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Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon

Edith Cavell

She was binding the wounds of her enemies when they came  
 The lint in her hand unrolled.  
They battered the door with their rifle-butts, crashed it in:  
 She faced them gentle and bold.  
They haled her before the judges where they sat          
 In their places, helmet on head.  
With question and menace the judges assailed her, Yes,  
 I have broken your law, she said.  
I have tended the hurt and hidden the hunted, have done  
 As a sister does to a brother,        
Because of a law that is greater than that you have made,  
 Because I could do none other.  
Deal as you will with me. This is my choice to the end,  
 To live in the life I vowed.  
She is self-confessed, they cried; she is self-condemned.          
 She shall die, that the rest may be cowed.  
In the terrible hour of the dawn, when the veins are cold,  
 They led her forth to the wall.  
I have loved my land, she said, but it is not enough:  
 Love requires of me all.          
I will empty my heart of the bitterness, hating none.  
 And sweetness filled her brave  
With a vision of understanding beyond the hour  
 That knelled to the waiting grave.  
They bound her eyes, but she stood as if she shone.          
 The rifles it was that shook  
When the hoarse command rang out. They could not endure  
 That last, that defenceless look.  
And the officer strode and pistolled her surely, ashamed  
 That men, seasoned in blood,          
Should quail at a woman, only a woman,  
 As a flower stamped in the mud.  
And now that the deed was securely done, in the night  
 When none had known her fate,  
They answered those that had striven for her, day by day:          
 It is over, you come too late.  
And with many words and sorrowful-phrased excuse  
 Argued their German right  
To kill, most legally; hard though the duty be,  
 The law must assert its might.          
Only a woman! yet she had pity on them,  
 The victim offered slain  
To the gods of fear that they worship. Leave them there,  
 Red hands, to clutch their gain!  
She bewailed not herself, and we will bewail her not,          
 But with tears of pride rejoice  
That an English soul was found so crystal-clear  
 To be triumphant voice  
Of the human heart that dares adventure all  
 But live to itself untrue,          
And beyond all laws sees love as the light in the night,  
 As the star it must answer to.  
The hurts she healed, the thousands comfortedthese  
 Make a fragrance of her fame.  
But because she stept to her star right on through death          
 It is Victory speaks her name.

Robert Laurence Binyon

Robert Laurence Binyon's other poems:
  1. To the Belgians
  2. In Memory of George Calderon
  3. The Zeppelin
  4. Ypres
  5. No More Now with Jealous Complaining

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