The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

Ultimate Hell

Satan? I am.

The Other One? "The Great I am"?

Who knows? Millenniums ago

Some rumor ran that He existed yet!

I half believed it true, as loath to think

That He'd outwitted me, or suffered harm

To rob me of a thrill. Eternity

Is deadly now, I own.

His name, you say, was God.

As I recall, it was. Priests mumbled it,

And cutthroats bawled it for an oath,

Then, all at once, the priests began to think,

And ceased to pray.

'Twas quite the oddest thing that I have known,

And my dear Foe became thenceforth a myth,

Or faded, like the morning cloud, with man's

Immortal hope (poor Tyndall's, eke, whose word

I'll not forget) into the azure past.

What of my kingdom now?

I have no kingdom now. Long time ago

I tired of kings, as God in His day tired.

They were too boist'rous in their wickedness,

Too bloody and uncouth. They weren't well bred.

I heard the last of them

Reigned somewhere on the Baltic Sea,

A sodden Hohenzollern prince,

Descended from that self-drunk one

Who made a War -- the only war

That lately I had cared about.

It promised well, but soon went wrong.

Ten million men, yea, twice ten million men,

Swarmed forth to fight for what they called ideals:

From Belgium's mills and mines, from England's marts,

From fairest France and sun-warm Italy,

From Serbia and the Russian steppe, to fight

For Right! Oh God! (old habits rise in me)

For Liberty! They left their little ones,

Their wives, their gold! They flung away their lives

As storms throw pearls of rain. They wearied me!

They were too much like Christ, the crazy one

Who died forgiving all, and took a thief

With him to Paradise.

And so there is no Hel1? I'll not say that.

The name is out of date, but things sometimes

Survive their names, as names so oft live on

When things and men are dead. There is a land

That once was dedicate to Liberty:

A land that cast off kings and set slaves free.

But when it gathered wealth, and fame, and power,

And could have struck the blow that might have saved

Throughout the world the things for which men died,

The things for which long rows of graves were made,

It would not strike.

It let its own go gurgling down to death,

And did not smite.

Self-made, self-damned, self-governing,

It hammers now, and smelts;

And ever, as it pounds, it sings,

This Tubal Cain -- of Peace!

And golden dollars jingle in the song,

Beneath a sulphuring sky it dwells -- at peace --

In riveless unity of self-content.

I'm growing old? I do not relish quite

The modern way, a Democratic Hell?

I'm growing old? I wonder if I sometimes wish

That God would come again!

New York, December 5, 1915.