The naked earth is warm with spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s gaze glorying,
And quivers in the loving breeze;
And life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees a newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their high comradeship-
The Dog-star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion’s Belt and sworded hip.
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridge’s end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they-
As keen of sound, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him, ‘Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you will not sing another;
In dreary doubtful waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And Joy of Battle only takes
Him by the throat, and makes him blind-
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.
This poem has a strong pastoral feel, as in so many of the poems of the First World War (remember, the poetry written immediately before the war was very concerned with the countryside and rural life). In this way, it follows some of the traditional and conservative forms of Edwardian poetry. This form of pastoral has been adapted, though, so that nature becomes a source of inspiration for the soldier. Grenfell’s soldier in this poem follows the classical ideal of the soldier, who looks to gain glory through battle.
STRUCTURE: Simple, classic rhyme scheme: 4 line verse (quatrain) of 8 syllables each, rhyming ABAB (a form known as ‘cross-rhyme’).
Julian Grenfell: Julian Grenfell was an aggressive character who gloried in going to war. He once famously wrote in a letter home, “I adore war. It is like a big picnic without the objectivelessness of a picnic. I have never been more well or more happy”. This poem is written in praise of battle and the soldier.
‘Into Battle’: The poem describes the inspiration that a soldier can take from nature in the quiet contemplative moments before battle. It was first published in The Times the day after Grenfell’s death, on 27th May 1915.
“The naked earth is warm with spring…”: sets the pastoral scene of the poem.
“…who dies fighting has increase”: perverse declaration that war is life: those who die in battle have lived life to its fullest.
“The fighting man shall from the sun / Take warmth…”: this is a key stanza in the poem. It is a sextet and focuses on the ‘fighting man’ and his qualities, taken from nature.
‘Speed with the light-foot winds to run”: the soldier appears to be an idealized warrior-god. Physical exertion is also seen as liberating- all part of Grenfell’s classical, ‘muscular’ and masculine aesthetic.
“All the bright company of Heaven / Hold him in their high comradeship”: The noble and high nature of soldiery. The stars named after are associated with the hunt: Sirius (the Dog-Star) is Orion’s (the hunter’s) hunting hound.
Stanzas 5, 6, 7, 8: the landscape / trees and animals are the soldier’s inspiration and friends. He has their best qualities, follows their laws. The key line is “the horses show him nobler powers”– nature teaches the man in war, and he in turn becomes one with nature (horses are traditional symbols of wisdom; hence Blake’s ‘horses of instruction’ and Swift’s Houyhmhnms).
“And when the burning moment breaks…”: these next two stanzas are where the poem reaches an almost orgasmic climax, a pleasure in impulse and power during battle. “Joy of battle” is expresses a Classical kind of pleasure in war. This is a very masculine, aggressive idea of war and soldiering. The great soldier is a little like the ‘man-killer’ Achilles in spirit, impervious to the weapons of the other side: “Nor lead nor steel shall touch him”. The great warrior puts himself in the hands of fate, “the Destined Will”.
“…in the air Death moans and sings…”: incredible image where Death becomes the god of this world, the mind that rules over it. Grenfell almost seems to exult in this: perhaps only death brings true glory?
“But Day shall clasp him… Night…”: the poem ends on a note of reassuring restfulness, the ecstacy of battle done.
[ANTHOLOGY NOTE: At this point, the anthology moves from poems by those with a lack of knowledge of the front line (Brooke saw action, but never fought) to a more direct knowledge of what battle is like. Note that Grenfell still indulges in some of the Classical idealizations of the warrior that Brooke, Asquith and others also dealt in.]