The Great War

from November: Poems in War Time, an electronic edition

The Exile

Heribert Freimuth, hyphenated American, writes:

1. Of Germany

SHE had a place midmost among the nations--

Woman, large-built, for the elemental throes;

Her frame a harp superb for the exultations

Of Life, what time his hands were magical

With starry rhythms to draw from her the chant

Inimitable of her being, all

Mysteriously resonant--

And for his solemn, heavy-fingered woes.

Great-hearted she, and like a mother's

Her voice was then!

There was not one among men

Fibred for Freedom's song

--Her music--but was hers: and she was ours:

More than another's

Her mighty voice doth yet of right belong

To the great-chorded harmony

Of Man that wants it now.

Ours still the song that still

Vibrates with her own voice: but she—-

Bewitched by warlock Powers

That steal away the will--

Is stol'n from us.

Our joy that was in her they have made dumb.

Now in her place a stranger stands:

For face, a mask: her brow

Blind with a wild possession and piteous

In its blank arrogancy: numb

Is she to all old kinship, strange

To the sisterhood of the Lands.

As if caught in a curse,

She suffers all some werwolf change:

Horror is in her hands:

Her womanhood perverse

Preys upon that it once caressed:

The mother-fountains of her breast

Turn to a treacherous, devouring drouth

And suckle madness. Ay, she is

Changed all; but most her mouth,

That wonder-teller, fairy-eloquent

As April's when the influence of the South

Opens her lips with summer promises.

Her spirit on what wildwood breath

Would issue, leading forth for our embrace

From out the ever unspent

Treasure of joys she had in hiding,

Some unimagined grace

Whereof, save from her mouth we had no tiding--

Her mouth that now, wolfishly, barks out death.

O now with what vile rout

Of shameful things that wait upon her

She mocks at those her younger years!

Bewitched, she hath gone out

From the company of her peers

Boasting of her dishonour.

And who, of those that honoured once her name,

Seeing in her still the light she used to be,

Howso obscured, shall lead her back? Her own

Bleed inly with her shame:

Their every nerve aches to her infamy.

Who love her most, they are least prone

To absolve her unrepentant: to the last,

Implacable in their loving, they would strive,

Withstanding her false will, by any means to cast

Out of her body the deceitful Thing

Whereto she hath given her womanhood

To be its substance, glorying

Because it pulses in her blood.

Vibrates and is alive

Throughout her many-chorded frame.

He that most loves her, let him now be hard

Against her pitiful distress,

Lest it disarm his love of power to save her!

I dare not pity her howso by battle marred,

Howso sharp anguish cruelly engrave her

Dear old-time loveliness.

For I was bred of her and know

Her too self-pitying weakness:

How loving Liberty a little, to his foe

She yielded up herself with wicked meekness;

For when her love of him brought her to peril, she

Failed in her little love and grew ashamed she had loved liberty.

2. Of His Youth

ALWAYS I see you, Mother, as a fair

Woman, pleasant in any place to greet,

And smiling with a smile

Childishly innocent.

O it is worse in you than any guile

That, evilly-mated,

You are so debonair,

So well-content.

Spirit so incomplete--

Soul so unconsecrated

By memory or passion, to rebel!

I wonder if Demeter's sunny-eyed

Daughter submitted so

Obsequiously, once she was Pluto's bride--

Smiled so, being Queen in Hell

And mistress of her foe!

Did she--doth she so smile,

Hers is a better right than yours,

Dreadfully mild mother of my exile!

For though, in chambers dark

Beyond imagining, his love she endures,

Its nakedness is not so stark

As your Ægisthean lord's,

To whose tyrannous pleasure, rather

Than bid him do his worst,

Your too complaisant beauty accords

What erst

Was sacred to my father.

Freedom!--'Twas he begat me! He whose high begetting

Sings through my being that I am his son

Sprung of his blood and nation:

Sings with your young voice, Mother,

In the utterly sweet singing

Of that forgotten March when Germany

Was at her love's beginning:

Music that still, in each and every one

Of all my nerves is mine beyond forgetting,

My spirit's exultation

That he,

He was my sire, none other!

I was young when he perished. I remember

Those far days, and how then you delighted

In his babe. It is my November

Now, and your joy in me long ago blighted.

But in me it is ever quick-water,

The bubbling-up, throbbing

Of that long-ago joy,

That cradle-singing that before I was a boy

Was mine!

O, still a spring divine

Amid this world of slaughter,

It is the heedless gay

Trill of some bold November robin

Whose small roundelay

Breaks down my grief and sets him sobbing.

Though I shall always carry about the mark

Of that grim boyhood in a world all dark

To me--Orestes-like, sun-worshipper am I.

But chiefly Thee I praise, O pitiless Apollo,

That, unlike young Orestes, me thou maddest not

With the Avenger's Cry

Against a queen so miserably royal:

That me, O pitiless One, thou badest not

Wipe out in blood my mother's shame

Striking at her with dreadful hands.

But, westering, bad'st me follow

Thee hither oversea,

To this, that of all lands

Was worthy of my father's name:

America, ample, republican and loyal

To Freedom her first love, and arbiter to be

Of Justice: pitiless, clear-eyed

As Thou, shadow-denier:

Thou, chain-of-slumber breaker:

Thou, mocker at the tyrant and his bride:

Resolute world-awaker,

Multiplier

Of rebels against vain authority!

This is thy land, Apollo, and at last like thee

The world's peace-maker.

Wonderful as to a fugitive slave

When he creeps trembling out of the hunted wood

Into the welcoming security

Of a friendly hearth, her welcome was to me.

Slowly to it my numb being unfroze;

Till when I understood

That she too, this America, had foes,

How eagerly all that I was

All the Apollo-worship of my spirit, clave

To her good cause!

