John Mc Crae

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    Biographical information

  1. Anarchy
  2. Disarmament
  3. Equality
  4. Eventide
  5. In Due Season
  6. In Flanders Fields
  7. Isandlwana
  8. Mine Host
  9. Penance
  10. Quebec
  11. Recompense
  12. Slumber Songs
  13. The Anxious Dead
  14. The Captain
  15. The Dead Master
  16. The Dying Of Pere Pierre
  17. The Harvest Of The Sea
  18. The Hope Of My Heart
  19. The Night Cometh
  20. The Oldest Drama
  21. The Pilgrims
  22. The Song Of The Derelict
  23. The Unconquered Dead
  24. The Warrior
  25. Then And Now
  26. Unsolved
  27. Upon Watts' Picture Sic Transit




    Biographical information

      Name: John Alexander McCrae
      Place and date of birth: Guelph, Ontario (Canada); November 30, 1872
      Place and date of death: Boulogne-sur-Mer (France); January 28, 1918 (aged 45)

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      Anarchy

        I saw a city filled with lust and shame,
        Where men, like wolves, slunk through the grim half-light;
        And sudden, in the midst of it, there came
        One who spoke boldly for the cause of Right.

        And speaking, fell before that brutish race
        Like some poor wren that shrieking eagles tear,
        While brute Dishonour, with her bloodless face
        Stood by and smote his lips that moved in prayer.

        "Speak not of God! In centuries that word
        Hath not been uttered! Our own king are we."
        And God stretched forth his finger as He heard
        And o'er it cast a thousand leagues of sea.

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      Disarmament

        One spake amid the nations, "Let us cease
        From darkening with strife the fair World's light,
        We who are great in war be great in peace.
        No longer let us plead the cause by might."

        But from a million British graves took birth
        A silent voice -- the million spake as one --
        "If ye have righted all the wrongs of earth
        Lay by the sword! Its work and ours is done."

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      Equality

        I saw a King, who spent his life to weave
        Into a nation all his great heart thought,
        Unsatisfied until he should achieve
        The grand ideal that his manhood sought;
        Yet as he saw the end within his reach,
        Death took the sceptre from his failing hand,
        And all men said, "He gave his life to teach
        The task of honour to a sordid land!"
        Within his gates I saw, through all those years,
        One at his humble toil with cheery face,
        Whom (being dead) the children, half in tears,
        Remembered oft, and missed him from his place.
        If he be greater that his people blessed
        Than he the children loved, God knoweth best.

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      Eventide

        The day is past and the toilers cease;
        The land grows dim 'mid the shadows grey,
        And hearts are glad, for the dark brings peace
        At the close of day.

        Each weary toiler, with lingering pace,
        As he homeward turns, with the long day done,
        Looks out to the west, with the light on his face
        Of the setting sun.

        Yet some see not (with their sin-dimmed eyes)
        The promise of rest in the fading light;
        But the clouds loom dark in the angry skies
        At the fall of night.

        And some see only a golden sky
        Where the elms their welcoming arms stretch wide
        To the calling rooks, as they homeward fly
        At the eventide.

        It speaks of peace that comes after strife,
        Of the rest He sends to the hearts He tried,
        Of the calm that follows the stormiest life --
        God's eventide.

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      In Due Season

        If night should come and find me at my toil,
        When all Life's day I had, tho' faintly, wrought,
        And shallow furrows, cleft in stony soil
        Were all my labour: Shall I count it naught

        If only one poor gleaner, weak of hand,
        Shall pick a scanty sheaf where I have sown?
        "Nay, for of thee the Master doth demand
        Thy work: the harvest rests with Him alone."

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      In Flanders Fields

        In Flanders fields the poppies blow
        Between the crosses, row on row,
        That mark our place; and in the sky
        The larks, still bravely singing, fly
        Scarce heard amid the guns below.

        We are the Dead. Short days ago
        We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
        Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

        Take up our quarrel with the foe:
        To you from failing hands we throw
        The torch; be yours to hold it high.
        If ye break faith with us who die
        We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

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      Isandlwana

        Scarlet coats, and crash o' the band,
        The grey of a pauper's gown,
        A soldier's grave in Zululand,
        And a woman in Brecon Town.

        My little lad for a soldier boy,
        (Mothers o' Brecon Town!)
        My eyes for tears and his for joy
        When he went from Brecon Town,
        His for the flags and the gallant sights
        His for the medals and his for the fights,
        And mine for the dreary, rainy nights
        At home in Brecon Town.

        They say he's laid beneath a tree,
        (Come back to Brecon Town!)
        Shouldn't I know? -- I was there to see:
        (It's far to Brecon Town!)
        It's me that keeps it trim and drest
        With a briar there and a rose by his breast --
        The English flowers he likes the best
        That I bring from Brecon Town.

