All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings
And beats upon the dark with furious wings;
And, stung to rage by his own darting fires,
Reaches with grappling coils from town to town;
He lusts to break the loveliness of spires,
And hurls their martyred music toppling down.
Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze,
Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder'd seas.
Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night,
And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams.
Tenderly stooping earthward from their height,
They wander in the dusk with chanting streams,
And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung,
To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.
--Siegfried Sassoon, 1917
Such contrast. The fire-breathing beast of European lore and the faces of those become angelic by their death in the name of madness. Two pictures succeeding each other in a cycle over which the reader has no control--no more control than the soldier had who was witness to this on the battlefields of the Great War. Watch the image change. Watch yourself stand still.
This poem was first published in The Old Huntsman and Other Poems.