Trench Poets

I knew a man, he was my chum,
but he grew blacker every day,
and would not brush the flies away,
nor blanch however fierce the hum
of passing shells; I used to read,
to rouse him, random things from Donne–

Like “Get with child a mandrake-root.”
But you can tell he was far gone,
For he lay gaping, mackerel-eyed,
and stiff, and senseless as a post
Even when that old poet cried
“I long to talk with some old lover’s ghost.”

I tried the Elegies one day,
but he, because he heard me say:
“What needst thou have more covering than a man?”
Grinned nastily, and so I knew
The worms had got his brains at last.
There was one thing that I might do
to starve the worms; I racked my head
for healthy things and quoted Maud.
His grin got worse and I could see
He sneered at passion’s purity.
He stank so badly, though we were great chums
I had to leave him; then rats ate his thumbs.

–Edgell Rickword