The Poetry of Julian Grenfell: Into Battle

Audio footage and explanation of the poem

By Samuel Cooper

Julian Grenfell in uniform with his DSO ribbon
29th April 1915: 'Wrote poem "Into Battle"'

Into Battle

The naked earth is warm with spring,

And with green grass and bursting trees

Leans to the sun’s gaze glorying.

And quivers in the sunny breeze;

And life is colour and warmth and light

And a striving evermore for these;

And he is dead who will not fight;

And who dies fighting has increase.

 

The fighting man shall from the sun

Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;

Speed with the light-foot winds to run,

And with the trees to newer birth;

And find, when fighting shall be done,

Great rest, and fullness after dearth.

 

All the bright company of Heaven

Hold him in their high comradeship –

The Dog-star and the Sisters Seven,

Orion’s belt and sworded hip.

 

The woodland trees that stand together,

They stand to him each one a friend;

They gently speak in the windy weather,

They guide to valley and ridge’s end.

 

The kestrel hovering by day,

And the little owls that call by night,

Bid him be swift and keen as they –

As keen of sound, as swift of sight.

 

The blackbird sings to him ‘Brother, brother,

If this be the last song you shall sing.

Sing well, for you will not sing another;

Brother, sing!’

 

In dreary doubtful waiting hours,

Before the brazen frenzy starts,

The horses show him nobler powers;

O patient eyes, courageous hearts!

 

And when the burning moment breaks,

And all things else are out of mind,

And only joy of battle takes

Him by the throat and makes him blind,

 

Through joy and blindness he shall know,

Not caring much to know, that still

Nor lead nor steel shall reach him so

That it be not the Destined Will.

 

The thundering line of battle stands,

And in the air death moans and sings;

And Day shall clasp him with strong hands,

And Night shall fold him in soft wings.

 

A Celebration of War

Into Battle is often dismissed by modern readers and critics for its naivity. During and after the war, however, its popularity was second only to Rupert Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’.

The poem opens rather softly, describing the glory of the fighting man and surrounding him with positive images of sunlight and springtime. The pace quickly escalates after the sixth stanza, where the blackbird encourages the soldier to ‘sing well, for you will not sing another’. This heightening of pace culminates in the final three stanzas with the tone becoming much more active as the fighting begins; the soldier wades into battle in a blind joy.  

Grenfell’s popular poem works to blend delicate descriptions of nature with images of war. It binds the fighting man to Earth, Heaven and the celestial to demonstrate both the necessity and glory of battle. Nature itself offers the soldier warmth, life, comradeship and, finally, respite, as the night folds him in soft wings.

This page was added on 23/06/2011.

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