The Great War

from November: Poems in War Time, an electronic edition

Siegesallee Fantasia

The Avenue of Hohenzollerns near Berlin. Enter, in full fig, his scabbard dragging at his heels, the KAISER, talking to himself:

I'LD like to pack these ancestors of mine

To Königsberg or somewhere over-Rhine

Where they could not keep watch upon me! How,

With them about me, can I face the now

Obvious fact I need not specify?

Old William with his grandpaternal look

Seems always to be calling me to book:--

Bismarck made fun of him: why cannot I?

And these huge Fredericks in a double row,

Electors, kings and what-nots: I could go

Crazy, seeing them stand, week after week

Glaring at me ! I've got a mind to tweak

That Frederick-William's beard, and make him speak,

Pompous old marble idiot! If they'ld only

Say what they mean, I shouldn't feel so lonely

Among them.--But nobody ever said

That to me.--Well, he would have lost his head

For his fool's trouble!--But suppose, suppose

Someone had spoken truth to me! Who knows--?

I might have listened. One in whose aspect

My Prussian-eagle eye could not detect

Any self-interest or any fear.

For once I should have relished not to hear

My All-highness spoken of. If, let us say

Some Roosévelt, fresh from America

Had flouted all my favourites, confronted

Flattery with stark fact: relentless, hunted

Down the deception that we practise, under

My very eyes; with lightning to my thunder

Had answered like a good Republican:

Had made me wrestle with him, man to man,

Bound only by the hard rules of the Ring--

And he the better man because no king.

Would I have taken a drubbing from him? Well

That is a thing I'll argue out in Hell

When we make nights of it around the blaze

To keep away the memory of these days.

I've had twenty-eight years of Kaisering

And, good God, it's enough! But how to fling

The bauble from me with these looking on!

My spirit might be an automaton

For all they care, and not like Alexander's

Hungry for worlds to conquer, that I can't,

Since first I made a mess of it in Flanders.

The thing is plain. Since other worlds I want

I'll have to look for them where I can find them.

The screens of death are solid. But behind them

here must be what I am in search of--

Change,

And room for my ambition's farthest range!.

(He glances impatiently at his wrist watch)

Now Where's Our Old Ally? The fellow's late,

Confound him! But here comes old honest pate.

Enter old Michael, a gardener with harrow and besom. He is dressed in a tasseled cap, leather jacket, and knee-breeches. Seeing the Kaiser, he salutes with military gesture.

Kaiser (benevolent to an ancient retainer).

Good morning to you, Michael.

Michael (shaking his head).

It's a sad

Dark morning. Master, as we ever had.

Beg pardon. It is better where you be

Up yonder, but it's bad for such as we.

Kai.

I am surprised, old friend, to hear you grumble.

Whatever grief may fall upon the humble

Remember heavier falls on Us: We bear

The burden of the Empire. None may share

What We must carry.

Mich.

Hearken now, All-Highest!

When you go reckoning up the chaps you've got

I'm "old man Michael," ain't I? Toughest, dryest,

Stubbornest, old curmudgeon of the lot?

Kai.

What's in your head this morning, out with it.

Mich.

I've been a soldier and I've done my bit:

Sergeant I was under the old king here;

And "our Fritz," him, your father. It's a queer

Thing that I'm telling you, but it's a true:

Soldiering's done with.

Kai.

Long ago, for you! . .

Mich.

It isn't that way you can save the folk:

And it needs saving, for our hearts are broke,

So that we can't so much as go to church.

So, Master, if you leave us in the lurch,

As you might say, we're perished.

Kai.

When did we

Hohenzollerns, desert our peasantry

Of the Mark? Since five full centuries ago

Led by the voice that we have come to know

For God's own Word within us, Frederick first

Left his rich lands to redeem one accurst,

Converting its mere sand into a rock

Of bronze against which all the nations shock

Their enviousness in vain. This miracle

To God's praise we have wrought: unto His Will

We've shaped the stubborn metal of this folk,

Till in our hands it is a living sword:

And now the Mark toils in the easy yoke

Of a divinely led and loving Lord.

Mich.

That's just where you mistake, Master. This people

Is a lost people. Each young man's a cripple

That's not a corpse. But there's worse still than that,

For each new child they get's a devil's brat

Marked for damnation. People of the Mark,

Ay, of the Devil's Mark--that's us!--And hark,

Master, there's nary good that we can do

Ourselves, there's only one can save us . . .you.

Not by the sword, but yet the sword's a sign

Grasped by the blade, as often I've held mine

And seen it was a Cross, and wondered when

There would be found some Holy One again

To hang there and redeem us with his passion.

Kai. (severely).

Old man, you should not rant in heathen fashion

Of what you do not understand. The price

Of our salvation is not asked for twice.

God paid it once for all. Each German man,

Woman and child He bought out of the ban

That lies upon the world because of sin.

