Siegfried Sassoon
The Rear-Guard (1919)

 

Groping along the tunnel, step by step,

 

He winked his prying torch with patching glare

 

From side to side, and sniffed the unwholesome air.

   

4

Tins, boxes, bottles, shapes too vague to know,

 

A mirror smashed, the mattress from a bed;

 

And he, exploring fifty feet below

 

The rosy gloom of battle overhead.

8

Tripping, he grabbed the wall; saw someone lie

 

Humped at his feet, half-hidden by a rug,

 

And stooped to give the sleeper’s arm a tug.

 

"I’m looking for headquarters." No reply.

12

"God blast your neck!" (For days he’d had no sleep.)

 

"Get up and guide me through this stinking place."

 

Savage, he kicked a soft, unanswering heap,

 

And flashed his beam across the livid face

16

Terribly glaring up, whose eyes yet wore

 

Agony dying hard ten days before;

 

And fists of fingers clutched a blackening wound.

 

Alone he staggered on until he found

20

Dawn’s ghost that filtered down a shafted stair

 

To the dazed, muttering creatures underground

 

Who hear the boom of shells in muffled sound.

 

At last, with sweat of horror in his hair,

24

He climbed through darkness to the twilight air,

 

Unloading hell behind him step by step.