Although predominantly a writer of novels, Hornung was also a poet. He wrote verse only on subjects very near to his heart, with the result that when he did commit to paper, the words flowed from his pen without effort - the true out-pouring of a warm heart and brave, gentle spirit. Some of the poems presented here were first published in a book entitled "The Young Guard" in 1919. Much of Hornung's verse was influenced by the death of his only son, Oscar, who was killed in action in 1915 in France.
CHILDREN we deemed you all the days
We vexed you with our care:
But in a Universe ablaze,
What was your childish share?
To rush upon the flames of Hell,
To quench them with your blood !
To be of England's flower that fell
Ere yet it break the bud !
And we who wither where we grew,
And never shed but tears,
As children now would follow you
Through the remaining years ;
Tread in the steps we thought to guide,
As firmly as you trod ;
And keep the name you glorified
Clean before man and God.
WHEN I lie dying in my bed,
A grief to wife, and child, and friend, -
How I shall grudge you gallant dead
Your sudden, swift, heroic end !
Dear hands will minister to me,
Dear hands deplore each shallower breath ;
You had your battle-cries, you three,
To cheer and charm you to your death.
You did not wane from worse to worst,
Under coarse drug or futile knife,
But in one grand mad moment burst
From glorious life to glorious Life . . . .
These twenty years ago and more,
'Mid purple heather and brown crag,
Our whole school numbered scarce a score,
And three have fallen for the Flag.
You two have finished on one side,
You who were friend and foe at play ;
Together you have done and died;
But that was where you learnt the way.
And the third face ! I see it now,
So delicate and pale and brave.
The clear grey eye, the unruffled brow,
Were ripening for a soldier's grave.
Ah ! gallant three, too young to die !
The pity of it all endures.
Yet, in my own poor passing, I
Shall lie and long for such as yours.
* Harold P. Paton - Fergus Murray - James W.A. Cowan.
St. Ninian's,Moffat, 1879-1880; South Africa, 1899-1900.
THE OLD BOYS
"WHO is the one with the empty sleeve?"
" Some sport who was in the swim."
"And the one with the ribbon who's home on leave?"
"Good Lord ! I remember him !
A hulking fool, low down in the school,
And no good at games was he -
All fingers and thumbs - and very few chums,
(I wish he'd shake hands with me !)"
"Who is the one with the heavy stick,
Who seems to walk from the shoulder ?"
"Why, many's the goal you have watched him kick !"
"He's looking a lifetime older.
Who is the one that's so full of fun -
I never beheld a blither -
Yet his eyes are fixt as the furrow betwixt ?"
"He cannot see out of either."
"Who are the ones that we cannot see,
Though we feel them as near as near ?
In Chapel one felt them bend the knee,
At the match one felt them cheer,
In the deep still shade of the Colonnade,
In the ringing quad's full light,
They are laughing here, they are chaffing there,
Yet never in sound or sight."
"Oh, those are the ones who never shall leave,
As they once were afraid they would !
They marched away from the school at eve,
But at dawn came back for good.
With deathless blooms from uncoffin'd tombs
To lay at our Founder's shrine.
As many are they as ourselves to-day,
And their place is yours and mine."
"But who are the ones they can help or harm ?"
"Each small boy, never so new,
Has an Elder Brother to take his arm,
And show him the thing to do -
And the thing to resist with a doubled fist,
If he'd be nor knave nor fool -
And the Game to play if he'd tread the way
Of the School behind the school."
NO Lord's this year: no silken lawn on which
A dignified and dainty throng meanders.
The Schools take guard upon a fierier pitch
Somewhere in Flanders.
Bigger the cricket here; yet some who tried
In vain to earn a Colour while at Eton
Have found a place upon an England side
That can't be beaten !
A demon bowler's bowling with his head -
His heart's as black as skins in Carolina !
Either he breaks, or shoots almost as dead
As Anne Regina ;
While the deep-field-gun, trained upon your stumps,
From concrete grand-stand far beyond the boundry,
Lifts up his ugly mouth and fairly pumps
Shells from Krupp's foundry.
