our old homely acts,
  And the long-ago commonplace facts
Of our lives--held by us as scarce part of our story,
     And rated as nought!"

XIII

  Then bitterly some:  "Was it wise now
     To raise the tomb-door
     For such knowledge?  Away!"
  But the rest:  "Fame we prized till to-day;
Yet that hearts keep us green for old kindness we prize now
     A thousand times more!"

XIV

  Thus speaking, the trooped apparitions
     Began to disband
     And resolve them in two:
  Those whose record was lovely and true
Bore to northward for home:  those of bitter traditions
     Again left the land,

XV

  And, towering to seaward in legions,
     They paused at a spot
     Overbending the Race -
  That engulphing, ghast, sinister place -
Whither headlong they plunged, to the fathomless regions
     Of myriads forgot.

XVI

  And the spirits of those who were homing
     Passed on, rushingly,
     Like the Pentecost Wind;
  And the whirr of their wayfaring thinned
And surceased on the sky, and but left in the gloaming
     Sea-mutterings and me.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 05, 2023

3:03 min read
155

Quick analysis:

Scheme ABCCAB DEFFDE GHIIGH FJKKXJ LXFFLF XMNNFM OPXCOP QRSSQR TUQQTU VWXGVW BXYYBX AXZZAF 1 2 3 3 1 2 4 FNN4 F 4 5 CC4 5 GBXXGA
Closest metre Iambic tetrameter
Characters 3,689
Words 619
Stanzas 16
Stanza Lengths 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy, was not a Scottish Minister, not a Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland nor a Professor of Eccesiastical History at Edinburgh University. more…

All Thomas Hardy poems | Thomas Hardy Books

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