A Spring Harvest

Geoffrey Bache Smith (1894 – 1916) was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and fellow member of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS). Smith excelled in Latin and French. When the First World War broke out, he joined up in 1914 and in 1915 was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. On November 29, 1916, his battalion was shelled and he received a wound in the arm from a shell fragment. The injury proved fatal and Smith died of complications in the early hours of December 2nd. He was 22 years of age and is buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, France.

In 1918, Tolkien gathered Smith’s poetry and published it as a collection entitled, A Spring Harvest. He added a brief “Note”:

The poems of this book were written at very various times, one (“Wind over the Sea”) I believe even as early as 1910, but the order in which they are here given is not chronological beyond the fact that the third part contains only poems written after the outbreak of the war. Of these some were written in England (at Oxford in particular), some in Wales and very many during a year in France from November 1915 to December 1916, which was broken by one leave in the middle of May.

“The Burial of Sophocles,” which is here placed at the end, was begun before the war and continued at odd times and in various circumstances afterwards; the final version was sent me from the trenches.

Beyond these few facts no prelude and no envoi is needed other than those here printed as their author left them.

J. R. R. T.


To a Dürer Drawing of Antwerp Harbour

Figured by Dürer’s magic hand wast thou,
That, lightning-like, traced on the lucid page
Rough, careless lines, with wizardry so sage
That yet the whole was fair, I know not how:
Ships of gaunt masts, and stark, sea-smitten prow,
Idle, yet soon again to sweep the main
In the swift service of old merchants’ gain,
Where are ye now, alas, where are ye now?
Gone are ye all, and vanished very long,
Sunk with great glory in the storied wars,
Or conquered by the leaping breakers wild:
And yet we love your image, like some song
That tells of ancient days and high, because
Old Dürer looked upon you once and smiled.


Schumann: Erstes Verlust

O, dreary fall the leaves,
The withered leaves;
Among the trees
Complains the breeze,
That still bereaves.

All silent lies the mere,
The silver mere,
In saddest wise
Reflecting skies
Forlorn and sere.

Would autumn had not claimed its own
And would the swallows had not flown.

Skies overcast!
Leaves falling fast!
And she has passed
And left the woodland strown,
The woodland strown,
The silver mere,
The dying year,
And me alone.

Skies overcast!
Leaves falling fast!
Does she that passed
Dream of the woodland strown,
The woodland strown,
The silver mere,
The dying year,
And me alone?


Creator Spiritus

The wind that scatters dying leaves
And whirls them from the autumn tree
Is grateful to the ship that cleaves
With stately prow the scurrying sea.

Heedless about the world we play
Like children in a garden close:
A postern bars the outward way
And what’s beyond it no man knows:

For careless days, a life at will,
A little laughter, and some tears,
These are sufficiency to fill
The early, vain, untroubled years,

Till at the last the wind upheaves
His unimagined strength, and we
Are scattered far, like autumn leaves,
Or proudly sail, like ships at sea.


Songs on the Downs


This is the road the Romans made,
This track half lost in the green hills,
Or fading in a forest-glade
’Mid violets and daffodils.

The years have fallen like dead leaves,
Unwept, uncounted, and unstayed
(Such as the autumn tempest thieves),
Since first this road the Romans made.


A miser lives within this house,
His patron saint’s the gnawing mouse,
And there’s no peace upon his brows.

A many ancient trees and thin
Do fold the place their shade within,
And moan, as for remembered sin.


“Dark is the World our Fathers left us”

Dark is the world our fathers left us,
Wearily, greyly the long years flow,
Almost the gloom has of hope bereft us,
Far is the high gods’ song and low:

Sombre the crests of the mountains lonely,
Leafless, wind-ridden, moan the trees:
Down in the valleys is twilight only,
Twilight over the mourning seas:

Time was when earth was always golden,
Time was when skies were always clear:
Spirits and souls of the heroes olden,
Faint are cries from the darkness, hear!

Tear ye the veil of time asunder
Tear the veil, ’tis the gods’ command,
Hear we the sun-stricken breakers thunder
Over the shore where the heroes stand.


Dark is the world our fathers left us,
Heavily, greyly the long years flow,
Almost the gloom has of hope bereft us,
Far is the high gods’ song and low.


April 1916

Now spring is come upon the hills in France,
And all the trees are delicately fair,
As heeding not the great guns’ voice, by chance
Brought down the valley on a wandering air:
Now day by day upon the uplands bare
Do gentle, toiling horses draw the plough,
And birds sing often in the orchards where
Spring wantons it with blossoms on her brow—
Aye! but there is no peace in England now.

O little isle amid unquiet seas,
Though grisly messengers knock on many doors,
Though there be many storms among your trees
And all your banners rent with ancient wars;
Yet such a grace and majesty are yours
There be still some, whose glad heart suffereth
All hate can bring from her misgotten stores,
Telling themselves, so England’s self draw breath,
That’s all the happiness on this side death.


“Over the Hills and Hollows Green”

Over the hills and hollows green
The springtide air goes valiantly,
Where many sainted singing larks
And blessed primaveras be:

But bitterly the springtide air
Over the desert towns doth blow,
About whose torn and shattered streets
No more shall children’s footsteps go.



To-night the world is but a prison house,
And kindly ways, and all the springing grass
Are dungeon stones to him that may not pass
Among them, save with anguish on his brows:
And any wretched husbandman that ploughs
The upland acres in his habit spare
Is king, to those in palaces of glass
Who sit with grief and weariness for spouse.

O God, who madest first the world that we
Might happy live, and praise its pleasantness
In such wise as the angels never could,
Wherefore are hearts, fashioned so wondrously,
All spoiled and changed by human bitterness
Into the likenesses of stone and wood?


“O Long the Fiends of War shall dance”

O long the fiends of war shall dance
Upon the stricken fields of France:
And long and long their grisly cry
Shall echo up and smite the sky:
O long and long the tears of God
Shall fall upon a barren sod,
Save when, of His great clemency,
He gives men’s hearts in custody
Of grim old kindly Death, who knows
The mould is better than the rose.

Featured: Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917, Paul Nash; painted in 1918.