Siegfried Sassoon

Prelude: The Troops

Dim, gradual thinning of the shapeless gloom 
Shudders to drizzling daybreak that reveals 
Disconsolate men who stamp their sodden boots 
And turn dulled, sunken faces to the sky
Haggard and hopeless. They, who have beaten down 
The stale despair of night, must now renew
Their desolation in the truce of dawn, 
Murdering the livid hours that grope for peace.

Yet these, who cling to life with stubborn hands,  
Can grin through storms of death and find a gap  
In the clawed, cruel tangles of his defence.  
They march from safety, and the bird-sung joy  
Of grass-green thickets, to the land where all 
Is ruin, and nothing blossoms but the sky 
That hastens over them where they endure 
Sad, smoking, flat horizons, reeking woods, 
And foundered trench-lines volleying doom for doom.

O my brave brown companions, when your souls  
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead, 
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge, 
Death will stand grieving in that field of war 
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent. 
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass  
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell; 
The unreturning army that was youth; 
The legions who have suffered and are dust.