Are you a Brandenburger and begin

Speaking to us of a lost people? We

Hold the salvation of our Germany

Secure within our care: to doubt of it

Is the sure symptom of a crazy wit.

Mich.

Ay, Master, you're our pledge, and God be praised

For that! But my old wife at home she's crazed;

Sits in the chimney-corner all a-dodder

Muttering "Give me again my cannon-fodder"

(Her twenty grandsons that she doted on)

And sits and curses God. To look upon

You'd say she was a saint. I gets me gone

Out of my little mad-house, every day

Comes here and works among my kings. It's they

As comfort me. Wonderful thoughts do keep

A-running through my noddle while I sweep

The leaves up that are always falling down:

Strange high thoughts that belong under a crown

And not a zipfelhaube! Mark my word,

Master. The whisperings I have overheard

Were meant for you, but as you were not near

They said "This is a good old harmless fool

As never saw the insides of a school,

If we can only make old Michael hear

He'll take our message to the Emperor."

Kai.

We cannot listen to you any more.

Go now, get to your sweeping-------

Mich. (sweeping)

What they said

Day in, day out, rings in old Michael's head:

"Tell him: the soldier's day is done,

Another better day's begun

With a new glory in it!"

Kai.

Go further from us there!--But, stay a minute,

What's this about new glory?

Mich. (as before)

And they said--

Day in, day out, it runs in Michael's head--

"Tell him: there shines a glory on

The cross that is not on the crown,

Would he reach up and win it,

Tell him: the world would now repent

And live again the life it's meant

To live, would he begin it."

[Our Old Ally, who has been sitting perdu behind the statue of the Emperor William, here makes himself seen and catches the KAISER'S eye, who promptly dismisses Michael.]

Our Old Ally (looking curiously like Dr.Dryander, advances from amid the dead Hohenzollerns)

Our scourge! Our Attila!--

Kai. (saluting).

Our Old Ally!

O.O.A.

Whenever you're in trouble We are by.

Kai.

We sought You on this Path of Victory

In the august company that is fitting . . .

O.O.A. (with an inclusive gesture).

For Us.

Kai.

Amid our sovereign Family

We sought you.

O.O.A.

We were waiting for you, sitting

Beside your grandfather the Emperor

And our first William, our good simple friend.

We both have many things to thank him for.

Kai. (impatiently)

Yes, yes! but We have little time to spend

And weightiest matters . . .

O.O.A.

Upon us depend

Whenever care weighs heavy on your shoulders.

Kai.

Spare us your rhetoric!--

O.O.A. (admiringly).

You're more imperious

Each time we meet. What an impatience smoulders

Within those royal orbits: something serious

Must have befallen. Have We somewhere hurt

Your delicate majesty with zeal mistaken?

To each his manners! We too, can be curt.--

The pledge we made each other stands unshaken:

Still We supply the Power that still you want.

Kai.

This power of yours that was so loud a vaunt

We have tried and found it insufficient for

The task we have begun.

O.O.A.

You can have more,

There still is plenty: it calls out for using.

Kai.

You are pleased to jest!

O.O.A.

You too, become amusing!

Kai.

What good to Us is power of the wrong kind?

O.O.A.

Ah, yes, we know the tool's always the wrong one

Of a Monday morning!--Presently you'll find

It's still the German Sword, the trusty, strong one,

That rattles so divinely!

Kai.

Even Our Sword

Has failed to make this hand of ours adored.

O.O.A.

It seems our power is the wrong kind of power

Because it is unkind! So you've turned Giaour

From the True Faith!

Kai.

You mock me in your beard!

O.O.A.

Indeed, no!--

Kai. (expanding).

I am sick of being feared,

I am tired of all this avenue of kings:

Weary of pulling all the silly strings

Of this great puppet-show! O I am done

With navies and with places in the sun.

I have had all too much of power, too much

Of Germany. I swear I loathe the touch

Even of my sword, and to tell truth, I'ld die

Rather than go on being your Ally

Another day. I have had Michael here--

Not the Archangel, my plain German

Michael,--

We've talked together, and it's all come clear.

I have been living in another cycle

Of the world--think of it!--and an off-cast one!

When here's a new, beginning:--O a vast one

Beyond those tales you entertained me with.

Already I see my old self as a myth

Of the forgotten days of Grail and Joust!

Farewell! I go to greet the new!

O.O.A. (aside)

Faust! Faust!

Kai. (returning)

But I forgot: there are things to be arranged!

In this to-morrow's world Our part is changed.

We shall put by the sword and give release

To our armed host, and become Prince of Peace.

We feel the War-lord grows anachronistic.

At bottom We have always been a mystic.

We foreknew when We stood on Olivet

And wept over Jerusalem, that yet

We too, should suffer: We too, should redeem

The erring nations from the fond false dream

Wherein they dwell: in Us, also, the power

Of Gospel-love should find its passion-flower:

We should be lifted up and all would see

Our body broken for Humanity.

For this We claim your help. To you, We feel

How mightily our purpose must appeal.

