Verse > Siegfried Sassoon > The Old Huntsman and Other Poems
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Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967).  The Old Huntsman and Other Poems.  1918.

14. A Working Party


THREE hours ago he blundered up the trench, 
Sliding and poising, groping with his boots; 
Sometimes he tripped and lurched against the walls 
With hands that pawed the sodden bags of chalk. 
He couldn’t see the man who walked in front;         5
Only he heard the drum and rattle of feet 
Stepping along barred trench boards, often splashing 
Wretchedly where the sludge was ankle-deep. 
  
Voices would grunt ‘Keep to your right—make way!’ 
When squeezing past some men from the front-line:  10
White faces peered, puffing a point of red; 
Candles and braziers glinted through the chinks 
And curtain-flaps of dug-outs; then the gloom 
Swallowed his sense of sight; he stooped and swore 
Because a sagging wire had caught his neck.  15
  
A flare went up; the shining whiteness spread 
And flickered upward, showing nimble rats 
And mounds of glimmering sand-bags, bleached with rain; 
Then the slow silver moment died in dark. 
The wind came posting by with chilly gusts  20
And buffeting at corners, piping thin. 
And dreary through the crannies; rifle-shots 
Would split and crack and sing along the night, 
And shells came calmly through the drizzling air 
To burst with hollow bang below the hill.  25
  
Three hours ago he stumbled up the trench; 
Now he will never walk that road again: 
He must be carried back, a jolting lump 
Beyond all need of tenderness and care. 
  
He was a young man with a meagre wife  30
And two small children in a Midland town; 
He showed their photographs to all his mates, 
And they considered him a decent chap 
Who did his work and hadn’t much to say, 
And always laughed at other people’s jokes  35
Because he hadn’t any of his own. 
  
That night when he was busy at his job 
Of piling bags along the parapet, 
He thought how slow time went, stamping his feet 
And blowing on his fingers, pinched with cold.  40
He thought of getting back by half-past twelve, 
And tot of rum to send him warm to sleep 
In draughty dug-out frowsty with the fumes 
Of coke, and full of snoring weary men. 
  
He pushed another bag along the top,  45
Craning his body outward; then a flare 
Gave one white glimpse of No Man’s Land and wire; 
And as he dropped his head the instant split 
His startled life with lead, and all went out. 


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