Field ambulance in retreat (1916)
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links Off
Via Dolorosa, Via Sacra
A straight flagged road, laid on the rough earth,
A causeway of stone from beautiful city to city,
Between the tall trees, the slender, delicate trees,
Through the flat green land, by plots of flowers, by black canals thick with heat.
The road-makers made it well
Of fine stone, strong for the feet of the oxen and of the great Flemish horses,
And for the high waggons piled with corn from the harvest.
But the labourers are few;
They and their quiet oxen stand aside and wait
By the long road loud with the passing of the guns, the rush of armoured cars and the tramp of an army on the march forward to battle;
And, where the piled corn-wagons went, our dripping
Ambulance carries home
Its red and white harvest from the fields.
The straight flagged road breaks into dust, into a thin white cloud,
About the feet of a regiment driven back league by league,
Rifles at trail, and standards wrapped in black funeral cloths.
Unhasting, proud in retreat,
They smile as the Red Cross Ambulance rushes by.
(You know nothing of beauty and of desolation who have
That smile of an army in retreat.)
They go: and our shining, beckoning danger goes with them,
And our joy in the harvests that we gathered in at nightfall
in the fields;
And like an unloved hand laid on a beating heart
Our safety weighs us down.
Safety hard and strange; stranger and yet more hard
As, league after dying league, the beautiful, desolate Land,
Falls back from the intolerable speed of an Ambulance in retreat
On the sacred, dolorous Way.
Poem © Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London on behalf of the Estate of May Sinclair