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Poem by Henry Newbolt

The Last Word

Before the April night was late
A rider came to the castle gate;
A rider breathing human breath,
But the words he spoke were the words of Death.

"Greet you well from the King our lord,
He marches hot for the eastward ford;
Living or dying, all or one,
Ye must keep the ford till the race be run.

Sir Alain rose with lips that smiled,
He kissed his wife, he kissed his child:
Before the April night was late
Sir Alain rode from the castle gate.

He called his men-at-arms by name,
But one there was uncalled that came:
He bade his troop behind him ride,
But there was one that rode beside.

    "Why will you spur so fast to die?
    Be wiser ere the night go by.
    A message late is a message lost;
    For all your haste the foe had crossed.

    "Are men such small unmeaning things
    To strew the board of smiling Kings?
    With life and death they play their game,
    And life or death, the end's the same."

Softly the April air above
Rustled the woodland homes of love:
Softly the April air below
Carried the dream of buds that blow.

    "Is he that bears a warrior's fame
    To shun the pointless stroke of shame?
    Will he that propped a trembling throne
    Not stand for right when right's his own?

    "Your oath on the four gospels sworn?
    What oath can bind resolves unborn?
    You lose that far eternal life?
    Is it yours to lose? Is it child and wife?

But now beyond the pathway's bend,
Sir Alain saw the forest end,
And winding wide beneath the hill,
The glassy river lone and still.

And now he saw with lifted eyes
The East like a great chancel rise,
And deep through all his senses drawn,
Received the sacred wine of dawn.

He set his face to the stream below,
He drew his axe from the saddle bow:
"Farewell, Messire, the night is sped;
There lies the ford, when all is said"

Henry Newbolt

Henry Newbolt's other poems:
  1. The Quarter-Gunner's Yarn
  2. Northumberland
  3. The Non-Combatant
  4. The School at War
  5. Waggon Hill

Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • Matthew Arnold The Last Word ("Creep into thy narrow bed")

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