The Great War

from Songs & Sonnets for England in War Time, an electronic edition

Iconoclastes

Lived in days of old a nation

Stark and sturdy, valiant-hearted,

Rich in honest, kindly manhood,

Rich in tender womanhood;

Rich in deft and cunning craftsmen,

Singers mighty and melodious,

Thinkers of sublimest stature --

Masters of the undaunted mind;

Rich -- yea, richest -- in titanic

Wondrous harmony-compellers,

Weaving descants world-enthralling,

Echoes of the voice of God.

But, alas! and in an evil

Day for them, this glorious people

Went a-wandering after idols,

Went a-worshipping false gods.

One grim Idol in especial,

One colossal Moloch-image,

Moulded of blood-tempered iron,

They erected in their midst.

Dark and sinister its aspect,

Rigid, menacing, inhuman,

From its swooping helmet-eagle

To its trailing sabre-tip.

Shaggy brows o'erhung and shaded

Eyes of cynical clairvoyance

Into all the baser instincts

Of the shivering, thrall-bound soul:

Stone-blind to the far horizons

Of the aspiring human spirit:

Stone-blind to the dawning promise

Of a wiser, happier age.

Rose the bullet-head defiant

From aggressive, padded shoulders;

On the breast a steely corslet

Bastioned a stony heart.

Planted firm on mighty jack-boots

Stood the rugged, rough-hewn image --

Seven-league jack-boots, swift to trample

Homes, and hearts, and plighted faith.

Once this god -- so ran the legend --

Led his chosen folk to triumph --

Triumph, dear-bought, triumph tragic,

Yet resplendent in its day.

Whereupon the people, dazzled

By his blood-red blaze of glory,

Saw in him a Teuton Saviour,

Crucifying, not crucified:

Made of him an ogre-fetish,

A cast-iron Mumbo-Jumbo,

Worshipped in a tortuous ritual

Known as Real-Politik.

Hierarchies of priests before him

Moved through ponderous Kriegs-Manöver,

Headed by the Archimandrite

Of the far-famed Mailëd Fist.

O'er the land his spirit brooded:

Renommieren, Schwadronieren

Were accounted saving graces,

And heel-clicking Schneidigkeit.

Year by year, in huge battalions,

Were the young men of the nation

At his altar consecrated

To a soulless slavery;

While on the o'erburdened ocean

Steel-clad monsters hurtled, thundering,

Through unhallowed demon-dances,

To propitiate his ghost.

Nor on his own people only

Weighed his worship like a nightmare --

All the nations needs must pay him

Tribute of their youth and strength.

Every nation at his altar

Needs must bow in sullen thraldom,

Pouring tithes of all their treasure

Into his insatiate maw.

Vainly did they murmur, craving

Some remission of their tribute;

Still the Archimandrite answered,

"Real-Politik forbids!"

Till at last, in fierce rebellion

Rose his victims, over-driven,

Rose against the Archimandrite

And his schneidig hierarchy,

Saying, "Let us smash the Idol,

Pulverize the Moloch-image,

Exorcize the accursëd vampire --

From its menace free the world:

"Free ourselves, and free the noble,

Richly dowered, gemütlich nation,

Doomed by some malign enchantment

To this dire idolatry:

"Free the workers, thinkers, singers,

To their saner selves restore them,

Save their souls, reclaim their genius

For the service of mankind."

Can we crush the Idol? Never

Doubt it! for a mightier godhead,

Ancient, awful, fights on our side,

And its name is NEMESIS.

Daily News, August 15, 1914