        And I sit beside him -- him and me,
        (We're back to Brecon Town.)
        To talk of the things that used to be
        (Grey ghosts of Brecon Town);
        I know the look o' the land and sky,
        And the bird that builds in the tree near by,
        And times I hear the jackals cry,
        And me in Brecon Town.

        Golden grey on miles of sand
        The dawn comes creeping down;
        It's day in far off Zululand
        And night in Brecon Town.

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      Mine Host

        There stands a hostel by a travelled way;
        Life is the road and Death the worthy host;
        Each guest he greets, nor ever lacks to say,
        "How have ye fared?" They answer him, the most,
        "This lodging place is other than we sought;
        We had intended farther, but the gloom
        Came on apace, and found us ere we thought:
        Yet will we lodge. Thou hast abundant room."

        Within sit haggard men that speak no word,
        No fire gleams their cheerful welcome shed;
        No voice of fellowship or strife is heard
        But silence of a multitude of dead.
        "Naught can I offer ye," quoth Death, "but rest!"
        And to his chamber leads each tired guest.

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      Penance

        My lover died a century ago,
        Her dear heart stricken by my sland'rous breath,
        Wherefore the Gods forbade that I should know
        The peace of death.

        Men pass my grave, and say, "'Twere well to sleep,
        Like such an one, amid the uncaring dead!"
        How should they know the vigils that I keep,
        The tears I shed?

        Upon the grave, I count with lifeless breath,
        Each night, each year, the flowers that bloom and die,
        Deeming the leaves, that fall to dreamless death,
        More blest than I.

        'Twas just last year -- I heard two lovers pass
        So near, I caught the tender words he said:
        To-night the rain-drenched breezes sway the grass
        Above his head.

        That night full envious of his life was I,
        That youth and love should stand at his behest;
        To-night, I envy him, that he should lie
        At utter rest.

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      Quebec

        Of old, like Helen, guerdon of the strong --
        Like Helen fair, like Helen light of word, --
        "The spoils unto the conquerors belong.
        Who winneth me must win me by the sword."

        Grown old, like Helen, once the jealous prize
        That strong men battled for in savage hate,
        Can she look forth with unregretful eyes,
        Where sleep Montcalm and Wolfe beside her gate?

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      Recompense

        I saw two sowers in Life's field at morn,
        To whom came one in angel guise and said,
        "Is it for labour that a man is born?
        Lo: I am Ease. Come ye and eat my bread!"
        Then gladly one forsook his task undone
        And with the Tempter went his slothful way,
        The other toiled until the setting sun
        With stealing shadows blurred the dusty day.

        Ere harvest time, upon earth's peaceful breast
        Each laid him down among the unreaping dead.
        "Labour hath other recompense than rest,
        Else were the toiler like the fool," I said;
        "God meteth him not less, but rather more
        Because he sowed and others reaped his store."

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      Slumber Songs

        I

        Sleep, little eyes
        That brim with childish tears amid thy play,
        Be comforted! No grief of night can weigh
        Against the joys that throng thy coming day.

        Sleep, little heart!
        There is no place in Slumberland for tears:
        Life soon enough will bring its chilling fears
        And sorrows that will dim the after years.
        Sleep, little heart!

        II

        Ah, little eyes
        Dead blossoms of a springtime long ago,
        That life's storm crushed and left to lie below
        The benediction of the falling snow!

        Sleep, little heart
        That ceased so long ago its frantic beat!
        The years that come and go with silent feet
        Have naught to tell save this -- that rest is sweet.
        Dear little heart.

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      The Anxious Dead

        O guns, fall silent till the dead men hear
        Above their heads the legions pressing on:
        (These fought their fight in time of bitter fear,
        And died not knowing how the day had gone.)

        O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
        The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
        Then let your mighty chorus witness be
        To them, and Caesar, that we still make war.

        Tell them, O guns, that we have heard their call,
        That we have sworn, and will not turn aside,
        That we will onward till we win or fall,
        That we will keep the faith for which they died.

        Bid them be patient, and some day, anon,
        They shall feel earth enwrapt in silence deep;
        Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,
        And in content may turn them to their sleep.

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      The Captain

        Here all the day she swings from tide to tide,
        Here all night long she tugs a rusted chain,
        A masterless hulk that was a ship of pride,
        Yet unashamed: her memories remain.

        It was Nelson in the `Captain', Cape St. Vincent far alee,
        With the `Vanguard' leading s'uth'ard in the haze --
        Little Jervis and the Spaniards and the fight that was to be,
        Twenty-seven Spanish battleships, great bullies of the sea,
        And the `Captain' there to find her day of days.

