Under our curtain of fire, Over the clotted clods, We charged, to be withered, to reel And despairingly wheel When the bugles bade us retire From the terrible odds.
As we ebbed with the battle-tide, Fingers of red-hot steel Suddenly closed on my side. I fell, and began to pray. I crawled on my hands and lay Where a shallow crater yawned wide; Then I swooned… .
When I woke, it was yet day. Fierce was the pain of my wound, But I saw it was death to stir, For fifty paces away Their trenches were. In torture I prayed for the dark And the stealthy step of my friend Who, stanch to the very end, Would creep to the danger zone And offer his life as a mark To save my own.
Night fell. I heard his tread, Not stealthy, but firm and serene, As if my comrade's head Were lifted far from that scene Of passion and pain and dread; As if my comrade's heart In carnage took no part; As if my comrade's feet Were set on some radiant street Such as no darkness might haunt; As if my comrade's eyes, No deluge of flame could surprise, No death and destruction daunt, No red-beaked bird dismay, Nor sight of decay.
Then in the bursting shells' dim light I saw he was clad in white. For a moment I thought that I saw the smock Of a shepherd in search of his flock. Alert were the enemy, too, And their bullets flew Straight at a mark no bullet could fail; For the seeker was tall and his robe was bright; But he did not flee nor quail. Instead, with unhurrying stride He came, And gathering my tall frame, Like a child, in his arms …
I slept, And awoke From a blissful dream In a cave by a stream. My silent comrade had bound my side. No pain now was mine, but a wish that I spoke, — A mastering wish to serve this man Who had ventured through hell my doom to revoke, As only the truest of comrades can. I begged him to tell me how best I might aid him, And urgently prayed him Never to leave me, whatever betide; When I saw he was hurt — Shot through the hands that were clasped in prayer! Then, as the dark drops gathered there And fell in the dirt, The wounds of my friend Seemed to me such as no man might bear. Those bullet-holes in the patient hands Seemed to transcend All horrors that ever these war-drenched lands Had known or would know till the mad world's end. Then suddenly I was aware That his feet had been wounded, too; And, dimming the white of his side, A dull stain grew. "You are hurt, White Comrade!" I cried. His words I already foreknew: "These are old wounds," said he, "But of late they have troubled me."