A bit of rag-time



From you, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart,
      The substance of my dreams took fire.
You built cathedrals in my heart,
      And lit my pinnacled desire.
You were the ardour and the bright
      Procession of my thoughts toward prayer.
You were the wrath of storm, the light
      On distant citadels aflare.


Great names, I cannot find you now
      In these loud years of youth that strives
Through doom toward peace: upon my brow
      I wear a wreath of banished lives.
You have no part with lads who fought
      And laughed and suffered at my side.
Your fugues and symphonies have brought
      No memory of my friends who died.


For when my brain is on their track,
In slangy speech I call them back.
With fox-trot tunes their ghosts I charm.
      “Another little drink won’t do us any harm.”
      I think of rag-time; a bit of rag-time;
      And see their faces crowding round
      To the sound of the syncopated beat.
      They’ve got such jolly things to tell,
      Home from hell with a Blighty wound so neat…

      *          *          *          *           *

And so the song breaks off; and I’m alone.
They’re dead… For God’s sake stop that gramophone.

—Siegfried Sassoon, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918

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