01 March 2018

'March, 1918' by H.C. Mason

Canadians outside Lens, France
March, 1918
A century-old poem by Great War veteran Harold Charles Mason (1895-1976), gunner with the 72nd Battalion, CFA. This version comes from These Things Only..., his lone volume of verse, published in 1953 by Thomas Nelson.

March, 1918 
"Stranger, go tell the Lancedaemonians that we lie here, obedient to their commands." 
               When at long last the strife is done
                    And you who live look back on war,
               And sadly enter, one by one,
                    The items the grisly score —
               Whatever weakness you deplore,
                    Whatever failings mar our sheet,
               Write in one credit, if no more —
                    Canadians did not retreat. 
               When stalled the tank and stilled the gun
                    And silenced all the barrage roar,
               When you shall know what's lost and won
                    And who the brunt of battle bore.
               And whether Peace we struggled for
                    Be peace indeed or but a cheat,
               Add then this learning to thy lore —
                    Canadians did not retreat. 
               Whether we live to see the sun
                    Flame through the maples as before,
               Whether the death we seek and shun
                    Shall lay us here in the mud and gore.
               Whatever the future hold in store
                    Of stern success or made defeat
               We cannot know — but know we swore
                    Canadians did not retreat. 
               Canadian, in the deep heart's core
                    When life and peace again are sweet
               Keep this of us, if nothing more —
                    Canadians did not retreat.

The poet was a student at the Ontario Agricultural College when he enlisted. Mason returned after the war, earned a graduate degree, and served some time as a lecturer. He eventually settled on a dairy farm in Wilton Grove, now swallowed up by the sprawl of London, Ontario.

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