by Nordahl Grieg (1902-1943), a Norwegian poet during WWII,
translated by G.M. Gathorne-Hardy.
We lie in the dark and listen to the bombers passing by,
To the song of their droning engines, like factories in the sky.
High in the Milky Way great mills are busy-and then
Down drops a load through the void, on the buildings, and brains, of men.
Freight of steel and explosive, we hear its whining fall,
Drawn, as if by a magnet, to the flesh it can maim and maul.
It bursts, and our house is rocking, till again it is standing fast
And so we wait for the next one, since others have had last.
But we can smile in the darkness, securely, because we know
There are worser ills in the world than the senseless bombs of the foe
Tis not their Gestapo’s weapons these airborne hosts control
And, spite of all, their malice avails not to kill the soul.
Fairer has been our fortune than theirs in Europe’s night,
Who fear that the foe may take them, despoiled of their will to fight.
We are free; we still may answer those cries from the prison wall
And so we are smiling still, in the dark, as the great bombs fall.
Rainy and wan the morning comes on the salt sea-breeze:
Sea-gulls, scared from the river, glide among misty trees.
But, where there were human dwellings, are ruins blackened and seared,
And spires that soared to the heavens for ever have disappeared.
Churches, statues, historic houses weathered and grey-
How calmly this folk is parting from all that is swept away
A bomb must find its billet. Then blessed be each that bathed
Its plunge in a Gothic showpiece-and left a child unscathed
Fine art shall not be ransomed, if the price is the life of a slave.
What use, at the cost of freedom, a Notre Dame to save
Nay, art shall claim her right to flaunt her scars at the last,
And the world will love London more for her lack of links with the past.
Perhaps the soul must be freed from tradition’s magic spell,
Which charms our feet from progress. These stones which in ruins fell
Have left us a wider heaven: unhindered the gale sweeps past,
And liberty breathes more deeply, exposed to its naked blast
On roads newswept by machine-guns, harried in bus and in train,
On through the city’s ruins, that girl at the corner again
Has brought her flowers from the country . . . Up to the dawn-chilled street
The children’s little white army storms back from the night’s retreat.
Here gleam, as made on purpose to charm an infant’s view,
Balloons like silvery Jumbos, that flounder about in the blue.
And here, where at night is battle and the A.A. shells explode,
Stand girls at the plate-glass windows, and study the latest mode.
Up, like a tawny lion, rises the sun. They seem,
London’s militant millions, to bathe in his freshening beam.
Then howls the warning siren: its fearful quavering call
Is all about and around us-and nobody heeds at all
Life in the street is swarming, as if “all clear” was the sign
Little a raid concerns us: ’tis all, that we hold our line.
See, they are fighting above us. Etched on a wide clear sky,
White lines from the humming engines mark where the fighters fly.
Evening falls on a day kept safe, and we know the cost
Twenty enemy down, but eight of our own were lost.”
They gave us their best as they perished, those friends who were strangers still
They gave us a day to labour, from hands that are stark and chill.
Yesterday, now, and tomorrow, these storm-blue troops of the air
Set to the people of London their standard of how to dare.
We have gained a day to labour, and we who use it enjoy
A heaven of precious moments, each paid with the life of a boy.