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The Guards Came Through -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

(Poem #181) The Guards Came Through
 Men of the Twenty-first
     Up by the Chalk Pit Wood,
 Weak with our wounds and our thirst,
     Wanting our sleep and our food,
 After a day and a night --
     God, shall we ever forget!
 Beaten and broke in the fight,
     But sticking it -- sticking it yet.
 Trying to hold the line,
     Fainting and spent and done,
 Always the thud and the whine,
     Always the yell of the Hun!
 Northumberland, Lancaster, York,
     Durham and Somerset,
 Fighting alone, worn to the bone,
     But sticking it -- sticking it yet.

 Never a message of hope!
     Never a word of cheer!
 Fronting Hill 70's shell-swept slope,
     With the dull dead plain in our rear.
 Always the whine of the shell,
     Always the roar of its burst,
 Always the tortures of hell,
     As waiting and wincing we cursed
 Our luck and the guns and the Boche,
     When our Corporal shouted, "Stand to!"
 And I heard some one cry, "Clear the front for the Guards!"
     And the Guards came through.

 Our throats they were parched and hot,
     But Lord, if you'd heard the cheers!
 Irish and Welsh and Scot,
     Coldstream and Grenadiers.
 Two brigades, if you please,
     Dressing as straight as a hem,
 We -- we were down on our knees,
     Praying for us and for them!
 Lord, I could speak for a week,
     But how could you understand!
 How should your cheeks be wet,
     Such feelin's don't come to you.
 But when can me or my mates forget,
     When the Guards came through?

 "Five yards left extend!"
     If passed from rank to rank.
 Line after line with never a bend,
     And a touch of the London swank.
 A trifle of swank and dash,
     Cool as a home parade,
 Twinkle and glitter and flash,
     Flinching never a shade,
 With the shrapnel right in their face
     Doing their Hyde Park stunt,
 Keeping their swing at an easy pace,
     Arms at the trail, eyes front!

 Man, it was great to see!
     Man, it was fine to do!
 It's a cot and a hospital ward for me,
 But I'll tell'em in Blighty, wherever I be,
     How the Guards came through.
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This poem reminds me strongly of Kipling's, and I like it for many of the
same reasons. While not one of the graphic, hyperrealistic war poems that
flourished during and after WW1, it nonetheless does a pretty good job of
capturing the scene, and makes effective use of the 'first person' voice.

What I really like about it are the rhythms; the basic metre has 3 feet per
line, and the natural tendency towards a four beat line[1] induces a pause
at the end of each line, lending the poem a rather slow and deliberate
progression. (This is most noticeable in the breach, when the occasional
four-foot line moves noticeably faster.) Note, also, the way the rhyme
scheme changes in the last verse, when the two consecutive rhyming lines and
the shift to both triple feet and tetrameter stretch out the tension, giving
the final line an air of conclusion and finality.

[1] most metred English verse, as I have noted before, tries to fit itself
to a 4x4 pattern; i.e. four lines of four feet each. The only exception is
pentameter, which explains its popularity in poems wishing to avoid the
air of 'commonness'.


  The war in question is WW1.

  Doyle was so little known as a poet that just one of the online
  biographies I could find bothered mentioning it - the bibliography,
  however, lists four books of verse:

  1898    Songs of Action
  1911    Songs of the Road
  1919    The Guards Came Through and Other Poems
  1922    The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle. Collected edition


  Boche: [Fr. slang, = rascal, German, said to be shortened from caboche
  head, or from Alboche, modification of Allemand German.] The (French)
  soldiers' name for a German. -- OED

  (For an interesting perspective on this see the prefatory note at
  <[broken link]>)


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

  b. May 22, 1859, Edinburgh
  d. July 7, 1930, Crowborough, Sussex, Eng.

  writer best known for his creation of the detective Sherlock Holmes--one
  of the most vivid characters in English fiction. Holmes's friend, the
  good-hearted but comparatively obtuse Dr. Watson, and the detective's
  principal enemy, the archcriminal Professor Moriarty, also have taken on
  an uncanny life that persists beyond the page. In New York the Baker
  Street Irregulars and in London the Sherlock Holmes Society peruse
  Holmesiana with a cultist fervour, and similar groups exist on the
  Continent. The brilliantly eccentric hero, in deerstalker or dressing
  gown, has been portrayed in a variety of media and has put the author's
  other works--chiefly historical romances--somewhat in the shade.

  Conan Doyle practiced medicine until 1891 after graduating from the
  University of Edinburgh, and the character of Holmes, who first appeared
  in A Study in Scarlet (1887), partly derives from a teacher at Edinburgh
  noted for his deductive reasoning. Short stories about Holmes began to
  appear regularly in the Strand Magazine in 1891 and later made up several
  collections, including The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The
  Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905),
  and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Conan Doyle wearied of him
  and devised his death in 1893--only to be forced by public demand to
  restore him ingeniously to life. The other Holmes novels include The
  Mystery of Cloomber (1889), The Sign of Four (1890), The Doings of Raffles
  Haw (1892), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and The Valley of Fear
  (1915). [This is wrong - Cloomber and Raffles Haw weren't Holmes novels -

  Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in
  Bloemfontein, S.Af., and for other activities concerning the South African
  (Boer) War. After the death of his son from wounds incurred in World War
  I, he dedicated himself to the cause of spiritualism.

        -- EB

  Author of more than 50 books, including historical novels (most famous The
  White Company), science fiction (The Lost World and other novels of
  Professor Challenger), domestic comedy, seafaring adventure, the
  supernatural, poetry, military history, many other subjects.

        -- <[broken link]>, the only
        place I found that mentioned poetry even in passing.

  A more complete biography is linked to from the Doyle page at
  <[broken link]>

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