Lead Soldiers

The nursery fire burns brightly, crackling in cheerful little explosions
and trails of sparks up the back of the chimney. Miniature rockets
peppering the black bricks with golden stars, as though a gala
flamed a night of victorious wars.

The nodding mandarin on the bookcase moves his head forward and back, slowly,
and looks into the air with his blue-green eyes. He stares into the air
and nods - forward and back. The red rose in his hand is a crimson splash
on his yellow coat. Forward and back, and his blue-green eyes stare
into the air, and he nods - nods.

Tommy's soldiers march to battle,
Trumpets flare and snare-drums rattle.
Bayonets flash, and sabres glance -
How the horses snort and prance!
Cannon drawn up in a line
Glitter in the dizzy shine
Of the morning sunlight. Flags
Ripple colours in great jags.
Red blows out, then blue, then green,
Then all three - a weaving sheen
Of prismed patriotism. March
Tommy's soldiers, stiff and starch,
Boldly stepping to the rattle
Of the drums, they go to battle.

Tommy lies on his stomach on the floor and directs his columns.
He puts his infantry in front, and before them ambles a mounted band.
Their instruments make a strand of gold before the scarlet-tunicked soldiers,
and they take very long steps on their little green platforms,
and from the ranks bursts the song of Tommy's soldiers marching to battle.
The song jolts a little as the green platforms stick on the thick carpet.
Tommy wheels his guns round the edge of a box of blocks, and places
a squad of cavalry on the commanding eminence of a footstool.

The fire snaps pleasantly, and the old Chinaman nods - nods. The fire makes
the red rose in his hand glow and twist. Hist! That is a bold song
Tommy's soldiers sing as they march along to battle.

Crack! Rattle! The sparks fly up the chimney.

Tommy's army's off to war -
Not a soldier knows what for.
But he knows about his rifle,
How to shoot it, and a trifle
Of the proper thing to do
When it's he who is shot through.
Like a cleverly trained flea,
He can follow instantly
Orders, and some quick commands
Really make severe demands
On a mind that's none too rapid,
Leaden brains tend to the vapid.
But how beautifully dressed
Is this army! How impressed
Tommy is when at his heel
All his baggage wagons wheel
About the patterned carpet, and
Moving up his heavy guns
He sees them glow with diamond suns
Flashing all along each barrel.
And the gold and blue apparel
Of his gunners is a joy.
Tommy is a lucky boy.
Boom! Boom! Ta-ra!

The old mandarin nods under his purple umbrella. The rose in his hand
shoots its petals up in thin quills of crimson. Then they collapse
and shrivel like red embers. The fire sizzles.

Tommy is galloping his cavalry, two by two, over the floor. They must pass
the open terror of the door and gain the enemy encamped under the wash-stand.
The mounted band is very grand, playing allegro and leading the infantry on
at the double quick. The tassel of the hearth-rug has flung down
the bass-drum, and he and his dapple-grey horse lie overtripped,
slipped out of line, with the little lead drumsticks glistening
to the fire's shine.

The fire burns and crackles, and tickles the tripped bass-drum
with its sparkles.

The marching army hitches its little green platforms valiantly, and steadily
approaches the door. The overturned bass-drummer, lying on the hearth-rug,
melting in the heat, softens and sheds tears. The song jeers
at his impotence, and flaunts the glory of the martial and still upstanding,
vaunting the deeds it will do. For are not Tommy's soldiers
all bright and new?

Tommy's leaden soldiers we,
Glittering with efficiency.
Not a button's out of place,
Tons and tons of golden lace
Wind about our officers.
Every manly bosom stirs
At the thought of killing - killing!
Tommy's dearest wish fulfilling.
We are gaudy, savage, strong,
And our loins so ripe we long
First to kill, then procreate,
Doubling so the laws of Fate.
On their women we have sworn
To graft our sons. And overborne
They'll rear us younger soldiers, so
Shall our race endure and grow,
Waxing greater in the wombs
Borrowed of them, while damp tombs
Rot their men. O Glorious War!
Goad us with your points, Great Star!

The china mandarin on the bookcase nods slowly, forward and back -
forward and back - and the red rose writhes and wriggles,
thrusting its flaming petals under and over one another lik
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Amy Lowell

Amy Lawrence Lowell was an American poet of the imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926. more…

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"Lead Soldiers" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 6 Dec. 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/2247/lead-soldiers>.

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