Trench Poets (1921)

Edgell Rickword

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I knew a man, he was my chum,
but he grew darker day by day,
and would not brush the flies away,
nor blanch however fierce the hum
of passing shells; I used to read,
to rouse him, random things from Donne –
like ‘Get with child a mandrake-root.’
But you can tell he was far gone,
for he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed,
and stiff and senseless as a post
even when that old poet cried
‘I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost.’

I tried the Elegies one day,
but he, because he heard me say:
‘What needst thou have more covering than a man?’
grinned nastily, so then I knew
the worms had got his brains at last.
There was one thing I still might do
to starve those worms; I racked my head
for wholesome lines and quoted Maud.
His grin got worse and I could see
he sneered at passion’s purity.
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.