Henry Lawson (17 June 1867 – 2 September 1922 / Grenfell, New South Wales)
A Fantasy of War
OH, tell me, God of Battles! Oh, say what is to come!
The King is in his trenches, the millionaire at home;
The Kaiser with his toiling troops, the Czar is at the front.
Oh! Tell me, God of Battles! Who bears the battle’s brunt?
The Queen knits socks for soldiers, the Empress does the same,
And know no more than peasant girls which nation is to blame.
The wounded live to fight again, or live to slave for bread;
The Slain have graves above the Slain—the Dead are with the Dead.
The widowed young shall wed or not, the widowed old remain—
And all the nations of the world prepare for war again!
But ere that time shall be, O God, say what shall here befall!
Ten millions at the battle fronts, and we’re five millions all!
The world You made was wide, O God, the world we made is small.
We toiled not as our fathers toiled, for
Sport was all our boast;
And so we built our cities, Lord, like warts, upon the coast.
The seer stood on the mountain side, the witch was in her cave;
The gipsy with his caravan, the sailor on the wave;
The sophist in his easy chair, with ne’er a soul to save,
The factory slaves went forth to slave, the peasant to the field;
The women worked in winter there for one-tenth of the yield;
The village Granny nursed their babes to give them time to slave;
The child was in the cradle, and the grandsire in his grave.
The rich man slumbered in his chair, full fed with wine and meat;
The lady in her carriage sat, the harlot walked the street
With paint upon her cheek and neck, through winter’s snow and sleet.
We saw the pride of Wealth go mad, and Misery increase—
And still the God of Gods was dumb and all the world was Peace!
The wizard on the mountain side, he drew a rasping breath,
For he was old and near to life, as he was near to death;
And he looked out and saw the star they saw at Nazareth.
“Two thousand years have passed,” he said. “A thousand years,” he said.
“A hundred years have passed,” he said, “and, lo! the star is red!
The time has come at last,” he said, and bowed his hoary head.
He laid him on the mountain-side—and so the seer was dead.
And so the Eastern Star was red, and it was red indeed—
We saw the Red Star in the South, but we took little heed.
(The Prophet in his garret starved or drank himself to death.)
The witch was mumbling in her hole before the dawn was grey;
The witch she took a crooked stick and prodded in the clay;
She doddered round and mumbled round as is the beldame’s way.
“Four children shall be born,” she said, “four children at a birth;
Four children of a peasant brood—and what shall come on earth?
Four of the poorest peasantry that Europe knows,” she said,
“And all the nations of the world shall count their gory dead!”
The babes are born in Italy—and all the world is red!
The world You gave was wide, O Lord, and wars were far away!
The goal was just as near, O Lord, to-morrow or to-day!
The tree You grew was stout and sound to carve the plank and keel.
(And when the darkness hid the sky Your hand was on the wheel.)
The pine You grew was straight and tall to fashion spar and mast.
Our sails and gear from flax and hemp were stout and firm and fast.
You gave the metal from the mine and taught the carpenter
To fasten plank and rib and beam, and sheath and iron her.
The world You made was wide, O Lord, with signs on sea and sky;
And all the stars were true, O Lord, you gave to steer her by.
More graceful than the albatross upon the morning breeze.
Ah me! she was the fairest thing that ever sailed the seas;
And when the madness of mankind burns out at last in war,
The world may yet behold the day she’ll sail the seas once more.
We were not satisfied, O Lord, we were not satisfied;
We stole Your electricity to fortify our pride!
You gave the horse to draw our loads, You gave the horse to ride;
But we must fly above the Alps and race beneath the tide.
We searched in sacred places for the things we did not need;
Your anger shook our cities down—and yet we took no heed.
We robbed the water and the air to give us “energy,”
As we’d exhaust Thy secret store of electricity.
The day may come—and such a day!—when we shall need all three.
And lest Thou shouldst not understand our various ways and whys,
We cut Thy trees for paper, Lord, where-on to print our lies.
We sent the grand Titanic forth, for pleasure, gold and show;
And all her skeletons of wealth and jewels lie below.
For fame or curiosity, for pride, and greed, or trade,
We sought to know all things and make all things that Thou hast made!
From Pole to Pole we sought to speak, and Heaven’s powers employ—
Our cruisers feverishly seek such language to destroy.
We shaped all things for war, and now the Sister Nations wade
Knee-deep in white man’s blood to wreck all things that we have made!
For in the rottenness of Peace—worse than this bitter strife!—
We murdered the Humanity and Poetry of Life.
The Bells and the Child
The gongs are in the temple—the bells are in the tower;
The “tom-tom” in the jungle and the town clock tells the hour;
And all Thy feathered kind at morn have testified Thy power.
Did ever statesman save a land or science save a soul?—
Did ever Tower of Babel stand or war-drums cease to roll?—
Or wedding-bells to ring, O Lord—or requiems to toll?
Did ever child in cradle laid—born of a healthy race—
Cease for an hour, all unafraid, to testify Thy grace?
That shook its rattle from its bed in its proud father’s face?
Cathedral bells must cease awhile, because of Pride and Sin,
That never failed a wedding-morn that hailed a king and queen,
Or failed to peal for victory that brave men died to win.
(Or failed to ring the Old Year out and ring the New Year in.)
The world You made was wide, O God!—O God, ’tis narrow now—
And all its ways must run with blood, for we knew more than Thou!
And millions perish at the guns or rot beside the plough,
For we knew more than Thou.
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