The Great War

from More Songs By the Fighting Men, an electronic edition

The Bells
[In Germany church bells are being melted down
for war purposes.]

The Bells:

WHAT have we done

That sacrilegious hands should tear us down

From the high belfry above the little town,

Whence now for fifty years to King and clown

We speak of life and death? What have we done?

First Bell:

We rang for the coming of souls to earth.

We rang the joy of children's birth;

We rocked and carolled the young life in,

A holy carol to ward off sin.

Our notes flew over the grey old town

In a helter-skelter, by the wind blown

Higher and higher, and mingled at last

With the songs of souls whose purging is past;

And then together we and they

To the great Maker of Life would pray

That the life might be blessed that w^as born that


Second Bell:

Sadly we tolled the old life out

That was done with laughter and tears and doubt.

Silverly clear, when the moon sailed by

And the tides of life throbbed stormy and high.

We sang of faith and nerve and thew

To meet the devil and wrestle through.

Third Bell:

We rang of peace and we rang good-will

On the Christ-child's day, so ghostly-still;

When, dumbed with snow, the village street

No answer made to passing feet.

Earth stopped her breathing, knowing then

The seed of God sown among men.

We rocked the steeple on Easter day

When Christ the Spirit broke the clay

In glory of yellow daffodils

And holy laughter of dancing rills.

The Bells:

O men who tear us from our place on high

To make us messengers of hate and death,

Thus you uproot the holy lily-flower

And hug a dry and tinkling husk that holds

No spirit essential and no soul of grace.

Thus you tear out the heart from Sharon's rose.

And only thorns remain to make a crown

To lacerate afresh the brow of Christ.

The tower remains, the shell that th' outward eye

May see and reverence as a God's abode.

But O ye happy ones whose inward eye

Not unillumined is, pass by and say:

Here lies the clay inanimate by fire;

Here stands the empty stall that has no choir;

Here die the lives from which the God has fled.

Behold! The Christ steals by with bleeding head.