The weary warrior in the night,
Riding true and fast and far,
With love of land and love of king
To guide him, and a star,
With heart of stone and firm resolve
And visage set and brave,
Spurs his steed through shadows grim,
His precious land to save.
Tonight he rides for sword and blood,
For fire and for war,
But tomorrow-eve he will return,
Where shadows lurk no more.
For though tonight he rides for war,
With heartbeat fierce and wild,
Tomorrow-eve he rides for home,
And wife, and land, and child.
Where hope is strong and life is sweet,
And war is but a word,
And memories and children’s feet
Replace the spear and sword.
The children’s feet! Upon the turf
They running come to meet him,
With joyful shout and twinkling eye
His children kiss and greet him.
They know not what their father did,
What horrors he endured,
So they could laugh and love and live
With peace and joy assured.
The bow and shield, the pike and spear,
The helmet and the armor,
He donned today that tomorrow-year
His son might be a farmer;
To work the land and love the land
As he would do, and more,
If king and land and sword and blood
Had not called him forth to war.
Tomorrow-eve arrived and passed,
And the weary warrior knew it,
But dared not shirk the warrior’s task,
Nor weep, nor curse, nor rue it.
The war he thought would end so soon
Dragged on for months and years,
But he never once forsook the field;
Forsook the toil or tears.
His head grew bent, his land lay waste,
His lifelong friends forsook him,
The winds of time and age and fate
Together racked and shook him.
But the child’s love and the child’s voice
Staid him and gave him rest,
And remembering still he fought with a will,
That the child might live and be blessed.
But the war dragged on and the years flew by,
And the warrior’s life was waning,
And the grey of the skies woke despair in his eyes;
And the low clouds harshly raining.
His sword was bent and his shield was shorn;
Shattered and chipped and broken,
And the life he had lived, and the shadows he saw,
Terror and grief had awoken.
For what was life? And what was love?
And why was war so anguished?
If life and love could not conquer war,
Then life and love had languished,
For the strength of them both had carried him through,
And the pain had seemed far less
Than the child’s life and the child’s love,
And the boy he had striven to bless.
The warrior’s day came, as it always must,
That life from him was taken,
And he lay on the trampled, bloodstained turf,
Wounded and hurt and shaken.
And the din of the battle and clash of the swords
Fell harshly upon his ears,
But he did not move and he did not speak,
As the deaf beggar no one hears.
The king in whose service the warrior had fought
Caught a glimpse of him lying there,
But with hurrying feet and a grim fate to meet
He passed him by in the mere.
For the battle was thick and the armies wild,
And the king had not time for the faithful.
But another was there, with the rain in his hair,
Who knew what it was to be grateful.
His sturdy shield and blood-dimmed sword
Were tossed aside and forsaken,
While anxious young eyes and quick-flying feet
Over the field were taken.
The blood-covered hands and the nimble young fingers
Did away with the warrior’s shield,
And the helm and the spear and the breastplate of iron
Were cast away from the field.
The warrior was cradled in strong, tender arms
With the battle raging about,
And raising his eyes to the raining grey skies
He saw, and he knew, beyond doubt.
The man in whose arms his wounded head lay
Was young, and joyous, and strong,
And the light in his eyes and the light of his face
Shone free of the wicked or wrong.
The younger man smiled, and clasping his hand,
Bent down and spoke to him low.
‘You fought for my sake and the love of my life—
Now leave it, and let yourself go.
The torch and the brand too long you have carried;
Too long you have fought here for me.
Now go and be blessed, and permit yourself rest,
And be happy, and joyous, and free.
All that you wished me to keep I forsook—
The farm, and the home, and the land,
And came here for you, to fight by your side,
And lend you my young, stronger hand.
Your battle is finished— now I must fight,
And gladly I take up the sword,
For you fought for me, and you died for me;
You were my shield and ward.
For the children we fight, as our fathers fought,
And for their children our children will stand,
So that they can stand up, and be bold and be strong,
And live in a free, blessed land.
Dear Father, weep not that you leave,
Weep not that your task is not done.
For the only task that you ever had
Was to guard me and guide me, your son.
And then step aside, with joy and with pride,
And watch the love that you gave
Stand up, and stand tall, with the best of them all,
And be strong and be gentle and brave.
For I am your love, and I am your son,
And I will never forget
What you did for me, fought for me, lost for me still,
And the anguish and heartache you met.’
So the warrior died, with his hand in his son’s,
While the battle still raged in the rain,
And laying him down with gentle young hands,
The son rose to the battle again.
His father’s sword and battered shield
Were lying near in the grime,
And casting away his own mantle of grey,
He took up those weapons of time.
His hand on the hilt of his father’s old sword,
His arm looping through the old shield,
And turning at last from the night and the past,
He charged with a shout to the field.
There he would fight, till that battle was won,
And on he would march in the mire,
Till the war should be won and the freedom should come
To gather at peace round the fire.
A task for the young, a task for the strong,
A task to outlast every man,
But a task whose completion, the righting of wrong,
Lives on as a father’s command.
A torch for the captive, a beacon of hope,
Though hopeless and lifeless for some,
For from father to son and from aged to young
The glorious burden will come.
A charge for the brave, a hope for the weak,
A brand to hold out in the night,
That the darkness may flee and the light may shine forth
And the wrongs of the people come right.
The light may not shine on the first to the fight,
Nor glory be won in an hour,
But the warrior fights for the love of his home,
And in failure true love does not cower.