A treasury of war poetry, British and American poems of the world war, 1914-1919/America

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AMERICA



TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

BROTHERS in blood! They who this wrong began
 To wreck our commonwealth, will rue the day
When first they challenged freemen to the fray,
And with the Briton dared the American.
Now we are pledged to win the Rights of man;
 Labour and Justice now shall have their way,
 And in a League of Peace—God grant we may—
Transform the earth, not patch up the old plan.


Sure is our hope since he who led your nation
 Spake for mankind, and ye arose in awe
Of that high call to work the world's salvation;
 Clearing your minds of all estranging blindness
 In the vision of Beauty and the Spirit's law,
 Freedom and Honour and sweet Lovingkindness.

April 30, 1917.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN WALKS AT MIDNIGHT

(IN SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS)

IT is portentous, and a thing of state
That here at midnight, in our little town,
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,
Near the old court-house pacing up and down.


Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play;
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.


A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.


He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.
He is among us:—as in times before!
And we who toss and lie awake for long
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.


His head is bowed. He thinks on men and kings.
Yes, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?
Too many peasants fight, they know not why,
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.


The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart,
He sees the dreadnoughts scouring every main.
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now
The bitterness, the folly, and the pain.


He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come—the shining hope of Europe free:
The league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.


It breaks his heart that kings must murder still,
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace
That he may sleep upon his hill again?


"ADVANCE, AMERICA!"

IN winds that leave man's spirit cold,
And a great darkness overhead,
They stood—bloodstained with ghostly red.
Too young, too many far, they seemed,
To be so soon, so grimly, dead,—
Night more than mortal night, to hold
All they had dreamed. . . .
They were so many; and so young, they seemed.


"Halt! Who goes there?"
The red ghosts on their beat of air
Night-answered were: the word was, "Friend!"
And as before their life had end,
The sentinels who erstwhile halted Death,
And died for it, a host of young men slain,
In their red harness stood on guard again
And shouted with recovered lease of breath—
So that, and even as a thing surprised,
The dread winds failed, to silence fell—
"Advance, friend, and be recognized!"
"Pass, friend!" and yet again, "All's well!"
Then as men turning restwards out of pain,
"Pass, friend!" and now more faintly still, "All's well!"


TO AMERICA

WHATEVER penman wrote or orator
 Declaimed, I could not, for the soul of me,
 Deem that the West had lost of liberty
All but the name, and feared the sounds of War:
Of them and theirs I was not ignorant, nor
 Had failed to learn what impulse set them free
 When alien kings held England's realm in fee,
And what, in conquering, they had battled for.


Kinsmen! I see, in these dark pregnant hours
 Of shadow, when the heavens are overcast
With smoke of ruined fanes and ancient towers,
 While throttled peoples yield and nations die,
The morning star of vengeance shine at last,
 And hear your armies thundering prophecy.


TO AMERICA IN WAR TIME

I

GRAVE hour and solemn choice—bare is the sword.
 From the raised altar, kneeling, take the blade.
 Be its grasp eucharist and accolade;
High be, and holy, lest thou creep abhorred.
Bethink thee—to the angel of the Lord,
 None baser, was the slayer's right conveyed:
 Of thine own soul, no other's, be afraid;
The hilts of brands are lethal, and have scored
On palms once white the unhealing scar of crime.
 Honour with fortune, purity with weal,
 Hang trembling in the wind-blown scale of Mars:
Earth is thy judge; the listening deeps of time
 Are witness, and yon azure's probing wheel,
 And vigils of inexorable stars.

II

"Be thou but true"—old words which years renew—
 Nor suffer blood-gout nor flame's darkling glow
 To touch thy heart's inviolable snow.
Go as a nun through bordels. Be thou true!
Let the sun's glance, even as on rose and dew,
 Rest on thy sabre. Wraths and greeds forego
 Lest skies pale, and thy recreancy know,
Too late, yon cope's estranged, receding blue.
Nor clamp free tongues! Hast thou yet steel to spare
 For fetters? Does the sword-arm clank the chain?
Be strong to conquer, mighty to forbear;
 Bind us, ay, bind us—but with prayer and pain,
With greatening purpose, till new love, set free—
Love that we dreamt not, dared not—soar to thee!


THE NEW ALLY

THEIR great grey ships go plunging forth;
The waves, wind-wakened from the north,
Swarm up their bows and fall away,
And wash the air with golden spray.


Far off is flung their battle-line;
Far off their great guns flame and shine;
And we are one with them—we rise
With dawning thunder in our eyes
To join the embattled hosts that kept
Their pact with freedom while we slept!


THE CHOICE

1917

(The American Spirit Speaks)

TO the judge of Right and Wrong
 With Whom fulfilment lies
Our purpose and our power belong,
 Our faith and sacrifice.


Let Freedom's Land rejoice!
 Our ancient bonds are riven;
Once more to us the eternal choice
 Of Good or Ill is given.


Not at a little cost,
 Hardly by prayers or tears,
Shall we recover the road we lost
 In the drugged and doubting years.


But after the fires and the wrath,
 But, after searching and pain,
His Mercy opens us a path
 To live with ourselves again.


In the Gates of Death rejoice!
 We see and hold the good—
Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice
 With Freedom's brotherhood!


Then praise the Lord Most High
 Whose Strength hath saved us whole,
Who bade us choose that the Flesh should die
 And not the living Soul!


To the God in man displayed—
 Where e'er we see that Birth,
Be love and understanding paid
 As never yet on earth!


To the Spirit that moves in Man,
 On Whom all worlds depend,
Be Glory since our world began
 And service to the end!