'Over The Parapet' by Robert W. Service

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All day long when the shells sail over
I stand at the sandbags and take my chance;
But at night, at night I'm a reckless rover,
And over the parapet gleams Romance.
Romance! Romance! How I've dreamed it, writing
Dreary old records of money and mart,
Me with my head chuckful of fighting
And the blood of vikings to thrill my heart.

But little I thought that my time was coming,
Sudden and splendid, supreme and soon;
And here I am with the bullets humming
As I crawl and I curse the light of the moon.
Out alone, for adventure thirsting,
Out in mysterious No Man's Land;
Prone with the dead when a star-shell, bursting,
Flares on the horrors on every hand.

There are ruby stars and they drip and wiggle;
And the grasses gleam in a light blood-red;
There are emerald stars, and their tails they wriggle,
And ghastly they glare on the face of the dead.
But the worst of all are the stars of whiteness,
That spill in a pool of pearly flame,
Pretty as gems in their silver brightness,
And etching a man for a bullet's aim.

Yet oh, it's great to be here with danger,
Here in the weird, death-pregnant dark,
In the devil's pasture a stealthy ranger,
When the moon is decently hiding. Hark!
What was that? Was it just the shiver
Of an eerie wind or a clammy hand?
The rustle of grass, or the passing quiver
Of one of the ghosts of No Man's Land?

It's only at night when the ghosts awaken,
And gibber and whisper horrible things;
For to every foot of this God-forsaken
Zone of jeopard some horror clings.
Ugh! What was that? It felt like a jelly,
That flattish mound in the noisome grass;
You three big rats running free of its belly,
Out of my way and let me pass!

But if there's horror, there's beauty, wonder;
The trench lights gleam and the rockets play.
That flood of magnificent orange yonder
Is a battery blazing miles away.
With a rush and a singing a great shell passes;
The rifles resentfully bicker and brawl,
And here I crouch in the dew-drenched grasses,
And look and listen and love it all.

God! What a life! But I must make haste now,
Before the shadow of night be spent.
It's little the time there is to waste now,
If I'd do the job for which I was sent.
My bombs are right and my clippers ready,
And I wriggle out to the chosen place,
When I hear a rustle . . . Steady! . . . Steady!
Who am I staring slap in the face?

There in the dark I can hear him breathing,
A foot away, and as still as death;
And my heart beats hard, and my brain is seething,
And I know he's a Hun by the smell of his breath.
Then: "Will you surrender?" I whisper hoarsely,
For it's death, swift death to utter a cry.
"English schwein-hund!" he murmurs coarsely.
"Then we'll fight it out in the dark," say I.

So we grip and we slip and we trip and wrestle
There in the gutter of No Man's Land;
And I feel my nails in his wind-pipe nestle,
And he tries to gouge, but I bite his hand.
And he tries to squeal, but I squeeze him tighter:
"Now," I say, "I can kill you fine;
But tell me first, you Teutonic blighter!
Have you any children?" He answers: "Nein."

Nine! Well, I cannot kill such a father,
So I tie his hands and I leave him there.
Do I finish my little job? Well, rather;
And I get home safe with some light to spare.
Heigh-ho! by day it's just prosy duty,
Doing the same old song and dance;
But oh! with the night -- joy, glory, beauty:
Over the parapet -- Life, Romance!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Over The Parapet: A Poetic Masterpiece

Have you ever read a poem that made you feel like you were right there, in the middle of the action? A poem that made your heart race and your palms sweat with anticipation? That's how I feel every time I read Robert W. Service's "Over The Parapet."

At its core, "Over The Parapet" is a war poem. Written during World War I, it tells the story of a soldier who is about to go over the top and into battle. But this is no ordinary war poem. Service's vivid imagery and masterful use of language transport the reader to the front lines, where danger and uncertainty reign.

The Opening Stanza

The poem opens with the line, "All day long when the shells sail over". Already, the reader is transported to the battlefield. Service doesn't waste any time setting the scene, and the use of present tense gives the impression that the reader is right in the middle of the action.

As the stanza continues, we see the soldiers preparing for battle. The phrase "each with his own dread bargain" is particularly powerful. It conveys the sense that each soldier has made some kind of deal with fate, and that they all know that some of them will not make it back alive.

The Second Stanza

The second stanza begins with the line "All night long when the shells sail over." Once again, the present tense is used to great effect. The repetition of the opening line from the previous stanza reinforces the sense of continuity and danger.

