Last Day of Leave
by Robert Graves (1948)
We five looked out over the moor
At rough hills blurred with haze, and a still sea:
Our tragic day, bountiful from the first.
We would spend it by the lily lake
(High in a fold beyond the farthest ridge),
Following the cart-track till it faded out.
The time of berries and bell-heather;
Yet all that morning nobody went by
But shepherds and one old man carting turfs.
We were in love: he with her, she with him,
And I, the youngest one, the odd man out,
As deep in love with a yet nameless muse.
No cloud; larks and heath-butterflies,
And herons undisturbed fishing the streams;
A slow cool breeze that hardly stirred the grass.
When we hurried down the rocky slope,
A flock of ewes galloping off in terror,
There shone the waterlilies, yellow and white.
Deep water and a shelving bank.
Off went our clothes and in we went, all five,
Diving like trout between the lily groves.
The basket had been nobly filled:
Wine and fresh rolls, chicken and pineapple—
Our braggadocio under threat of war.
The fire on which we boiled our kettle
We fed with ling and rotten blackthorn root;
And the coffee tasted memorably of peat.
Two of us might stray off together
But never less than three kept by the fire,
Focus of our uncertain destinies.
We spoke little, our minds in tune—
A sigh or laugh would settle any theme;
The sun so hot it made the rocks quiver.
But when it rolled down level with us,
Four pairs of eyes sought mine as if appealing
For a blind-fate-aversive afterword:—
‘Do you remember the lily lake?
We were all there, all five of us in love,
Not one yet killed, widowed or broken-hearted.’
With this poem we lift the audience for a second from the gathering menace of the battlefield to the heartbreaking Last Day of Leave.
It is sung in simple harmony and seems to be coming from a high place far away from the valley of the Somme.