Killed In Action

A poem by R. C. Lehmann

RUPERT is dead, and RUPERT was my friend;
"Only surviving son of" - so it ran -
"Beloved husband" and the rest of it.
But six months back I saw him full of life,
Ardent for fighting; now he lies at ease
In some obscure but splendid field of France,
His strivings over and his conflicts done.
He was a fellow of most joyous moods
And quaint contrivings, ever on the point
Of shaking fame and fortune by the hand
But always baulked of meeting them at last.
He could not brook - and always so declared -
The weak pomposities of little men,
Scorned all the tin-gods of our petty world,
And plunged headlong into imprudences,
And smashed conventions with a reckless zeal,
Holding his luck and not himself to blame
For aught that might betide when reckoning came.
But he was true as steel and staunch as oak.
And if he pledged his word he bore it out
Unswerving to the finish, and he gave
Whate'er he had of strength to help a friend.

When the great summons came he rushed to arms,
Counting no cost and all intent to serve
His country and to prove himself a man.
Yet he could laugh at all his ardour too
And find some fun in glory, as a child
Laughs at a bauble but will guard it well.
Now he is fall'n, and on his shining brow
Glory has set her everlasting seal.

I like to think how cheerily he talked
Amid the ceaseless tumult of the guns,
How, when the word was given, he stood erect,
Sprang from the trench and, shouting to his men,
Led them forthright to where the sullen foe
Waited their coming; and his brain took fire,
And all was exultation and a high
Heroic ardour and a pulse of joy.
"Forward!" his cry rang out, and all his men
Thundered behind him with their eyes ablaze,
"Forward for England! Clear the beggars out!
Remember - " and death found him, and he fell
Fronting the Germans, and the rush swept on.

Thrice bless├ęd fate! We linger here and droop
Beneath the heavy burden of our years,
And may not, though we envy, give our lives
For England and for honour and for right;
But still must wear our weary hours away,
While he, that happy fighter, in one leap,
From imperfection to perfection borne,
Breaks through the bonds that bound him to the earth.
Now of his failures is a triumph made;
His very faults are into virtues turned;
And, reft for ever from the haunts of men,
He wears immortal honour and is joined
With those who fought for England and are dead.

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