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Isabel Ecclestone Mackay: The Recruit

A poem a day
International WWI Poetry Month

The Recruit

Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (Canada, 1917)

His mother bids him go without a tear;
His sweetheart walks beside him, proudly gay,
"No coward have I loved," her clear eyes say—
The band blares out and all the townsfolk cheer.

Yet in his heart he thinks: "I am afraid!
I am afraid of Fear—how can I tell
If in the ordeal 'twill go ill or well?
How can man tell how bravely man is made?"

Steady he waits, obeying brisk command,
Head up, chin firm, and every muscle steeled,—
Thinking: "I shot a rabbit in a field
And sickened at its blood upon my hand."

The sky is blue and little winds blow free,
He catches up his comrades' marching-song;
Their bayonets glitter as they sweep along—
("How ghastly a red bayonet must be!")

How the folk stare! His comrade on the right
Whispers a joke—is gay and debonair,
Sure of himself and quite at odds with care;—
But does he, too, turn restlessly at night?

From each familiar scene his inner eye
Turns to far fields by Titans rent and torn;
For in that struggle must his soul be born,
To look upon itself and live—or die!