In honor of the fallen

Roman Catholic poet shares wit of G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc

Ed. Note: November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War I. The San Diego Reader will devote this month’s poetry columns to the poets who wrote about their experiences of that war.

Rouge Bouquet

  • In a wood they call the Rouge Bouquet
  • There is a new-made grave to-day,
  • Built by never a spade nor pick
  • Yet covered with earth ten metres thick.
  • There lie many fighting men,
  • Dead in their youthful prime,
  • Never to laugh nor love again
  • Nor taste the Summertime.
  • For Death came flying through the air
  • And stopped his flight at the dugout stair,
  • Touched his prey and left them there,
  • Clay to clay.
  • He hid their bodies stealthily
  • In the soil of the land they fought to free
  • And fled away.
  • Now over the grave abrupt and clear
  • Three volleys ring;
  • And perhaps their brave young spirits hear
  • The bugle sing:
  • “Go to sleep!
  • Go to sleep!
  • Slumber well where the shell screamed and fell.
  • Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor,
  • You will not need them any more.
  • Danger’s past;
  • Now at last,
  • Go to sleep!”
  • There is on earth no worthier grave
  • To hold the bodies of the brave
  • Than this place of pain and pride
  • Where they nobly fought and nobly died.
  • Never fear but in the skies
  • Saints and angels stand
  • Smiling with their holy eyes
  • On this new-come band.
  • St. Michael’s sword darts through the air
  • And touches the aureole on his hair
  • As he sees them stand saluting there,
  • His stalwart sons;
  • And Patrick, Brigid, Columkill
  • Rejoice that in veins of warriors still
  • The Gael’s blood runs.
  • And up to Heaven’s doorway floats,
  • From the wood called Rouge Bouquet
  • A delicate cloud of bugle notes
  • That softly say:
  • “Farewell!
  • Farewell!
  • Comrades true, born anew, peace to you!
  • Your souls shall be where the heroes are
  • And your memory shine like the morning-star.
  • Brave and dear,
  • Shield us here.
  • Farewell!”

Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) was an American poet best known for his poem “Trees.” While not officially considered one of the War Poets of World War I, Kilmer served and died in World War I. He was considered a leading Roman Catholic poet and writer, often compared to G.K. Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc in his wit and expansive knowledge. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the Second Battle of the Marne. He wrote “Rouge Bouquet” shortly before his death, in honor of the fallen during a German artillery bombardment of an American position in the Rouge Bouquet forest near Baccarat, France, on March 7, 1918. At several points in the poem, the rhythm imitates that of the elegiac bugle piece “Taps,” traditionally played at a soldier’s funeral.

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