(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.
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 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.  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'. Notes: 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 Glossary: 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] http://raven.cc.ukans.edu/~libsite/wwi-www/Panama/PanamaTC.htm>) Biography: 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 - m.] 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] http://www.fortunecity.com/bally/skull/193/sacd.htm>, 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] http://www.bol.ucla.edu/~ryoder/mystery/doyle.html>