The Great War

from The Man Who Saw, an electronic edition

Desolation

OUT of the gutters and slums of Hell--

Disgorged from the vast infernal sewer-

Vomited forth from a world where dwell

Childhood, maidenhood, wifehood pure--

She arose and towered on earth and sea,

Clothed in her green putridity.

She arose refreshed from a blissful dream

Of anguished age and ravished youth,

And innocence racked with woe extreme:

She arose to make the dream a truth.

And there where storied rivers ran,

And the roots of cities were deep in time,

And the ages pealed a mellow chime,

And the rapt and kneeling spirit of man

Had lifted far above dust and mire

Adoring turret and suppliant spire,

Her royal progress at last began.

For the daughter of offal, the sister obscene

Of whatever on earth is most unclean,

The spawning mother of nameless things,

Rode forth in a chariot drawn by Kings,

And herself by Kings was hailed a Queen.

She wafted, to east and west and south,

Miasma foul, malaria fell,

The carrion reek of her loathsome mouth,

The breath of the gutters and slums of Hell.

She beckoned the vulture poised in air ;

He had long been stinted of dainties rare ;

He was lean with famine and hoarse with drouth;

She promised him rich and sumptuous fare.

And around her she gathered many a Shape

That now seemed man and anon seemed ape,

And at heart was a dragon loosed from its lair.

The things of beak and talon and maw,

The creatures that know but one red law,

They lagged not afar, they were not slack

To answer her summons and follow her track ;

And with hands of havoc she came to lay

Old Art and Learning in ashes gray;

She came to burn, she came to sack,

She came to devour, deflower, and slay.

She came to stretch all life on the rack,

And hath she a peer or a fellow? Nay!

The jungle's ambushed mouths of prey,

Beside her savagery, what are they?

Ounce and pard and panther lack

The ensanguined lust that reddens her way.

Their fury stops where the breakers play,

But hers neither land nor sea can stay,

And at deaths of lovers 'mid ocean-wrack

Her soul makes merry, her heart is gay.

O to behold her in sick dismay,

By a hurricane Nemesis buffeted back

On a ravaging plague-wind tempest-black,

And the hounds of vengeance, a raging pack,

At the heels of their quarry with jubilant bay ;

Hunting her out of the light of day

And into the pit she graced full well;

Out of the world where children play,

Back to the gutters and slums of Hell!