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Conscripts

by
 ‘Fall in, that awkward squad, and strike no more 
Attractive attitudes! Dress by the right! 
The luminous rich colours that you wore 
Have changed to hueless khaki in the night.
Magic? What’s magic got to do with you? There’s no such thing! Blood’s red, and skies are blue.
’ They gasped and sweated, marching up and down.
I drilled them till they cursed my raucous shout.
Love chucked his lute away and dropped his crown.
Rhyme got sore heels and wanted to fall out.
‘Left, right! Press on your butts!’ They looked at me Reproachful; how I longed to set them free! I gave them lectures on Defence, Attack; They fidgeted and shuffled, yawned and sighed, And boggled at my questions.
Joy was slack, And Wisdom gnawed his fingers, gloomy-eyed.
Young Fancy—how I loved him all the while— Stared at his note-book with a rueful smile.
Their training done, I shipped them all to France, Where most of those I’d loved too well got killed.
Rapture and pale Enchantment and Romance, And many a sickly, slender lord who’d filled My soul long since with lutanies of sin, Went home, because they couldn’t stand the din.
But the kind, common ones that I despised (Hardly a man of them I’d count as friend), What stubborn-hearted virtues they disguised! They stood and played the hero to the end, Won gold and silver medals bright with bars, And marched resplendent home with crowns and stars.

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