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Date: September 20th 1944

These Things He Loved

The blue wood smoke from winter fires
Curling upward through the frosty air
As - pail in hand, he trudged through crunching snow
Down to the barn in that half-light before
The winter’s dawn. The rythmic jingling
Of harness chains, when the unhitching’s done
And tired horses - aching to be gone
To pasture where they cool their sweaty sides
by rolling in the fragrant grass, stamped their feet
and nuzzled in the green-grown water trough.
The first faint tinkle of Bossie’s bell
As home she led the herd in summer’s dusk
Along the winding path from the dingle
Where grass grew greener, sweeter than elsewhere:
For that was where the brawly brook ran through.
The hurrying, bustling days of harvest time
When golden wheat stretched - first in singing waves
As far as eye could see and then, the fields
Were dotted o’er with stooks, and then - e’re long,
The busy hum of threshers filled the air.
All those long harvest days: up e’re the sun
Had thrown it’s light upon the sleeping world
To work right through the blazing heat of noon
On through the dusk and if the moon were full,
Into the night: for threshing must be done
Before the sky turned grey and sent slowly down
The first fluttering flakes of fairy snow.
These things and hundreds more he loved.
They were his world and he - content to live
And let others live as they saw fit, was happy.
Where is he now? This happy boy who yet was not a boy?
He fast grew up and almost overnight
Became a man: for when one harvest came,
A blacker cloud o’ercast the autumn sky
And then a spectre - grimly purposeful,
Began to reap a harvest yet unripe.
A swath of men - brave men in pride of youth
Fell thick and fast before that flashing scythe,
And his was one of those whose life was reaped.

Down from the white-traced sky he fluttered
Like the blue wood-grouse he had so often shot
At home among the beech woods on the hill.
“Killed in Action” thus the cable read,
But letters later came and told the tale:
How his Squadron - out upon a fighter sweep
O’er war-torn France had found a flock of Huns
And - though out-numbered, they had dived straight in.
How- in the melee, he - to save another
Had sacrificed his life and fell in flames.
He gave his all that we at home might live
To see the things that he so deeply loved.
But we (in blindness) see not the things he saw:
We take them for our natural heritage
And rarely think of those who fought to keep
Them safe for us. Let us remember them:
That one and all the thousands more like him
Who day by day gave more to us by far
Than we could ever hope to give to them.
We cannot give our lives perhaps, but we
At least can give our bodies and our minds
To tasks the nation now demands of us.
Let’s give ourselves as freely as they gave -
Let not the thought of ‘self’ besmirch the soul:
They did not think of self: why then should we?

Spring 1944


[Editor’s note: The poem was included at the end of the transcription of the letter of September 20, 1944.]