The darkness crumbles away –
It is the same old druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand –
A queer sardonic rat –
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
(And God knows what antipathies).
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German –
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through the still heavens?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.
Isaac Rosenberg was a British poet who unlike most of his contemporaries did not consider war as a patriotic sacrifice. In a personal letter he made his opinion clear about war:
I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over.
When the Germans launched their final attack in late March 1918 on the Western Front, Rosenberg was killed in battle on April 1 near Arras and is burried at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.
The poem was found in Peter Vansittart’s collection Voices from the Great War; additional info via Wikipedia.