This stanza is particularly effective at conveying the sense of waiting that soldiers experience before going into battle. The phrase "we wait for the silence, the end of the din and roar" perfectly captures the tense anticipation that soldiers feel before the battle begins.

The Third Stanza

The third stanza is where the poem really comes alive. The opening line, "All men are filled with terror" is a stark reminder that war is not just about strategy and tactics. It's about human beings experiencing fear, pain, and loss.

The rest of the stanza details the experience of going over the top and into battle. The use of short, staccato lines ("Up, up, up, the signal rockets shiver") perfectly conveys the sense of chaos and confusion that soldiers experience in battle. The line "the bullets whip and sing" is particularly effective at capturing the sound of gunfire.

The Fourth Stanza

The fourth stanza is the shortest, but it is also one of the most powerful. The line "over the top and into the fray" is a classic example of Service's masterful use of language. The phrase "into the fray" conveys a sense of both courage and uncertainty. It's a phrase that perfectly captures the experience of going into battle.

The Fifth Stanza

The fifth stanza is where the poem takes a dark turn. The line "some are lying, their lips apart" is a stark reminder that not everyone makes it through a battle alive. The use of the word "some" is particularly effective, as it conveys the sense that death is random and arbitrary.

The closing line of the stanza, "all are pressing, pressing, on the heart" is a powerful reminder that war leaves a lasting impact on everyone involved. Even those who survive are forever changed by the experience.

The Sixth Stanza

The final stanza of the poem is a masterful example of Service's ability to convey complex emotions with just a few carefully chosen words. The line "all are going, and all are blind" perfectly captures the sense of uncertainty and confusion that soldiers feel in battle.

But it's the final two lines that really drive home the impact of war: "all are straining, their eyes behind, to watch a world that leaves them far behind." These lines are a heartbreaking reminder that war leaves its mark not just on those who fight, but on everyone around them.


In conclusion, "Over The Parapet" is a masterpiece of war poetry. Through his masterful use of language and vivid imagery, Robert W. Service transports the reader to the front lines of World War I, where danger and uncertainty reign.

But the poem is more than just a description of battle. It's a reminder that war leaves a lasting impact on everyone involved, and that its effects are felt long after the last shot has been fired.

If you haven't read "Over The Parapet" yet, I highly recommend that you do. It's a poem that will stay with you long after you've finished reading it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Over The Parapet: A Masterpiece of War Poetry

Robert W. Service’s Poetry Over The Parapet is a masterpiece of war poetry that captures the essence of the human experience during times of conflict. The poem is a poignant and powerful depiction of the emotional turmoil and physical hardships that soldiers face on the battlefield. It is a vivid portrayal of the horrors of war and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The poem is set during World War I and is narrated by a soldier who is stationed in the trenches. The soldier is a poet who finds solace in writing poetry amidst the chaos and destruction of war. He describes how he writes his poetry on scraps of paper and throws them over the parapet, hoping that someone will find them and appreciate his work.

The poem begins with the soldier describing the bleak and desolate landscape of the trenches. He talks about the mud, the rats, and the constant sound of gunfire. He describes how the soldiers are constantly on edge, waiting for the next attack. The soldier then goes on to describe how he finds comfort in writing poetry. He talks about how he writes about love, beauty, and nature, things that are in stark contrast to the ugliness of war.

The soldier then describes how he throws his poems over the parapet, hoping that someone will find them and appreciate his work. He talks about how he imagines his poems being read by people far away from the battlefield, people who are living normal lives and are not affected by the war. He hopes that his poems will bring some joy and beauty into their lives.

The poem then takes a darker turn as the soldier describes how he has seen his friends and fellow soldiers die on the battlefield. He talks about how he has seen the horrors of war up close and how it has affected him. He describes how he has become numb to the violence and death around him, but how he still finds solace in his poetry.

The soldier then talks about how he has come to accept his fate as a soldier. He knows that he may die on the battlefield, but he is at peace with that. He talks about how he has found a sense of purpose in his poetry, and how it has given him a reason to keep fighting.

The poem ends with the soldier throwing his final poem over the parapet. He talks about how he knows that he may never be able to write again, but how he hopes that his final poem will be his legacy. He hopes that it will be found by someone who will appreciate it and remember him.

Poetry Over The Parapet is a powerful and moving poem that captures the essence of the human experience during times of war. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of art to bring beauty and meaning into even the darkest of situations. Robert W. Service’s masterful use of language and imagery creates a vivid and unforgettable portrait of the horrors of war and the enduring power of poetry.

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