The Great War

from Lest We Forget, an electronic edition

Reason and Honour.

Was not the bounty of the grape and corn,

Burned into ripeness by a summer sped,

Harvest enough without all they have borne

In their own aching flesh and from their bosoms fed?

Shall they, the mothers of the time to be,

Create for nothing but a league-long grave,

That swallows up their immortality

And hideous yawns across a kingdom while they rave?

'Tis they who forge the bolt, when nations chafe

And howl their battle cries of right and wrong;

'Tis they who lead the mighty armies safe

To manhood's threshold, brave and beautiful and strong.

For death's the only answer that we make

When hungry kingdoms rise and fall on strife;

Still one insensate spirit's greed can break

The wide world's peace, and drain her holy founts of life.

And still the grandest death that man may die

Is held the death of war, at some great need

Beyond all human reason's power to try,

Since honour often spurns her sister, reason's rede.

For reason's dumb while honour's thirsty blade

Still flashes to the universe how man

Remains so blind, so faltering, so afraid

That carnage yet controls his highest hope and plan.

But reason, guarding well her golden light,

Denies he shall for ever sate his dearth

Like wolf or tiger; wills such futile might

Anon be banned and thrust from off the good round earth.

She dawns upon the darkness of our eyes;

Reveals that war can only hurl us back

On hostile values; whispers to the wise

How virtue in the fed is vice to them that lack.

Virtue and vice are names, not qualities,

And when the baffled cry that might is right,

No smug opinion from the unconscious skies

For doubtful virtue's sake shall hold them to their plight.

All nations live by ideals; but in need

They linger with no ethic obsolete;

They bend the knee to no unfriendly creed;

But tramp their values firm beneath an army's feet.

Remains to man this everlasting truth

That for his sure defence and steadfast guide,

Reason and honour, by the way of ruth,

Shall yet march, hand in hand, and onward, side by side.

Again the world is meeting might with might,

And when the battle's fought and lost and won,

Pray victory decree, as primal right,

That reason also wins a kingdom in the sun.

Then shall she swiftly, for our world-wide shame,

Bend to the Mother from her starry place,

And, in humanity's almighty name,

For ever dry the tears upon that sacred face.