The Great War

from Poems of the Great War, an electronic edition

The Nations' David

Erect before Hell's hurricane, between the Germans and the sea,

Belgium, still smiling through your pain; still, in the hour of ruin, free;

While yet the cannon's note resounds along each poplar-bordered way,

O, bleeding Belgium, to your wounds what mankind owes what man may say?

Long years, while battle came and went afar at Fate's malign caprice,

Your kindly folk, serene, content, pursued the pleasant ways of peace.

They promised, all the mighty ones: "In that calm land shall not be heard

The thunder of our angry guns" -- Kaiser and King, they pledged their word.

And then, unwarning, arrogant, the cut-throat liar of Berlin

Tore into shreds his covenant: his armèd hosts were swarming in

From Prussian beer-halls, Rhinish hills, from Aurich east to Gumbinnen,

From Rostock down to stolen Silz, sounded the tramp of Krupp-made men.

This was your guardian brother's gift, the choice he gave his little ward:

Betrayal of France (the course of thrift) or (Honor's course) the crimsoned sword.

And you, the Nations' David, chose, while all the world stood trembling by;

You called your sons, and they arose: "Come forth to die! Come forth to die!"

Your weaver stopped his whirring loom; as Cæsar met him, even so now

Your farmer hurried to his doom, and in its furrow left the plough;

And Flanders, Hainault, Brabant came, Antwerp and Limburg -- all the land:

The nameless and the proud of name, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand.

Not for adventure, nor in pride: with naught to gain and all to lose --

Their homes, their wives, their lives beside -- true sons of you, they, too, could choose.

They came, with eyes that looked on death; not driven slaves, but conscious men:

The Brugan burgher scant of breath, the lean-limbed hunter of Ardennes.

Their part it was to hold the gate, the narrow gate, against a foe

Outnumbering scores to one -- to wait till Death alone should bid them go.

And how they held it! Man and child; about Liège where Leman fed

Blood-hungry Prussians blood and piled the meadows with heroic dead;

While village after village fell, cottage and church engulfed in smoke;

While all the land became a Hell and served to turn a Teuton joke;

While Belgian women prayed in vain for German mercy, trusting, fond;

While German "Culture" burned Louvain, and German tenderness Termonde:

You did it, Little Belgium -- you! You stopped the dyke with half your sons;

You did what no one else could do against the Vandals and the Huns!

The eternal future in your debt from now until Man's latest day,

How can the wondering world forget -- and how, remembering, repay?

France, Britain, Russia: they have fought as fits the vast initiate;

You, all unready, but unbought, till they were marshalled, held the gate.

Above all clamour and applause, you stand, whatever else befall,

God's David in Mankind's high cause: Belgium, the bravest of them all!