Verse > Anthologies > Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. > The Little Book of Modern Verse
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Jessie B. Rittenhouse, ed. (1869–1948).  The Little Book of Modern Verse.  1917.
 
88. They Went Forth to Battle, but They Always Fell
 
By Shaemas O Sheel
 
 
THEY went forth to battle, but they always fell;
  Their eyes were fixed above the sullen shields;
Nobly they fought and bravely, but not well,
And sank heart-wounded by a subtle spell.
  They knew not fear that to the foeman yields,        5
  They were not weak, as one who vainly wields
A futile weapon; yet the sad scrolls tell
How on the hard-fought field they always fell.
 
It was a secret music that they heard,
  A sad sweet plea for pity and for peace;        10
And that which pierced the heart was but a word,
Though the white breast was red-lipped where the sword
  Pressed a fierce cruel kiss, to put surcease
  On its hot thirst, but drank a hot increase.
Ah, they by some strange troubling doubt were stirred,        15
And died for hearing what no foeman heard.
 
They went forth to battle but they always fell;
  Their might was not the might of lifted spears;
Over the battle-clamor came a spell
Of troubling music, and they fought not well.        20
  Their wreaths are willows and their tribute, tears;
  Their names are old sad stories in men’s cars;
Yet they will scatter the red hordes of Hell,
Who went to battle forth and always fell.
 

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