Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson fought at the Somme in 1916 with 9th Battalion the Devonshire Regiment. It’s thought that he penned Before Action on the 29th June two days before fighting broke out.
Before Action is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful pieces of writing to have come out of the First World War trenches, and is deserving of its place in the history of the conflict.
By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening’s benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, Lord.
By all of all man’s hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,
By all his mad catastrophes
Make me a man, O Lord.
I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; –
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.
Before Action was written by Lieutenant William Noel Hodgson in 1916