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

40. Corporal Stare

BACK from the line one night in June,

I gave a dinner at Bethune—

Seven courses, the most gorgeous meal

Money could buy or batman steal.

Five hungry lads welcomed the fish

With shouts that nearly cracked the dish;

Asparagus came with tender tops,

Strawberries in cream, and mutton chops.

Said Jenkins, as my hand he shook,

“They’ll put this in the history book.”

We bawled Church anthems in choro

Of Bethlehem and Hermon snow,

With drinking songs, a jolly sound

To help the good red Pommard round.

Stories and laughter interspersed,

We drowned a long La Bassée thirst—

Trenches in June make throats damned dry.

Then through the window suddenly,

Badge, stripes and medals all complete,

We saw him swagger up the street,

Just like a live man—Corporal Stare!

Stare! Killed last May at Festubert.

Caught on patrol near the Boche wire,

Torn horribly by machine-gun fire!

He paused, saluted smartly, grinned,

Then passed away like a puff of wind,

Leaving us blank astonishment.

The song broke, up we started, leant

Out of the window—nothing there,

Not the least shadow of Corporal Stare,

Only a quiver of smoke that showed

A fag-end dropped on the silent road.