Afternoon Tea

Robert William Service 1874 – 1958

As I was saying . . . (No, thank you; I never take cream with my tea;
Cows weren't allowed in the trenches -- got out of the habit, y'see.)
As I was saying, our Colonel leaped up like a youngster of ten:
"Come on, lads!" he shouts, "and we'll show 'em," and he sprang to the head of the men.
Then some bally thing seemed to trip him, and he fell on his face with a slam. . . .
Oh, he died like a true British soldier, and the last word he uttered was "Damn!"
And hang it! I loved the old fellow, and something just burst in my brain,
And I cared no more for the bullets than I would for a shower of rain.
'Twas an awf'ly funny sensation (I say, this is jolly nice tea);
I felt as if something had broken; by gad! I was suddenly free.
Free for a glorified moment, beyond regulations and laws,
Free just to wallow in slaughter, as the chap of the Stone Age was.

So on I went joyously nursing a Berserker rage of my own,
And though all my chaps were behind me, feeling most frightf'ly alone;
With the bullets and shells ding-donging, and the "krock" and the swish of the shrap;
And I found myself humming "Ben Bolt" . . . (Will you pass me the sugar, old chap?
Two lumps, please). . . . What was I saying? Oh yes, the jolly old dash;
We simply ripped through the barrage, and on with a roar and a crash.
My fellows -- Old Nick couldn't stop 'em. On, on they went with a yell,
Till they tripped on the Boches' sand-bags, -- nothing much left to tell:
A trench so tattered and battered that even a rat couldn't live;
Some corpses tangled and mangled, wire you could pass through a sieve.

The jolly old guns had bilked us, cheated us out of our show,
And my fellows were simply yearning for a red mix-up with the foe.
So I shouted to them to follow, and on we went roaring again,
Battle-tuned and exultant, on in the leaden rain.
Then all at once a machine gun barks from a bit of a bank,
And our Major roars in a fury: "We've got to take it on flank."
He was running like fire to lead us, when down like a stone he comes,
As full of "typewriter" bullets as a pudding is full of plums.
So I took his job and we got 'em. . . . By gad! we got 'em like rats;
Down in a deep shell-crater we fought like Kilkenny cats.
'Twas pleasant just for a moment to be sheltered and out of range,
With someone you saw to go for -- it made an agreeable change.

And the Boches that missed my bullets, my chaps gave a bayonet jolt,
And all the time, I remember, I whistled and hummed "Ben Bolt".
Well, that little job was over, so hell for leather we ran,
On to the second line trenches, -- that's where the fun began.
For though we had strafed 'em like fury, there still were some Boches about,
And my fellows, teeth set and eyes glaring, like terriers routed 'em out.
Then I stumbled on one of their dug-outs, and I shouted: "Is anyone there?"
And a voice, "Yes, one; but I'm wounded," came faint up the narrow stair;
And my man was descending before me, when sudden a cry! a shot!
(I say, this cake is delicious. You make it yourself, do you not?)
My man? Oh, they killed the poor devil; for if there was one there was ten;
So after I'd bombed 'em sufficient I went down at the head of my men,
And four tried to sneak from a bunk-hole, but we cornered the rotters all right;
I'd rather not go into details, 'twas messy that bit of the fight.

But all of it's beastly messy; let's talk of pleasanter things:
The skirts that the girls are wearing, ridiculous fluffy things,
So short that they show. . . . Oh, hang it! Well, if I must, I must.
We cleaned out the second trench line, bomb and bayonet thrust;
And on we went to the third one, quite calloused to crumping by now;
And some of our fellows who'd passed us were making a deuce of a row;
And my chaps -- well, I just couldn't hold 'em; (It's strange how it is with gore;
In some ways it's just like whiskey: if you taste it you must have more.)
Their eyes were like beacons of battle; by gad, sir! they COULDN'T be calmed,
So I headed 'em bang for the bomb-belt, racing like billy-be-damned.
Oh, it didn't take long to arrive there, those who arrived at all;
The machine guns were certainly chronic, the shindy enough to appal.
Oh yes, I omitted to tell you, I'd wounds on the chest and the head,
And my shirt was torn to a gun-rag, and my face blood-gummy and red.

I'm thinking I looked like a madman; I fancy I felt one too,
Half naked and swinging a rifle. . . . God! what a glorious "do".
As I sit here in old Piccadilly, sipping my afternoon tea,
I see a blind, bullet-chipped devil, and it's hard
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Robert William Service

Robert William Service was a poet and writer sometimes referred to as the Bard of the Yukon He is best-known for his writings on the Canadian North including the poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew The Law of the Yukon and The Cremation of Sam McGee His writing was so expressive that his readers took him for a hard-bitten old Klondike prospector not the later-arriving bank clerk he actually was Robert William Service was born 16 January 1874 in Preston England but also lived in Scotland before emigrating to Canada in 1894 Service went to the Yukon Territory in 1904 as a bank clerk and became famous for his poems about this region which are mostly in his first two books of poetry He wrote quite a bit of prose as well and worked as a reporter for some time but those writings are not nearly as well known as his poems He travelled around the world quite a bit and narrowly escaped from France at the beginning of the Second World War during which time he lived in Hollywood California He died 11 September 1958 in France Incidentally he played himself in a movie called The Spoilers starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich more…

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    "Afternoon Tea" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 20 Oct. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/31971/afternoon-tea>.

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