        Right into them the `Vanguard' leads, but with a sudden tack
        The Spaniards double swiftly on their trail;
        Now Jervis overshoots his mark, like some too eager pack,
        He will not overtake them, haste he e'er so greatly back,
        But Nelson and the `Captain' will not fail.

        Like a tigress on her quarry leaps the `Captain' from her place,
        To lie across the fleeing squadron's way:
        Heavy odds and heavy onslaught, gun to gun and face to face,
        Win the ship a name of glory, win the men a death of grace,
        For a little hold the Spanish fleet in play.

        Ended now the "Captain"'s battle, stricken sore she falls aside
        Holding still her foemen, beaten to the knee:
        As the `Vanguard' drifted past her, "Well done, `Captain'," Jervis cried,
        Rang the cheers of men that conquered, ran the blood of men that died,
        And the ship had won her immortality.

        Lo! here her progeny of steel and steam,
        A funnelled monster at her mooring swings:
        Still, in our hearts, we see her pennant stream,
        And "Well done, `Captain'," like a trumpet rings.

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      The Dead Master

        Amid earth's vagrant noises, he caught the note sublime:
        To-day around him surges from the silences of Time
        A flood of nobler music, like a river deep and broad,
        Fit song for heroes gathered in the banquet-hall of God.

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      The Dying Of Pere Pierre

        b"... with two other priests; the same night he died,
        and was buried by the shores of the lake that bears his name."
        Chronicle.

        "Nay, grieve not that ye can no honour give
        To these poor bones that presently must be
        But carrion; since I have sought to live
        Upon God's earth, as He hath guided me,
        I shall not lack! Where would ye have me lie?
        High heaven is higher than cathedral nave:
        Do men paint chancels fairer than the sky?"
        Beside the darkened lake they made his grave,
        Below the altar of the hills; and night
        Swung incense clouds of mist in creeping lines
        That twisted through the tree-trunks, where the light
        Groped through the arches of the silent pines:
        And he, beside the lonely path he trod,
        Lay, tombed in splendour, in the House of God.

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      The Harvest Of The Sea

        The earth grows white with harvest; all day long
        The sickles gleam, until the darkness weaves
        Her web of silence o'er the thankful song
        Of reapers bringing home the golden sheaves.

        The wave tops whiten on the sea fields drear,
        And men go forth at haggard dawn to reap;
        But ever 'mid the gleaners' song we hear
        The half-hushed sobbing of the hearts that weep.

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      The Hope Of My Heart

        "Delicta juventutis et ignorantius ejus, quoesumus ne memineris, Domine."

        I left, to earth, a little maiden fair,
        With locks of gold, and eyes that shamed the light;
        I prayed that God might have her in His care
        And sight.

        Earth's love was false; her voice, a siren's song;
        (Sweet mother-earth was but a lying name)
        The path she showed was but the path of wrong
        And shame.

        "Cast her not out!" I cry. God's kind words come --
        "Her future is with Me, as was her past;
        It shall be My good will to bring her home
        At last."

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      The Night Cometh

        Cometh the night. The wind falls low,
        The trees swing slowly to and fro:
        Around the church the headstones grey
        Cluster, like children strayed away
        But found again, and folded so.

        No chiding look doth she bestow:
        If she is glad, they cannot know;
        If ill or well they spend their day,
        Cometh the night.

        Singing or sad, intent they go;
        They do not see the shadows grow;
        "There yet is time," they lightly say,
        "Before our work aside we lay";
        Their task is but half-done, and lo!
        Cometh the night.

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      The Oldest Drama

        "It fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.
        And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad,
        Carry him to his mother. And... he sat on her knees till noon,
        and then died. And she went up, and laid him on the bed...
        And shut the door upon him and went out."

        Immortal story that no mother's heart
        Ev'n yet can read, nor feel the biting pain
        That rent her soul! Immortal not by art
        Which makes a long past sorrow sting again

        Like grief of yesterday: but since it said
        In simplest word the truth which all may see,
        Where any mother sobs above her dead
        And plays anew the silent tragedy.

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      The Pilgrims

        An uphill path, sun-gleams between the showers,
        Where every beam that broke the leaden sky
        Lit other hills with fairer ways than ours;
        Some clustered graves where half our memories lie;
        And one grim Shadow creeping ever nigh:
        And this was Life.

        Wherein we did another's burden seek,
        The tired feet we helped upon the road,
        The hand we gave the weary and the weak,
        The miles we lightened one another's load,
        When, faint to falling, onward yet we strode:
        This too was Life.

        Till, at the upland, as we turned to go
        Amid fair meadows, dusky in the night,
        The mists fell back upon the road below;
        Broke on our tired eyes the western light;
        The very graves were for a moment bright:
        And this was Death.

