Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TO THE RETURNING BRAVE, by ROBERT UNDERWOOD JOHNSON



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TO THE RETURNING BRAVE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Victorious knights without reproach or fear
Last Line: That liberty may greet you all, her shields of land and wave.
Subject(s): Homecoming; Soldiers; World War I; First World War


VICTORIOUS knights without reproach or fear --
As close as man is ever to the stars! --
Our welcome met you on the ocean drear
In loud, free winds and sunset's golden bars.
Here, at our bannered gate
Love, honor, laurels wait.
Though you be humble, we are proud, and, in your stead, elate.

Fame shall not tire to tell, no sordid stain
Lies on your purpose, on your record none.
No broken word, no violated fane,
No winning one could wish had ne'er been won.
You were our message sent
To the torn Continent:
That with its hope and faith henceforth our faith and hope are blent.

You of our new, our homespun chivalry,
Here is your welcome -- in all women's eyes,
The envious handclasp, romping children's glee,
Music, and color, and glad tears that rise.
Here every voice of Peace
Shall bruit our joy, nor cease
To vie with shotless guns to shout your blameless victories.

But, though you are a part of all men's pride,
And from your fortitude new nations date,
Oh, lay not yet your sacred steel aside,
But save it for the still-imperiled State.
You who have bound a girth
Of new hope round the Earth,
Should its firm bond be loosened here, what were your struggle worth?

A redder peril dogs the path of war;
With fire and poison wanton children play;
And fickle crowds toward new pretenders pour
Who summon demons they can never lay.
Already we can hear,
Importunately near,
The snarling of the savage crew, half fury and half jeer.

Then hang not up your arms till you have taught
The ungrateful guests about our hearth and board
That in your swift encounter has been wrought
A keener edge to our reluctant sword.
You who know well the price
Of the great sacrifice,
Your courage saved us once; pray Heaven, it need not save us twice.

And those who come not back, who mutely lie
By Marne or Meuse or tangled Argonne wood:
Were it to lose the gain, (let them reply!)
Would we recall their spirits if we could?
Open your ranks and save
Their places with the brave,
That Liberty may greet you all, her shields of land and wave.





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