(Poem #456) He Fell Among Thieves
'Ye have robb'd,' said he, 'ye have slaughter'd and made an end, Take your ill-got plunder, and bury the dead: What will ye more of your guest and sometime friend?' 'Blood for our blood,' they said. He laugh'd: 'If one may settle the score for five, I am ready; but let the reckoning stand til day: I have loved the sunlight as dearly as any alive.' 'You shall die at dawn,' said they. He flung his empty revolver down the slope, He climb'd alone to the Eastward edge of the trees; All night long in a dream untroubled of hope He brooded, clasping his knees. He did not hear the monotonous roar that fills The ravine where the Yassin river sullenly flows; He did not see the starlight on the Laspur hills, Or the far Afghan snows. He saw the April noon on his books aglow, The wistaria trailing in at the window wide; He heard his father's voice from the terrace below Calling him down to ride. He saw the gray little church across the park, The mounds that hid the loved and honour'd dead; The Norman arch, the chancel softly dark, The brasses black and red. He saw the School Close, sunny and green, The runner beside him, the stand by the parapet wall, The distant tape, and the crowd roaring between, His own name over all. He saw the dark wainscot and timber'd roof, The long tables, and the faces merry and keen; The College Eight and their trainer dining aloof, The Dons on the daïs serene. He watch'd the liner's stem ploughing the foam, He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw; He heard the passengers' voices talking of home, He saw the flag she flew. And now it was dawn. He rose strong on his feet, And strode to his ruin'd camp below the wood; He drank the breath of the morning cool and sweet: His murderers round him stood. Light on the Laspur hills was broadening fast, The blood-red snow-peaks chill'd to dazzling white; He turn'd, and saw the golden circle at last, Cut by the Eastern height. 'O glorious Life, Who dwellest in earth and sun, I have lived, I praise and adore Thee.' A sword swept. Over the pass the voices one by one Faded, and the hill slept.
As a poet, Newbolt is very reminiscent of Kipling - he addresses many of the same subjects, in a similar tone, and if he is not quite as overt a minstrel of the Empire, its mindset nonetheless permeates his works. Of course, he was far more minor a poet than Kipling was, and he can get annoying at times, but he did also write a number of good poems (and one great one, 'Ireland, Ireland') Today's poem is characteristic of that period - the protagonist laughing lightly at his murderers, the code of honour that holds both the 'blood for blood' and the willingness to let the victim live till dawn as natural, were very much a part of the English view of 'things as they should be'. Also very characteristic are the scenes that pass through his mind as he lives his last night, and the fatalistic courage of a 'dream untroubled of hope' (lovely phrase, too). Without any overt appeal to the emotions, Newbolt does, I think, manage to evoke a sense of sadness and of loss; the technique is by no means a new one but he handles it effectively and without appearing cliched. All in all, one of the good ones. Addendum: What prompted the 'Kipling' line of thought is the fact that today's poem makes a very interesting companion to Kipling's "Heriot's Ford" http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/heriots_ford.html Links: We've run one Newbolt poem in the past, the aforementioned 'Ireland, Ireland': poem #41 Another vaguely related poem is Longfellow's 'The Slave's Dream', [broken link] http://www.home.gil.com.au/~ollier/v4page16.html - martin