"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"?

THE PATROL

Carrying their fragile hope,
Balancing life on death
As a walker on a rope
Controls his trembling breath,
Across where friends were slain,
The patrol moved through the rain.

The hands of courage held,
Just like the frightened nurse
Who keeps the insane quelled
With strong arm blows and curse,
The fear they knew would start
To scream within the heart.

The enemy was still;
It seemed the quiet night
Had forgotten how to kill.
Even the rain was light,
Like fingers of warm tears
Caressing sorrows years.

And all the world asleep
Was dreaming like a child,
Not knowing men must creep
Past dreams into the wild
Stretches of a nightmare,
And see death from its lair

Rise up and sniff the blood
Upon the hands of war,
And crouching in the mud
Make ready with its claw
To strike the unchosen down
Like a rag and paper clown.

There, through the fantasy
Of shapes and shadows, moved
The shrinking memory
Of all that they had loved.
But none can recognise
A truth before it dies,

Balanced through the night
On the line that runs between
The shallow and the light
Each man had known and seen
Where his hell is born.
The patrol returned at dawn.


THE CONQUEROR

After so long, when we had almost thought
Our endeavour lost, our dream defeated,
We marched in triumph through their city
Bearing our standard proudly amongst them.
So many lined the streets to cheer us
That we imagined our victory was complete
And never more to be contested.
For this, we thought, is the final victory
That none can doubt or ever twist about.
These thoughts we had, and dreams of a new becoming
That would draw from the old roots’ maturity
Strength to resist the elements of evil,
And, forming fresh shoots, flower into beauty.
This was the foolish dream we dreamed, forgetting
All the things we had done and undone.
But when we returned to trace the way we’d come,
We saw across the mighty track of time
A great dividing chasm none could bridge,
And on the other side the old world lost.
The wounds of war in many would not heal,
And festered to a gangrenous despair.
Many there were who wept for their lost homes.
Even the strong ones were sad, for in their hearts
Home was like memory of innocence
That smiled upon an old embittered face.
And the unimaginative found it touched
The aching day with faint dream fingers.

But we who were too young to die for loss
Or dream, we who longed to live and love,
And had the courage to believe that birth
And death are not vain cancellings out to keep
A balanced ratio between mouths and food,
Or the secrets held by all the worlds
Not just a hoax to bedevil man
And mock his reaching hands with emptiness,
Turned our backs upon the gap in time
To begin the journey all must take,
Who, having won the battle of their age,
Know that defeat is the only conqueror.