Questions for Reflection: “Into Battle” and the Expectation of Duty
Julian Henry Francis Grenfell was the author of the widely anthologized poem, Into Battle, an anthem to the British fighting spirit during the early stages of the First World War. Born 1888, educated at Eton and Oxford, Grenfell was commissioned into the Royal Dragoons in the summer of 1910, and was sent to India. At the outbreak of the war, August 1914, Grenfell was redeployed to Flanders where he participated in the First Battle of Ypres.
Grenfell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in November 1914 for his action in stalking German snipers and dispatching them from close range. Offered a staff position he chose instead to continue serving in the front line, believing he would be of better use to his country in active commands. He was wounded by shrapnel and died after two failed operations on May 26, 1915. His poem, “Into Battle,” was published on the day of his burial.
The naked earth is warm with spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun's gaze glorying,
And quivers in the sunny breeze;
And life is color and warmth and light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.
The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;
Speed with the light-foot winds to run,
And with the trees to newer birth;
And find, when fighting shall be done,
Great rest, and fullness after dearth.
All the bright company of Heaven
Hold him in their high comradeship,
The Dog-Star, and the Sisters Seven,
Orion's Belt and sworded hip.
The woodland trees that stand together,
They stand to him each one a friend;
They gently speak in the windy weather;
They guide to valley and ridge's end.
The kestrel hovering by day,
And the little owls that call by night,
Bid him be swift and keen as they,
As keen of ear, as swift of sight.
The blackbird sings to him, "Brother, brother,
If this be the last song you shall sing,
Sing well, for you may not sing another;
In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours,
Before the brazen frenzy starts,
The horses show him nobler powers;
O patient eyes, courageous hearts!
And when the burning moment breaks,
And all things else are out of mind,
And only joy of battle takes
Him by the throat, and makes him blind,
Through joy and blindness he shall know,
Not caring much to know, that still
Nor lead nor steel shall reach him, so
That it be not the Destined Will.
The thundering line of battle stands,
And in the air death moans and sings;
But Day shall clasp him with strong hands,
And Night shall fold him in soft wings.
1. Julian Grenfell has become known as “the happy warrior.” What have you read in the poem, “Into Battle,” that would support this title?
2. Jon Stallworthy claims that it was important for Grenfell to be a successful soldier, in a successful action. What in the poem supports Stallworthy’s thinking?
3. Explain how Grenfell’s poem uses the Greek myths of the Dog Star, Pleiades (Seven Sisters) and Orion.
4. Comment on how “Into Battle” suggests a kind of mystique about war. How does the poem seem to bind the soldier to nature and to his comrades in arms?
5. While the poem, “Into Battle” is about war, comment on how it is poem about nature.
6. Comment on how the “fighting man” in Grenfell’s poem is more than a soldier.
7. How does Grenfell talk about his love of life? How does he speak of his destiny? How might this be different than a view shared by other soldiers?