The Night Watch for England, Edward Shanks (1942)
The crescent moon is down, I am alone,
Alone with this dim hilltop and the stars,
Alone as I have never been till now.
Huge is the night that lies on England, pricked
With all the trembling manifold of stars.
Small is the land we guard.
Small is the house I left an hour ago
To keep my watch for it and all the rest,
Small, small am I in this prodigious night.
There is no silence for the nightly watcher.
I feel no wind, yet leaf stirs after leaf and thin airs
Whimper through the grass, die and revive.
And as my ears are tuned to the night’s music
I hear far off gentle waves that fall softly on an unseen beach.
I hear the gentle susurration of the pebbles
Dragged half an inch by a weak undertow.
There is no silence in my night, for now small beasts I cannot see are on the move,
Each on its business scuffles in the gorse, cautious but audible.
And now a scream, sharp, harsh and quickly stifled.
There they are my fellow countrymen,
All on four feet as proper denizens as I.
That shadow slipping across the now grown clearer skyline,
That was a badger,
One that I saw playing outside the earth last time I rode this way,
Just after dawn, last time.
Last time it was the day we knew that war was toppling on us.
I loved you then, my fellow countrymen.
The night goes on, the stars wheel by,
And this is the dead center of the lonely watch.
Nothing for me to do.
The sky is empty of all, save those remote unpitying lights.
Still I can feel no wind, and yet a chill soaks through my flesh.
The night is long, so long.
But I am not alone.
My out-stretched palm rubs on the short rough grass.
My fingers crush a scabious flower,
I can prick myself with the gorse.
Or bring the wild thyme fragrant from ground to nostril.
All these I love.
For these I watch tonight.
For these and for the village in the valley, and my own house in it
If you need a reason to listen to this, let it be for Armitage saying the word “susurration.”