The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)
The Man Who Walked Alone
In many ways of peace and war the British spirit has triumphed over tremendous difficulties. The hero of these verses is one of a long line which stretches through the centuries. Here is one of the last notes in the diary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer who was overtaken by death during his return from the Pole in 1912: “Captain L. E. G. Oates, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, was next lost. … He was a brave soul. He slept through the night, hoping not to wake, but awoke in the morning. It was blowing a blizzard. Captain Oates said: ‘I am just going outside — and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard, and we have not seen him since.”
Death's clutch was on the writer's hand,
While words to live for ever slowly spread
Across the tragic page, to stand
As granite towers, scorning fear and dread.
Death stooped and whispered: “Cease. The race is run.
A grave is here beside the field you won.”
The writer paused. A worn friend's word.
More strong than Death's to check the march of thought,
Came through the cheerless gloom, and blurred
The leader's gaze with mist of tears, heart-wrought.
“You see a drag, a dull dead weight of stone,”
The friend's eyes said. … He walked away alone.
This valour was like Arnold's deed,
Who gathered to his breast a sheaf of spears,
And broke the Austrian line. God speed
The lonely wanderer. Through deathless years
His fame will be a lamp to guide the brave.
Such sacrifice of self defies the grave.
The white wind wove his shroud, cold, damp,
Over his shoulders as he southward walked.
His parched throat felt that iron clamp
Of eager Death, unwilling to be baulked.
And while his brave eyes scanned the leagues of snow,
His thought flew back to times of long ago.
How far away! Far, far away,
The happy fields, all lost, all blotted out!
The daisy-chains of childhood's day,
The murmur of a river, and the shout
Of romping boyhood at a hundred games.
How well his mind had treasured playmates’ names.
The woods where primrose flashed, and bird
Gave song to greet the bloom from winter's press!
The summer green and gold recurred
In thousand shapes … Antarctic wilderness!
The voice of friend, a garden, trees—no more—
And gone the sunlit sea on homeland shore.
And Fame! How good to live and feel
The thrill of wonder at a task well done!
The Polar march from icebound keel,
And all the hostile parallels outrun!
Yet, like the gladiator of old Rome,
He spurned a prize to speed his comrades home.
The white wind wove amain. … A smile
Illumined tired eyes—and then dark doubt,
With heavy weight, depressed him while
He staggered South. If hateful fate should flout
His friends? His mind was tortured, and his heart
Was wrenched. … The shroud was fitted for its part.
* * *
The writer in the tent—how pale!
But dauntless courage holds him to the last
Great line: “Our bodies tell the tale.”
And thus the spirit of the leader passed.
Brave Scott! You live by death which nobly won
Eternal splendour—Fame's unsetting sun.