O.O.A. (hesitating)

A new part for a Hohenzollern, eh!

I wonder what the Family will say.

And what henceforth you'll do with your right hand

When no hilt's handy to it?--But command!

We will fulfil your orders as of old.

Kai.

The change is good to us because it's bold.

Half-measures do not catch the public eye.

Once it is understood that We shall die

A willing sacrifice for all men's good . . .

Do you not see, when it is understood

We shall have superadded to the story

Of our tremendous House another glory

Such as will swallow up the rest and hold

The imagination of the world for ever.

O.O.A.

We will so match your deed with our endeavour

No one shall tell the gilding from the gold.

Kai.

No word of yours to-day but is discordant

With our high mood! Your wit that once was mordant

Is now a clown's. Can no occasion oust

This ribald habit?

O.O.A.

My good worthy Faust!

To-day you really seem to have grown blind,

Hypnotised not to see what lies behind

This cardboard Siegesallee puppet-show

Wherein you play the Kaiser!--But you know

Me very well--the spirit that affirms

The proper half of truth, which is far better

Than like a pedant, to spell every letter

Where some of them, being unfamiliar terms,

Inevitably raise misunderstanding!

The whole of truth is like a flight of stairs

That's far too slow to climb: at unawares

I leap the people up, landing by landing!

My better part of truth is like a lift,

It gets them to the top without the trouble:

Half though it be, it is worth more than double

To any ruler, taken as a gift.

Kai. (doubtfully)

A gift?

O.O.A.

Oh, as for that, I have my wages,

Though on my tongue the old-fashioned word sound odd.

A Hohenzollern now for several ages

I've valeted as his familiar god.

(What other house can boast a deity

As practical as yours, Vulcan or Venus

Or Mars?) It's simply understood between us,

The royal Us signifies you and me.

Between us only, but for all the rest

My part, as you may say, is a dead letter.

Acknowledged, but as good as unexpressed.

For here, as always, the half-truth's the better.

Kai.

Come now, to work! Your words are all too plenty.

O.O.A.

With pleasure: shall I call up four and twenty

Brand-new, fully munitioned, army corps,

And let old Hindenburg wind up the war?

Kai.

No, that is not the way the war shall cease.

We've had enough of playing Goth and Vandal:

Now We'll be recognised as Prince of Peace.

O.O.A.

You really think the game is worth the candle?

Your mind is set on it?

Kai.

Our mind is set

On this new title that We have not yet.

O.O.A.

We've but to whistle Peace and she'll arrive

In her tremendous car. A Juggernaut

Over obsequious nations you shall drive,

Vishnu's avatar!

Kai.

You mistake our thought.

We will be lifted up that We may draw

The eyes of all men to Ourself with awe

Of this that never Hohenzollern did

Before Us.

O.O.A.

Your great deed shall not be hid!

We'll have it filmed for the ages yet to be

When all the universe is Germany.

But now before we call her--in my ear,

Whisper--what is it you have grown to fear

More than the last of terrors, for I think

You know the kind of cup you'll have to drink--

Unless of course the whole thing is a bluff.

Kai.

We Germans fear God only..

O.O.A.

O enough

Of that! We Germans understand each other!

We're not a Bonn festkommers, but a brother

Orator. Come now. What is this you dread

So much you'd rather be a ghost instead

And lodge with me for ever?

Kai.

As for you

We have no terror of what you can do.

O.O.A.

Not if I turned old Michael's heart away.

Kai. (startled, but recovering himself)

You daren't do that, for then he'd cease to pay,

Honour as well to you. You can afford

As ill as I not to be Michael's lord.

O.O.A.

There's no denying what you hint is true,

Though I have other subjects--more than you.

However, I'll concede It. It was partly

Because it's mine I guessed your dread so smartly.

What you dread is to lose the simple thing

Without which nobody could be a king.

And what I dread--a little less, maybe--

Is to cease being feared in Germany.

An uncrowned king and an ungodded devil

Sink at a single stroke below the level

Of consciousness: and that we cannot. No,

We must hold on together even though

The price be the uncomfortable Cross

(For you!)--It will secure us both from loss.

You're positive of that? (Kai. nods.) Well, let us trust

The actuaries are right.

Kai.

It will. It must.

There is no other way for Us at all.

O.O.A. (considering)

A Hohenzollern couldn't learn to crawl

As a poor devil might?

Kai.

Certainly not.

We'll set it here upon this very spot.

O.O.A.

Then, hang it all!--the crosses must be got.

Kai.

Crosses? There is but one: and that shall stand

Heaven high.

O.O.A.

But you will have on either hand . . .

Kai.

Nor Pope nor Sultan shall with Us divide

This signal glory.

O.O.A.

No, but malefactors. . . .

Kai.

Sirrah! upon this stage there are no actors

But the All-highest.

O.O.A.

We'll not be denied!

(He produces a scroll with the inscription:

"It was to save Our people that We died!"