But like the time the game is out of joint -
No screen, and too much mud for cricket lover :
Both legs go slip, and there's sufficient point
In extra cover !
Cricket? 'Tis Sanscrit to the super-Hun -
Cheap cross between Caligula and Cassius,
To whom speech, prayer, and warfare are all one -
Equally gaseous !
Playing a game's beyond him and his hordes ;
Theirs but to play the snake or wolf or vulture :
Better one sporting lesson learnt at Lord's
Than all their Kultur .....
Sinks a torpedoed Phoebus from our sight ;
Over the field of play see darkness stealing ;
Only in this one game, against the light
There's no appealing.
Now for their flares.....and now at last the stars.....
Only the stars now, in their heavenly million,
Glisten and blink for pity on our scars
From the Pavilion.
AGES ago (as to-day they are reckoned)
I was a lone little, blown little fag :
Panting to heel when Authority beckoned,
Spoiling to write for the Uppingham Mag. !
Thirty years on seemed a terrible time then -
Thirty years back seems a twelvemonth or so.
Little I saw myself spinning this rhyme then -
Less do I feel that it's ages ago !
Ages ago that was Somebody's study ;
Somebody Else had the study next door.
O their long walks in the fields dry or muddy !
O their long talks in the evenings of yore !
Still, when they meet, the old evergreen fellows
Jaw in the jolly old jargon as though
Both were as slender and sound in the bellows
As they were ages and ages ago !
O but the ghosts at each turn I could show you ! -
Ghosts in low collards and little cloth caps -
Each of 'em now quite an elderly O.U. -
Wiser, no doubt, and as pleasant - perhaps !
That's where poor Jack lit the slide up with tollies,
Once when the quad was a foot deep in snow -
When a live Bishop was one of the Pollies* -
Ages and ages and ages ago !
Things that were Decent and things that were Rotten,
How I remember them year after year !
Some - it may be - that were better forgotten :
Some that - it may be - should still draw a tear .....
More, many more, that are good to remember :
Yarns that grow richer, the older they grow :
Deeds that would make a man's ultimate ember
Glow with the fervour of ages ago !
Did we play footer in funny long flannels ?
Had we no Corps to give zest to our drill ?
Never a Gym lined throughout with pine panels ?
Half your best buildings were quarry-stone still ?
Ah! but it's not for their looks that you love them,
Not for the craft of the builder below,
But for the spirit behind and above them -
But for the Spirit of Ages Ago!
Eton may rest on her Field and her River.
Harrow has songs that she knows how to sing.
Winchester slang makes the sensitive shiver.
Rugby had Arnold, but never had Thring !
Repton can put up as good an Eleven.
Marlborough men are the fear of the foe.
All that I wish to remark is - thank Heaven
I was at Uppingham ages ago !
BOND AND FREE*
(THE BAPAUME ROAD, March 1917)
MISTY and pale the sunlight, brittle and black the trees;
Roads powdered like sticks of candy for a car to crunch
as they freeze .....
Then we overtook a Battalion ..... and it wasn't a road-
But cymbals and drums and dulcimers to the beat of the
marching men !
They were laden and groomed for the trenches, they
were shaven and scrubbed and fed ;
Like the scales of a single Saurian their helmets rippled
Not a sorrowful face beneath them, just the tail of a
For the car full of favoured mufti that went quacking
and quaking by.
You gloat and take note in your motoring coat, and the
sights come fast and thick :
A party of pampered prisoners, toying with shovel and
A town where some of the houses are so many heaps of
And some of them steel anatomies picked clean to the
A road like a pier in a hurricane of mountainous seas of
Where a few trees, whittled to walking-sticks, rose out of
the frozen flood
Like the masts of the sunken villages that might have
been down below -
Or blown off the festering face of an earth that God
Himself wouldn't know !
