The Great War

from Lest We Forget, an electronic edition

The People's Gift.

In days of old a tale was told of a people noted for thrift,

Who on an occasion of jubilation would give their King a gift:

Said they, "For his share let each prepare to contribute a flask of wine

Which he will pour in a common store -- a barrel of vast design."

Great staves they cut for a mighty butt, and fashioned it high and wide,

And laid it along on gantrees strong, and set a ladder beside:

Then, one by one, they came to the tun; each, poised on the topmost rung

By the flank of the cask, uncorked his flask, and turned it over the bung.

When the day approached for the cask to be broached, the people, small and great,

Made a roaring crowd, gay, loyal and proud, as the King drove by in state;

They cheered and clapped as the Chamberlain tapped... but guilt fell on all, and fear;

When the King would have quaffed his earliest draught -- 'twas water thin and clear!

Each man of thrift had planned his gift, and said to his niggard's heart,

Is there any to know what I bestow, if my neighbours play their part?

Is there any to guess my -- thriftiness, when I bear my flask to the tun?

If ninety and nine be full of wine, what matters water in one?"

Take the lesson, then, young Englishmen, when the war cloud lowers black

Let no man shift his burden of gift on to the next man's back,

Answer to-day what part you will play, when your country gives the sign --

What gift you will bring to your country and King -- is your blood water or wine?