The Great War

from A Treasury of War Poetry, an electronic edition

The Passengers of a Retarded Submersible

November, 1916

The American People:

What was it kept you so long, brave German submersible?

We have been very anxious lest matters had not gone well

With you and the precious cargo of your country's drugs and dyes.

But here you are at last, and the sight is good for our eyes,

Glad to welcome you up and out of the caves of the sea.

And ready for sale or barter, whatever your will may be.

The Captain of the Submersible

Oh, do not be impatient, good friends of this neutral land,

That we have been so tardy in reaching your eager strand.

We were stopped by a curious chance just off the Irish coast,

Where the mightiest wreck ever was lay crowded with a host

Of the dead that went down with her; and some prayed us to bring them here

That they might be at home with their brothers and sisters dear.

We Germans have tender hearts, and it grieved us sore to say

We were not a passenger ship, and to most we must answer nay,

But if from among their hundreds they could somehow a half-score choose

We thought we could manage to bring them, and we would not refuse.

They chose, and the women and children that are greeting you here are those

Ghosts of the women and children that the rest of the hundred chose.

The American People:

What guff are you giving us, Captain! We are able to tell, we hope,

A dozen ghosts, when we see them, apart from a periscope.

Come, come, get down to business! For time is money, you know,

And you must make up in both to us for having been so slow.

Better tell this story of yours to the submarines, for we

Know there was no such wreck, and none of your spookery.

The Ghosts of the Lusitania Women and Children

O, kind kin of our murderers, take us back when you sail away;

Our own kin have forgotten us. O Captain, do not stay!

But hasten, Captain, hasten! The wreck that lies under the sea

Shall be ever the home for us this land can never be.