Not a yard but was part of a shell-hole - not an inch, to
be more precise -
And most of the holes held water, and all the water was
They stared at the bleak blue heavens like the glazed
blue eyes of the slain,
Till the snow came, shutting them gently, and sheeting
the slaughtered plain.
Here a pile of derelict rifles, there a couple of horses
Like rockerless rocking-horses, as wooden of leg as they,
And not much redder of nostril - not anything like so
As the slinking ghoul of a lean live cat creeping over the
crater's rim !
And behind a beyond and about us were the long
black Dogs of War,
With pigmies pulling their tails for them, and making
the monsters roar
As they slithered back on their haunches, as they put out
their flaming tongues,
And spat a murderous message long leagues from their
iron lungs !
They were kennelled in every corner, and some were in
But all kept twitching their muzzles and baying the
silvery skies !
A howitzer like a hyena guffawed point-blank at the
But only the sixty-pounder leaves an absolute aural scar !
(Could a giant but crack a cable as a stockman cracks
Or tear up a mile of calico with one unthinkable r-r-r-rip !
Could he only squeak a slate-pencil about the size of
You might get some faint idea of its sound, which is
those three sounds in one.)
But certain noises were absent, we looked for some
sights in vain,
And I cannot tell you if shrapnel does really descend
like rain -
Or Big Stuff burst like a bonfire, or bullets whistle or
But the other figures I'll swear to - if some of 'em are
my own !
Livid and moist the twilight, heavy with snow the trees,
And a road as of pleated velvet the colour of new cream
Then we overtook a Battalion ..... and I'm hunting still
for the word
For that gaunt, undaunted, haunted, whitening, frighten-
ing herd !
They had done their tour of the trenches, they were
coated and caked with mud,
And some of them wore a bandage, and some of them
wore their blood !
The gaps in their ranks were many, and none of them
looked at me .....
And I thought of no more vain phrases for the things I
was there to see,
But I felt like a man in a prison van where the rest of
the world goes Free.
*(These verses were written after an official visit of
E.W. Hornung and other writers to the Western Front.)
"Go live the wide world over - but when you come to die,
A quiet English churchyard is the only place to lie !"
I held it half a lifetime, until through war's mischance
I saw the wooden crosses that fret the fields of France.
A thrush sings in an oak-tree, and from the old square
A chime as sweet and mellow salutes the idle hour :
Stone crosses take no notice - but the little wooden ones
Are thrilling every minute to the music of the guns !
Upstanding at attention they face the cannonade,
In applie-pie alinement like Guardsmen on parade :
But Tombstones are Civilians who loll or sprawl or sway
At every crazy angle and stage of slow decay.
For them the Broken Column - in its plot of unkempt
The tawdry tinsel garland safeguarded under glass ;
And the Squire's emblazoned virtues, that would over-
weight a Saint,
On the vault empaled in iron - scaling red for want of
The men who die for England don't need it rubbin in ;
An automatic stamper and a narrow strip of tin'
Record their date and regiment, their number and their
And the Squire who dies for England is treated just the
So stand the still battalions : alert, austere, serene ;
Each with his just allowance of brown earth shot with
None better than his neighbour in pomp or circumstance -
All beads upon the rosary that turned the fate of France !
Who says their war is over? While others carry on,
The little wooden crosses spell but the dead and gone?
Not while they deck a sky-line, not while they crown a
Or a living soldier sees them and sets his teeth anew !
The tenants of the churchyard where the singing thrushes
Were not, perhaps, all paragons of promise well fulfilled :
Some failed - through Love, or Liquor - while the parish
But - you cannot die a Failure if you win a Cross in
The brightest gems of Valour in the Army's diadem
Are the V.C. and the D.S.O., M.C. and D.C.M.
But those who live to wear them will tell you they are
Beside the Final Honour of a simple Wooden Cross.
In 1915 Hornung dedicated the following poem to his dead son Oscar. It is about the terrible anxiety felt by the families of men at the front as the postman made his daily round; on the one hand waiting to receive letters from their sons, on the other the agonising possibility of a telegram containing the worst possible news :