Prose & Poetry - The Muse in Arms - Guns at Sea

"Guns at Sea" by Imtarfa First published in London in November 1917 and reprinted in February 1918 The Muse in Arms comprised, in the words of editor E. B. Osborne:

"A collection of war poems, for the most part written in the field of action, by seamen, soldiers, and flying men who are serving, or have served, in the Great War".

Below is one of eight poems featured within the Sea Affair section of the collection.  You can access other poems within the section via the sidebar to the right.

Guns at Sea
by Imtarfa

Let me get back to the guns again, I hear them calling me,
And all I ask is my own ship, and the surge of the open sea,
In the long, dark nights, when the stars are out, and the clean salt breezes blow,
And the land's foul ways are half forgot, like nightmare, and I know
That the world is good, and life worth while, and man's real work to do,
In the final test, in Nature's school, to see which of us rings true.
On shore, in peace, men cheat and lie - but you can't do that at sea,
For the sea is strong; if your work is weak, vain is the weakling's plea
Of a "first offence" or "I'm only young," or "It shall not happen again,"
For the sea finds out your weakness, and writes its lesson plain.
"The liar, the slave, the slum-bred cur - let them stay ashore, say I,
"For, mark it well, if they come to me, I break them and they die.
The land is kind to a soul unsound; I find and probe the flaw,
For I am the tears of eternity that rock to eternal law."

I love the touch of the clean salt spray on my hands and hair and face,
I love to feel the long ship leap, when she feels the sea's embrace,
While down below is the straining hull, o'erhead the gulls and clouds,
And the clean wind comes 'cross the vast sea space, and sings its song in the shrouds.
But now in my dreams, besides the sounds one always hears at sea,
I hear the mutter of distant guns, which call and call to me,
Singing: "Come! The day is here for which you have waited long."
And women's tears, and craven fears, are drowned in that monstrous song.
So whatever the future hold in store, I feel that I must go,
To where, thro' the shattering roar, I hear a voice that whispers low:
"The craven, the weak, the man with nerves, from me they must keep away,
Or a dreadful price in shattered nerves, and broken health they pay.
But send me the man who is calm and strong, in the face of my roaring blast,
He shall tested be in my mighty fires, and if he shall live at the last,
He can go to his home, his friends, his kin, to his life e'er war began,
With a new-found soul, and a new-found strength, knowing himself a man."

A respirator was a gas mask in which air was inhaled through a metal box of chemicals.

- Did you know?