Cut sharply from its trunk, my twig

Flourished upon the free

Flowing, exuberant sap of that young tree

Of Liberty, whereon I was engrafted:

I made bold to declare

The secret manhood in me to that sun,

Responded to the greetings wafted

Me on that virginal air:

Freedom pulsed through me, faith in me grew big,

Ousted my fear and took me all for its dominion.

With me there was transplanted

Into this generous soil, this orchard of my choice,

So much of the old Germany

As it was granted

To a young lad to bear away with him.

Answering to the deeds of Liberty

There would thrill in the fibres of my being

Many an old clear voice

Of sunny Rhineland or of grim

Forest: my new world was forever freeing

Of its dumb shame some unremembered part of me.

And when in battle for her, I became

One body with America, and shed

Wholly mine orphanage of shame,

No more was I an exile hope-defeated,

Mine was this country of the exile's hope:

Even my father was no longer dead,

No longer was he of achievement cheated:

His spirit with mine exulted and found scope

For all its courage in the storm

That burst upon America: I knew him

Then ever beside me, and before

Ever that Siegfried-murdering Attila,

Ever that sinister Ægisthean form

That pursues Freedom if he may

Seduce his bride from him once more:

And here in this New World, wrestling with him, we threw him.

3. To the Allies

O NOT because ye are guiltless, but because

In your own selves ye chiefly hate

The lingering old fierce lust to dominate:

With Mammonry and Might

To override the faithful laws

Of Freedom, that uphold

With a divine equality, each people in his right:--

Because the Day is not yet old

That broke for you upon the haunted Night

When lying Ashteroth

Had you seduced, in the occult half eclipse

Of her slim moon, to forego the bread of truth

And suck the baleful honey of her lips

That promise treacherously:--

The day is not yet old and still your flesh

Is tainted in you with the envenomed sweet

Of the seductress, as itself had been a meat

Offered to the Idol:--

O because afresh

Ye nations are returned to freedom only now.

She doth your hands endow

With virtue against this passion suicidal

Wherein my poor illustrious Germany

Gives herself still to Manhood's Counterfeit.

(Not as Psyche, deceived

Far otherwise, to her undoing,

Suspected of infamy her glorious Lover

And put the god to flight,

This hath fondly believed

The subtle serpent's wooing,

She hath not lifted up the glittering cover

Nor guessed her shameful plight.)

Tyrannous lies on her still

The haunted night

Wound all about a will

That cannot but obey:

Till ye shall shock her wide-eyed to the day

Of True Power, and the glory that it is

Already in the awakened air:

Cheat Hell,

Shatter the dream she dreams and shiver

The abominable spell

As kindliness could never!

Then shall she see how graciously beyond

The hard horizon edge

Apollo lifteth up his shining wand:

Then shall she hear the stellar mysteries.

Mute to her all night long,

Make answer in your voices and respond

At the sign of a new day:

Then shall she know the august

High privilege

Of Very Power

That is divinely strong,

For like the sun in his uprising,

He cannot help but must

Evoke with magic ray

The myriadicity of joy, surprising

Out of each indistinguishable clod of clay

A different flower:

She too, awake, shall say

"I can no more contend against this power."

Ye shall shock her wide-eyed,

Because, awakened from your own so-heavy dreams of pride,

Already in yourselves

Ye begin to know the quick thrill

That is like the little feet of elves

Merry in a hill:

Already the numb, the cold

Separate molecules of your earth

Have begun stirring toward the summer, and grown bold

With February mirth

To conspire together and loose the hold

Of separation: ye commence

Telling, among the astonished rocks and roots

With eager, brave inconsequence.

Of the April shoots

That are to issue thence.

Among you is beginning

Another year, another age!

And she,--

Her false fond dream irrevocably fled,

The Furies she invited having spent their rage

And sunk exhausted on their leagues of dead--

She shall awake, but first to see

In the blank dawning of disaster,

Her cannon grinning

Upon her, with delight insane

Of that first crime, preluding vaster,

Wherein, betraying a little people's trust

By the mere sacrilege of Power,

She trod its valour for an hour

Into the nameless dust,

And branded in her brain

For all eternity

BELGIUM--challenge forever

To whoso would endeavour

Henceforward to seduce

Her spirit: there, blazing behind her eyes,

With inarticulable agonies

Fiery to wither and annihilate

Any least creeping shadow of thought

Ere it can whisper an excuse

That might abate

The horror of her soul

For this, unspeakable, that she hath wrought.

O, presently across this trampled slough

Of bloody hours,

Will lie the reconciling light,

And grass and gracious meadow flowers

Will cover it from sight:

To her too, will return the blessed days

Of vision: Life's amaze

Will kindle in that brow,

And deep within that tortured brain

There will well-up anew the healing spring

Of music, for whose mighty murmuring

The heart o' the earth is fain.

Presently!--O but first,

(There is no cure else for this obscene possession)

Down must she go under defeat

And fling her boasting down.

Either herself must perish

With her deceit,

Or she shall cease to cherish

This shadowy Thing accurst

This Hell-begotten Hope,

That she crowned with the high crown

Of her pride.

On no side

Evasion: no new scope

Left it: but blank surrender and abject confession. . .

Then with the end of strife

Comes knowledge of her need--

To repent: to take the oath

To Liberty: to plead

--If such a thing might be--

That, after final rout,

With all the battle won.

Truth should lay by now sword for surgeon's knife:

Discover in his hiding, and pluck out

Of his hold in the quick of the brain

That greedy, that malignant growth

Which like a heaven-obscuring tree

Shadowed her days, and shut her from the Sun

That shining upon all the lands shone upon hers in vain.