Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  An English Shell

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Arthur Christopher Benson 1862–1925

An English Shell


I WAS an English shell,

Cunningly made and well,

With a heart of fire in an iron frame,

Ready to break in fury and flame,

Slice through the ranks my raging way,

Dying myself, to slay.

Out from the heart of the battle-ship,

Yelling a song of death, I rose,

Brake from the cannon’s smoky lip

Into a land of foes:—

How was I baffled? I soared and sank

Over the bastion, across the hill,

Into the lap of a grassy bank,

Impotent there to kill.

Slowly the thunder died away;—

My merry comrades, how you roared,

Loud and jubilant, while I lay

Sunk in the slothful sward!

Peace came back with her corn and wine,

Smiling faint with a bleeding breast,

While in the offing, over the brine

My battle-ship steered to the West.

Then were the long slopes crowned again

With clustering vines and waving grain,

Winter by winter the stealing rain

Fretted me rotting there.

Suddenly once as I sadly slept,

Tinkling, the slow team over me stept,—

Jarring the ploughshare,—I was swept

Into the breezy air.

Why did he tempt me? I had lain

Year by year in the peaceful rain,

Till my lionlike heart had grown

Dull and motionless, heavy as stone;—

Mocking, he smote me:—

Then I leapt

Out in my anger, and screamed and swept

Him as he laughed in a storm of blood,

Shattered sinew and flying brain,

Brake the cottage and scarred the wood,

Roaring across the plain.

How should you blame me? Ay, ’t was peace!

War was the word I had learned to know;—

Think you, I was an English shell,

Trained one lesson alone to spell—

I had vowed as I lay below,

Vowed to perish and find release

Slaying an English foe.