The Horse that died for me

They gave me a fiery horse to groom and I rode him on parade
While he plunged and swung for kicking room, like a young and haughty jade.
I rode him hard till I curbed his will, hot-foot in the sham attack
Till he ceased to jib and took the drill like a first class trooper’s hack.
He tasted hell on the Indian sea; pent up in the gloom below,
He dreamed of the days when he was free, and his weary heart beat slow.
But he lived to leave the reeking ship and raised his drooping head
With new-born zest when he felt the grip of earth beneath his tread
I left him and sailed away to fight in the trenches deep –
A stretch that passed like an awful hour of fearsome nightmare sleep
I lived to search for my mount once more on the crowded piquet line:
I rode him out as I did before, when I’d claimed the horse as mine.
I loved him as only one who knows the way of a horse may love;
Who rides athirst when the hell-wind blows and the sun stands still above.
Who ride for cover behind the rise that lifts like a wall of woe
And smites the vision of burning eyes when Moslem lead rips low.
Far out on the hock-deep sands that roll in waves to the flaming sky,
He carried me far on the night patrol where the Turkish outposts lie.
He took me back to the camp at noon when the skirmish died amain,
And under a white and spectral moon he bore me afield again.
Our squadron surged to the left and right when the fire of the day was dead;
The foemen crept in the sombre night with a wary noiseless tread.
We moved away on the flanking march, like a brown line rudely drawn.
That reached the foot of the grey skies arch in the waking light of dawn.
The line closed in when the red sun shot from the purple-tinted east
To glare with scorn on the wretched lot of man and his jaded beast.
I urged my horse with a purpose grim for a ridge where cover lay,
And my heart beat high for the heart of him when he saved my life that day.
His knees gave way and I slipped from him; he dropped in a sprawling heap
On the wind-gapped edge of the skyline’s rim where the high-blown sand was deep.
And fear came down with a gusty rain of lead on his final bed . . .
Before I turned for cover again, I knew that his life had fled.
My heart is warm for a heart that died in the desert flank attack,
And the white sand surges down to the hide and bones of a faithful trooper’s hack.

Edwin Gerard (Gerardy)