Before Action

Title page and Frontispiece of W.N.H.'s book of poems and stories

Title page and Frontispiece of W.N.H.’s book of poems and stories

This little book was amongst a shelf of poetry books which I picked up at an auction earlier this week. The author, William Noel Hodgson, was an Oxford graduate who had volunteered in 1914 and had risen through the ranks to become a Lieutenant. I flicked through it and read a few of the poems and was struck by this one in particular. It is called ‘Before Action’ and was written on June 29th, 1916.

By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison,
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, O Lord.

By all of all man’s hopes and fears,
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.

I, that on my familiar hill
casino games Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this;-
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

Hodgson was killed, 2 days later, on 1st July – the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was just 1 of over 19,000 British soldiers to die on the Somme that day.

William Noel Hodgson-Spine

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