the rainbow – leslie coulson
I watch the white dawn gleam, To the thunder of hidden guns. I hear the hot shells scream Through skies as sweet as a dream Where the silver dawnbreak runs. And stabbing of light Scorches the virginal white. But I feel in my being the old, high, sanctified thrill, And I thank the gods that dawn is beautiful still.
From death that hurtles by I crouch in the trench day-long But up to a cloudless sky From the ground where our dead men lie A brown lark soars in song. Through the tortured air, Rent by the shrapnel’s flare, Over the troubleless dead he carols his fill, And I thank the gods that the birds are beautiful still.
Where the parapet is low
And level with the eye
Poppies and cornflowers glow
And the corn sways to and fro
In a pattern against the sky.
The gold stalks hide
Bodies of men who died
Charging at dawn through the dew to be killed or to kill.
I thank the gods that the flowers are beautiful still.
When night falls dark we creep In silence to our dead. We dig a few feet deep And leave them there to sleep – But blood at night is red, Yea, even at night, And a dead man’s face is white. And I dry my hands, that are also trained to kill, And I look at the stars – for the stars are beautiful still.
I found this poem in a book of World War I poetry. Leslie Coulson died during the war, in 1916. Among other poems, he wrote Who Made The Law? which is gripping in its gathering horror and repeated demand. I find The Rainbow‘s contrast between the death that was happening and nature that continued on to be striking – hopeful, because though awful things are happening, beauty still persists; horrible, because the two are happening at the same time. One does not stop for the other, though it feels like it should.
And I look at the stars – for the stars are beautiful still.