Cordula's Web. USAF. Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns.
USAF. Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Jim Varhegyi. HiRes. Gallery 34

The Soldier's Return

Bessie Rayner Parkes Belloc

They came across the distant hills
With trumpet, pipe, and drum;
And all the air with welcome fills,
Which deepens as they come.

It flashes down the river-banks,
And broadens on the plain,
A voice of universal thanks
To greet them home again.

Tall Richard's brother spies him out,
A head above the crowd;
And sweetheart John is clasped about
By one who weeps aloud.

Wives find their husbands, sons their sires,
Each man they seek is there;
Ah! bright fulfilment of desires
Fast changing to despair!

Yet no! a pressure in the rear,
A something which they hide,
A long black something on a bier,
With cap and sword beside;
A woman rushing, wild with fear,
To draw the veil aside!

And, when she saw the stricken face,
She did not weep or wail;
But just recoiled a little space,
And grew a shade more pale.

And in her eyes a terror strained,
And on her mouth there fell
The tremble of a spirit pained
More than the flesh could tell.

A sudden changing, past all speech,
That was not grief or fear,
Something which words will never reach,
The look when Death is near.

Though she was old and he was young,
And neither called by name,
By that death-light upon them flung,
Their faces were the same!

And all the happy, joyous crowd,
Struck with a sudden dread,
Turned, with a whisper growing loud,
To where she faced her dead.

And as she sank, with reverent hands
They laid her by her son:
For the dread Priest, whom nought withstands,
Had linked their years in one.

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