Prose & Poetry - The Muse in Arms - The Rear-guard

"The Rear-guard" by Siegfried Sassoon 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 fifteen poems featured within the Battle Pieces section of the collection.  You can access other poems within the section via the sidebar to the right.

The Rear-guard
by Siegfried Sassoon
(Hindenburg Line, April 1917)

Groping along the tunnel step by step,
He winked his prying torch with patching glare
From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.

Tins, bottles, boxes, shapes too vague to know,-
A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed;
And he, exploring, fifty feet below
The rose gloom of battle overhead

Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw some one lie
Humped and asleep, half-hidden by a rug;
And stooped to give the sleeper's arm a tug.
"I'm looking for Headquarters."
No reply....

"God blast your neck" (for days he'd had no sleep),
"Get up and guide me through this stinking place."
Then, with a savage kick at the silent heap,
He flashed his beam across a livid face
Horribly glaring up; and the eyes yet wore
Agony dying hard ten days before;
And twisted fingers clutched a blackening wound.

Alone, he staggered on until he found
Dawn's ghost, that filtered down a shafted stair
To the dazed, muttering creatures underground,
Who hear the boom of shells in muffled sound.
At last, with sweat of horror in his hair,
He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,
Unloading hell behind him, step by step.

Panzer was a term used to describe a German tank.

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