Beside the Trenches

Gallant cried the horseman

saddled with his cloth and care,

rattling his salivating saber

to a bugle’s tune of God and Country.

There were no spurs so swift

beyond the field where trenches lay.

The drums and alarums still rattled banners

as man and beast gave rise to dusted glory,

untouchable, their raucous shadow lines where

gallant cried the horseman.


Barbed wire bound it,

lurching, whistling, wrangled thing,

torn beside the steaming trench.

A horse,

dead beside the steaming trench.

Today, I’m trying something a little different here at the Waking Den. Poetry remains the name of the game, but this is a piece inspired, and built upon the basis of another, far older work, you may recall–Stephen Crane’s infamous “Fast rode the knight”. A testament to the transition of ages, and to the horrors of war, his work was an elegy to the medieval. However, war is a timeless thing, and our folly never resigned to one age or another – and in his words, I personally always saw the potential for application to WWI.

Trenches were the walls then. Our gallant knights instead well-dressed officers still possessed of honours and ideals the machine gun, and gas, and all the other horrors of that time would horrifically subdue. And so I worked a touch of modernization…hopefully without offending anyone; but then, that’s why this explanation was here. I hope you enjoyed, and I encourage you to read Crane’s original as well.

20 thoughts on “Beside the Trenches

  1. Thank you for the notes Chris, & I will read terms of your poem, I think it works really well, the first longer stanza, you feel almost lulled by the older imagery, the tools, accessories for war from a different far age, and then the second stanza, hits, & everything links up in your mind, ending with the stark image of the horse..

  2. I knew the cadence was reminding me of something–i just re-read that Crane poem the other day when I was picking through his work for my Off the Shelf page–he was a terrific poet. I like what you’ve done here, Chris–i was all set up for something medieval with the horseman image, and you zapped it fast forward to those monstrous faces behind gas masks and foul trenches of WWI…eloquent, and pitiful, the story of war, esp the final stanza.

  3. I spent hours of my childhood crying over images of war involving dead horses (they were innocents and so like children strewn across the field). As you so kindly said at my site there are poems that make you think and poems that make you cry. This is a fine example of both.

  4. Bravery, honor and courage.. these ideals are what these soldiers and tehir horses evoke.

    Like the barbed wire line…. thanks for the additional notes.

    Also, your kind words in my blog… I needed it~

  5. Chris, great job here. i wrote a piece that deals with war as well. Really liked the way yours turned out. Excellent write, thanks for the read

  6. I definately like this! You, Chris, are a natural! So many people get caught up in technicality or rhyme or whatever, and are just ‘wannabe’ poets, but you, good fellow, are the real deal, and an inspiration! Roger ☺

  7. Alas, trenches, barbed wire, poison gas and withering machine gun fire made World War I the last in which horse-mounted cavalry was significantly deployed. Over 8 million horses died on all sides! The scene was set for the infernal combustion engine to take over everywhere. The world would never be the same.

  8. Excellent Pastiche, though I hesitate to call it that, it somehow feels a little like a back-handed compliment (not intended). Your erudition here, and generally, is obviously immense

  9. You executed this very well Chris, it absolutely carrying a timeless message. Your imagery and the repetition of “steaming trench” in the end lines made this vivid in its expression. Enjoyed this my friend, hope you are well! ~ Rose

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