Sir Ronald Ross’ poem to mark the start of the First World War, ‘Black August, 1914’


On 14th August 1914, Britain officially entered the conflict that became known as the First World War. Sir Ronald Ross marked the occasion by writing a poem about the event which resonates with the spirit of the eve-of-war remarks of the British foreign secretary at the time, Edward Grey: “The lamps are going out all over Europe.” Ross published several poems during the war including one on his experience on being torpedoed in the Adriatic Sea in 1917.






Now slowly sinks the day-long labouring Sun

Behind the tranquil trees and old church-tower;

And we who watch him know our day is done;

For us too comes the evening- and the hour

The sunbeams slanting through those ancient trees,

The sunlit lichens burning on the byre,

The lark descending, and the homing bees,

Proclaim the sweet relief all things desire.

Golden the river brims beneath the west,

And holy peace to all the world given;

The songless stockdove preens her ruddied breast;

The blue smoke windeth like a prayer to heaven.

O old, old England, lands of golden peace,

Thy field are spun with gossameres of gold,

And golden garners gather thy increase,

And plenty crowns thy loveliness untold.

By sunlight or by starlight ever thou

Art excellent in beauty manifold;

The still-star victory ever gems thy brow;

Age cannot age thee, ages make thee old.

Thy beauty brightens with the evening Sun

Across the long-lit meads and distant spire:

So sleep thou well- like this thy labour done’

Rest in thy glory as he rests in fire.

But even in this hour of soft repose

A gently sadness chides us like a friend-

The sorrow of the joy that overflows,

The burden of the beauty that must end.

And from the fading sunset comes a cry,

And in the twilight voices wailing past,

Like wild swans calling, ” When we rest we die,

And woe to them that linger and are last!”

And as the Sun sinks, sudden in heav’n new-born

There shines are armed Angel like a Star

Who cries above the darkling world in scorn

” God comes to judgement Learn ye what ye are “

                   *         *        *       *         *

From fire to umber fades the sunset-gold,

From umber into silver and twilight;

The infant flowers their orisons have told

And turn together folded for the night;

The garden urns are black against the eve;

The white moth flitters through the fragrant glooms:

How beautiful the heav’ns!- But yet we grieve

And wander restless from the lighted rooms.

For through the world to-night a murmur thrills

As at some new-born prodigy of time –

Peace dies like twilight bleeding on the hills,

And Darkness creeps to hide the hateful crime



Read more about Sir Ronald Ross’ wartime poetry.