Pioneers

There is no word of thanks to hear,
No word of praise to gain,
But we, that must, in sun and dust,
Tramp on across the plain:
We know not how the orders come,
Who bids the bugle blow …
But we, that may, track out the way
Our comrades soon shall go.

Far, far behind our army drags
The wagons and the guns;
Along the line, beneath the flags,
A noise of cheering runs;
Full-seen in all the blaze of noon
Set forth its proud array…
But we were up beneath the moon
And out before the day.

Where age-long in the dank ravine
A swamp-fed forest grew,
’Tis we that back the jungle back
To let the sunlight through;
Across the desert no man dared,
Up cliffs where none might win,
By down and dale we blaze the trail,
The highway for our kin.

The noonday or the nightfall knows
The flickering of our fires,
The flung-down pack, the stretcht repose,
The talk of dreamt desires.
We camp, and go, and care no jot
How soon, how far we roam…
But each camp-fire has marked a spot
That men shall call their home.

A sudden bullet flicks the air,
A comrade slacks his stride;
Small time have we for surgery
Whose errand may not bide:
Stanch, as you go, the jetting blood,
Set teeth against the pain,
And feel the grip of comradeship
Stir you to strength again.

Ours is the shattering night-surprise,
The crawl of lifelong days,
The slow set stare of aching eyes
Across the drifted haze:
Lonely in hidden lairs we spy
The march of stealthy foes;
What work we do, what death we die,
Not even a comrade knows.

By beaten roads the mainguard goes
With banner and with band;
Yet we, that dare, find everywhere
New work that fits our hand;
We know not how the orders come …
But hark! the bugles blow:
Across the plain day breaks again;
Pick up the packs, and go!

–Arthur W. Jose
collected in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse, edited Walter Murdoch, 1918