Before Action by W.N. Hodgson


By all the glories of the day

And the cool evening’s benison

By that last sunset touch that lay

Upon the hills when day was done,

By beauty lavishly outpoured

And blessings carelessly received,

By all the days that I have lived

Make me a soldier, Lord.


By all of all man’s hopes and fears

And all the wonders poets sing,

The laughter of unclouded years,

And every sad and lovely thing;

By the romantic ages stored

With high endeavour that was his,

By all his mad catastrophes

Make me a man, O Lord.


I, that on my familiar hill

Saw with uncomprehending eyes

A hundred of thy sunsets spill

Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,

Ere the sun swings his noonday sword

Must say good-bye to all of this; –

By all delights that I shall miss,

Help me to die, O Lord.


The youngest child of H.B. Hodgson, the first Bishop of Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich, William Noel Hodgson MC (1893-1916) was born at Thornbury, Gloucestershire, when his father was vicar there. Educated at Durham School and Christ Church, Oxford, he volunteered for duty in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. ‘Before Action’ was his last poem and has become possibly his most famous one. It was published on 29 June 2016 in weekly paper The New Witness (owned and run by G.K. Chesterton’s brother); he was killed in action two days later near Mametz. 


His work often featured religious themes and references, with some even holding to the metre of a hymn tune. This poem – a trinity of verses – sees each conclude with the petition ‘Help me to – O Lord’: to be a soldier, a man, and ultimately ‘to die’. There is a deep sense of farewell in it, celebrating the glories of God-given life and Creation, and the ultimate care of the Almighty to which we all commend ourselves and one another. In recent years, and certainly since the Armistice centenary, Remembrance Sunday has become a major national focus for this theology, along with war poems now on the school English syllabus.