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Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

36. Escape

(August 6, 1916.—Officer previously reported died of wounds, now reported wounded: Graves, Captain R., Royal Welch Fusiliers.)

…BUT I was dead, an hour or more.

I woke when I’d already passed the door

That Cerberus guards, and half-way down the road

To Lethe, as an old Greek signpost showed.

Above me, on my stretcher swinging by,

I saw new stars in the subterrene sky:

A Cross, a Rose in bloom, a Cage with bars,

And a barbed Arrow feathered in fine stars.

I felt the vapours of forgetfulness

Float in my nostrils. Oh, may Heaven bless

Dear Lady Proserpine, who saw me wake,

And, stooping over me, for Henna’s sake

Cleared my poor buzzing head and sent me back

Breathless, with leaping heart along the track.

After me roared and clattered angry hosts

Of demons, heroes, and policeman-ghosts.

“Life! life! I can’t be dead! I won’t be dead!

Damned if I’ll die for any one!” I said.…

Cerberus stands and grins above me now,

Wearing three heads—lion, and lynx, and sow.

“Quick, a revolver! But my Webley’s gone,

Stolen!… No bombs … no knife.… The crowd swarms on,

Bellows, hurls stones.… Not even a honeyed sop…

Nothing.… Good Cerberus!… Good dog!… but stop!

Stay!… A great luminous thought … I do believe

There’s still some morphia that I bought on leave.”

Then swiftly Cerberus’ wide mouths I cram

With army biscuit smeared with ration jam;

And sleep lurks in the luscious plum and apple.

He crunches, swallows, stiffens, seems to grapple

With the all-powerful poppy … then a snore,

A crash; the beast blocks up the corridor

With monstrous hairy carcase, red and dun—

Too late! for I’ve sped through.

O Life! O Sun!