The Italian soldier shook my hand
Beside the guard-room table;
The strong hand and the subtle hand
Whose palms are only able
To meet within the sounds of guns,
But oh! what peace I knew then
In gazing on his battered face
Purer than any woman’s!
For the flyblown words that make me spew
Still in his ears were holy,
And he was born knowing that I had learned
Out of books and slowly.
The treacherous guns had told their tale
And we both had bought it,
But my gold brick was made of gold –
Oh! who ever would have thought it?
Good luck go with you, Italian soldier!
But luck is not for the brave;
What would the world give back to you?
Always less than you gave.
Between the shadow and the ghost,
Between the white and the red,
Between the bullet and the lie,
Where would hide your head?
For where is Manuel Gonzalez,
And where is Pedro Aguilar,
And where is Ramon Fenellosa?
The earthworms know where they are.
Your name and your deeds were forgotten
Before your bones were dry,
And the lie that slew you is buried
Under a deeper lie;
But the thing that I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.
Taken from ‘Looking Back on the Spanish War’, published by New Road, 1943. Poem written 1939