Prose & Poetry - The Muse in Arms - The Sleep of Death

"The Sleep of Death" by Harley Matthews First published in London in November 1917 and reprinted in February 1918 The Muse in Arms comprised, in the words of editor E. B. Osborne:

"A collection of war poems, for the most part written in the field of action, by seamen, soldiers, and flying men who are serving, or have served, in the Great War".

Below is one of seven poems featured within The Ghostly Company section of the collection.

You can access other poems within the section via the sidebar to the right.

The Sleep of Death
by Harley Matthews

We see no terror in your eyes.
They say that sleeping you were found;
Now we with bayonets guard you round.
Night's shadow up the hillside creeps,
But you still watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.

Ah, the remorse is gone that grew
To think of what my comrade said:
"Give this to her when I am dead" -
A heart-shaped thing of little worth
That held her picture for his view,
But he was killed and in the earth
Before I knew.

It was last night. My watch I kept,
The stars just overhead shone dim.
Nought moved upon the hills' far rim.
But in the hollows shadows seethed,
And as I watched, towards me crept.
I listened: deep my comrades breathed
Where near they slept.

Below men moved innumerable -
Fancy! and yet there was a doubt.
I closed my eyes to shut them out,
And for relief drew deeper breath,
Across my lids Sleep laid his spell;
I flung it off - to sleep was death,
I knew too well.

There came a pleasant breath of air,
Cool-wafted from the stars it seemed.
I looked: now they all brightly gleamed,
Then long I watched, alert, clear-eyed.
No sleeper stirred behind me there...
Yet then of some one at my side
I grew aware.

I stared: for he stood there, though dead,
Yet looking, that seemed nothing strange;
About his form there was no change
To see within that little light.
"'Tis I. And yet you heard no tread.
A careless watch you keep to-night,"
He laughing said.

His voice no huskier had grown,
Then while I watched, he sat and told
Me of his love just as of old.
"Give this to her," I heard him say.
I looked, and found I was alone.
Within my hand the locket lay
Cold as a stone.

I have it here to prove he lies
Who says that sleeping I was found.
I fear not though you guard me round.
Night's shadow up the hillside creeps,
But I can watch the lighted skies,
Although the sentinel that sleeps
The next dawn dies.

A "dogfight" signified air combat at close quarters.

- Did you know?

Muse in Arms

Ghostly Company