Amy Lowell ( )

Lead Soldiers

The nursery fire burns brightly, crackling in cheerful 
little explosions
and trails of sparks up the back of the chimney.  Miniature 
peppering the black bricks with golden stars, as though a gala
flamed a night of victorious wars.
The nodding mandarin on the bookcase moves his 
head forward and back, slowly,
and looks into the air with his blue-green eyes.  He stares 
into the air
and nods -- forward and back.  The red rose in his hand 
is a crimson splash
on his yellow coat.  Forward and back, and his blue-green 
eyes stare
into the air, and he nods -- nods.

Tommys soldiers march to battle,
Trumpets flare and snare-drums rattle.
Bayonets flash, and sabres glance --
How the horses snort and prance!
Cannon drawn up in a line
Glitter in the dizzy shine
Of the morning sunlight.  Flags
Ripple colours in great jags.
Red blows out, then blue, then green,
Then all three -- a weaving sheen
Of prismed patriotism.  March
Tommys soldiers, stiff and starch,
Boldly stepping to the rattle
Of the drums, they go to battle.

Tommy lies on his stomach on the floor and directs his columns.
He puts his infantry in front, and before them ambles a mounted 
Their instruments make a strand of gold before the scarlet-tunicked 
and they take very long steps on their little green platforms,
and from the ranks bursts the song of Tommys soldiers marching 
to battle.
The song jolts a little as the green platforms stick on the thick 
Tommy wheels his guns round the edge of a box of blocks, and places
a squad of cavalry on the commanding eminence of a footstool.

The fire snaps pleasantly, and the old Chinaman nods -- nods.  The 
fire makes
the red rose in his hand glow and twist.  Hist!  That 
is a bold song
Tommys soldiers sing as they march along to battle.
Crack!  Rattle!  The sparks 
fly up the chimney.

Tommys armys off to war --
Not a soldier knows what for.
But he knows about his rifle,
How to shoot it, and a trifle
Of the proper thing to do
When its he who is shot through.
Like a cleverly trained flea,
He can follow instantly
Orders, and some quick commands
Really make severe demands
On a mind thats none too rapid,
Leaden brains tend to the vapid.
But how beautifully dressed
Is this army!  How impressed
Tommy is when at his heel
All his baggage wagons wheel
About the patterned carpet, and
Moving up his heavy guns
He sees them glow with diamond suns
Flashing all along each barrel.
And the gold and blue apparel
Of his gunners is a joy.
Tommy is a lucky boy.
Boom!  Boom!  Ta-ra!

The old mandarin nods under his purple umbrella.  The 
rose in his hand
shoots its petals up in thin quills of crimson.  Then 
they collapse
and shrivel like red embers.  The fire sizzles.

Tommy is galloping his cavalry, two by two, over the floor.  They 
must pass
the open terror of the door and gain the enemy encamped under the 
The mounted band is very grand, playing allegro and leading the 
infantry on
at the double quick.  The tassel of the hearth-rug has 
flung down
the bass-drum, and he and his dapple-grey horse lie overtripped,
slipped out of line, with the little lead drumsticks glistening
to the fires shine.
The fire burns and crackles, and tickles the tripped 
with its sparkles.
The marching army hitches its little green platforms 
valiantly, and steadily
approaches the door.  The overturned bass-drummer, lying 
on the hearth-rug,
melting in the heat, softens and sheds tears.  The song 
at his impotence, and flaunts the glory of the martial and still 
vaunting the deeds it will do.  For are not Tommys soldiers
all bright and new?

Tommys leaden soldiers we,
Glittering with efficiency.
Not a buttons out of place,
Tons and tons of golden lace
Wind about our officers.
Every manly bosom stirs
At the thought of killing -- killing!
Tommys dearest wish fulfilling.
We are gaudy, savage, strong,
And our loins so ripe we long
First to kill, then procreate,
Doubling so the laws of Fate.
On their women we have sworn
To graft our sons.  And overborne
Theyll rear us younger soldiers, so
Shall our race endure and grow,
Waxing greater in the wombs
Borrowed of them, while damp tombs
Rot their men.  O Glorious War!
Goad us with your points, Great Star!

The china mandarin on the bookcase nods slowly, forward and back 
forward and back -- and the red rose writhes and wriggles,
thrusting its flaming petals under and over one another like tortured 
The fire strokes them with its dartles, and purrs 
at them,
and the old man nods.

Tommy does not hear the song.  He only sees the beautiful, 
gaily-coloured lead soldiers.  They belong to him, and 
he is very proud
and happy.  He shouts his orders aloud, and gallops his 
cavalry past the door
to the wash-stand.  He creeps over the floor on his hands 
and knees
to one battalion and another, but he sees only the bright colours
of his soldiers and the beautiful precision of their gestures.
He is a lucky boy to have such fine lead soldiers to enjoy.

Tommy catches his toe in the leg of the wash-stand, and jars the 
He snatches at it with his hands, but it is too late.  The 
pitcher falls,
and as it goes, he sees the white water flow over its lip.  It 
between his fingers and crashes to the floor.  But it 
is not water which oozes
to the door.  The stain is glutinous and dark, a spark 
from the firelight
heads it to red.  In and out, between the fine, new soldiers,
licking over the carpet, squirms the stream of blood, lapping at
the little green platforms, and flapping itself against the painted 

The nodding mandarin moves his head slowly, forward and back.
The rose is broken, and where it fell is black blood.  The 
old mandarin leers
under his purple umbrella, and nods -- forward and back, staring 
into the air
with blue-green eyes.  Every time his head comes forward 
a rosebud pushes
between his lips, rushes into full bloom, and drips to the ground
with a splashing sound.  The pool of black blood grows 
and grows,
with each dropped rose, and spreads out to join the stream from
the wash-stand.  The beautiful army of lead soldiers steps 
boldly forward,
but the little green platforms are covered in the rising stream 
of blood.

The nursery fire burns brightly and flings fan-bursts of stars up 
the chimney,
as though a gala flamed a night of victorious wars.

Amy Lowell's other poems:
  1. The Book of Hours of Sister Clotilde
  2. The Bungler
  3. The Matrix
  4. The Bombardment
  5. The Promise of the Morning Star

 . Poem to print (Print)

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