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      The Song Of The Derelict

        Ye have sung me your songs, ye have chanted your rimes
        (I scorn your beguiling, O sea!)
        Ye fondle me now, but to strike me betimes.
        (A treacherous lover, the sea!)
        Once I saw as I lay, half-awash in the night
        A hull in the gloom -- a quick hail -- and a light
        And I lurched o'er to leeward and saved her for spite
        From the doom that ye meted to me.

        I was sister to `Terrible', seventy-four,
        (Yo ho! for the swing of the sea!)
        And ye sank her in fathoms a thousand or more
        (Alas! for the might of the sea!)
        Ye taunt me and sing me her fate for a sign!
        What harm can ye wreak more on me or on mine?
        Ho braggart! I care not for boasting of thine --
        A fig for the wrath of the sea!

        Some night to the lee of the land I shall steal,
        (Heigh-ho to be home from the sea!)
        No pilot but Death at the rudderless wheel,
        (None knoweth the harbor as he!)
        To lie where the slow tide creeps hither and fro
        And the shifting sand laps me around, for I know
        That my gallant old crew are in Port long ago --
        For ever at peace with the sea!

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      The Unconquered Dead

        by John McCrae
        "... defeated, with great loss."

        Not we the conquered! Not to us the blame
        Of them that flee, of them that basely yield;
        Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
        Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.

        That day of battle in the dusty heat
        We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
        Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
        And we the harvest of their garnering.

        Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear
        By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill
        Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare,
        Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.

        We might have yielded, even we, but death
        Came for our helper; like a sudden flood
        The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath
        We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.

        The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon
        Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
        Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon
        Among the wheat fields of the olden years.

        Before our eyes a boundless wall of red
        Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!
        Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
        And rest came on us like a quiet rain.

        Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame,
        Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease
        To hold them ever; victors we, who came
        In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.

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      The Warrior

        He wrought in poverty, the dull grey days,
        But with the night his little lamp-lit room
        Was bright with battle flame, or through a haze
        Of smoke that stung his eyes he heard the boom
        Of Bluecher's guns; he shared Almeida's scars,
        And from the close-packed deck, about to die,
        Looked up and saw the "Birkenhead"'s tall spars
        Weave wavering lines across the Southern sky:

        Or in the stifling 'tween decks, row on row,
        At Aboukir, saw how the dead men lay;
        Charged with the fiercest in Busaco's strife,
        Brave dreams are his -- the flick'ring lamp burns low --
        Yet couraged for the battles of the day
        He goes to stand full face to face with life.

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      Then And Now

        Beneath her window in the fragrant night
        I half forget how truant years have flown
        Since I looked up to see her chamber-light,
        Or catch, perchance, her slender shadow thrown
        Upon the casement; but the nodding leaves
        Sweep lazily across the unlit pane,
        And to and fro beneath the shadowy eaves,
        Like restless birds, the breath of coming rain
        Creeps, lilac-laden, up the village street
        When all is still, as if the very trees
        Were listening for the coming of her feet
        That come no more; yet, lest I weep, the breeze
        Sings some forgotten song of those old years
        Until my heart grows far too glad for tears.

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      Unsolved

        Amid my books I lived the hurrying years,
        Disdaining kinship with my fellow man;
        Alike to me were human smiles and tears,
        I cared not whither Earth's great life-stream ran,
        Till as I knelt before my mouldered shrine,
        God made me look into a woman's eyes;
        And I, who thought all earthly wisdom mine,
        Knew in a moment that the eternal skies
        Were measured but in inches, to the quest
        That lay before me in that mystic gaze.
        "Surely I have been errant: it is best
        That I should tread, with men their human ways."
        God took the teacher, ere the task was learned,
        And to my lonely books again I turned.

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      Upon Watts' Picture Sic Transit

        "What I spent I had; what I saved, I lost; what I gave, I have."

        But yesterday the tourney, all the eager joy of life,
        The waving of the banners, and the rattle of the spears,
        The clash of sword and harness, and the madness of the strife;
        To-night begin the silence and the peace of endless years.

        ( One sings within.)

        But yesterday the glory and the prize,
        And best of all, to lay it at her feet,
        To find my guerdon in her speaking eyes:
        I grudge them not, -- - they pass, albeit sweet.

        The ring of spears, the winning of the fight,
        The careless song, the cup, the love of friends,
        The earth in spring -- - to live, to feel the light -- -
        'Twas good the while it lasted: here it ends.

        Remain the well-wrought deed in honour done,
        The dole for Christ's dear sake, the words that fall
        In kindliness upon some outcast one, -- -
        They seemed so little: now they are my All.

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