Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, HENRI, by GEORGE STERLING

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HENRI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Tonight I drifted to the restaurant
Last Line: I never asked you if you had a wife.
Subject(s): World War I; First World War

TO-NIGHT I drifted to the restaurant
We scribblers fancy, finding it unchanged
Save that I saw no more my dapper friend,
The waiter Henri. When I asked for him,
"Gone to the War," another waiter said. ...

"Gone to the War!" That man, so mild a part
Of peace and its traditions! Debonair,
Childlike, alert, and none too strong, we'd thought.
He who had served so deftly, and, secure,
Had walked the beaten path and sheltered ways—
He now was with the cannon and the kings!
Gentle he was, and ever with a smile.
Ah! wears he still a smile? For now his soul
Has taken iron, and stood forth austere,
Made suddenly acquainted with despair,
And pain, and horror, and the timeless things.
I called him once, and he unhurried came;
And now he hurries at Another's beck—
Ancient, enormous, immemorial War—
And, past the trampled valley of the Meuse,
Finds a red service in the day's vast hall
Of thunders, and in night's domain of death
Attends, unless he too be of the dead.
And I sit here beneath the harmless lights!

O simple soul War's hands laid hold upon
And led to devastations, and the shock
Of legions, and the rumble of huge guns,
And crash and lightning of the rended shells,
Above a region veined and pooled with blood!
You now have part with all intrepid youth
That took, in ages past, the battle-line,
And in a mighty Cause had faith and love.
You are the hero now, and I the sheep!
And quietly beneath the pleasant lamps
I sit, and wonder how you fare to-night.
It's midnight now in France. Perhaps you find
Uneasy slumber; or perhaps, entrenched,
You wait the night attack across the rain.
Perhaps, my friend, they've made your bed with spades!
And I sit moody here, remembering,
As careless men and women rise and go,
I never asked you if you had a wife.

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