James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 27

Unter den Linden

By Harry Thurston Peck (1856–1914)

(Emperor William II. of Germany, born Jan. 27, 1859)

THE RAYS of waning sunlight steal

Along the overhanging eaves;

The awnings droop and scarcely feel

The wind that stirs the linden leaves;

And here the curious strangers try

To wile away an idle hour,

And watch the crowd that surges by

All day before the Cafe Bauer.

Not all unmoved can one abide

And with a careless heart survey

This city of imperial pride,

Where men make history to-day;

Here is no idle pleasure-mart

To witch the fancy of an hour;

Here throbs a nation’s living heart,

Here beats the pulse of conscious power.

On every side, displayed afar,

Flung out with martial blazonry,

Are symbols of successful war,

While he who looks can ever see

Behind the veil that Peace has spread,

The banners of a mighty camp,

Can hear above the hum of trade

The gathering armies’ ceaseless tramp.

And suddenly with naught to show

What stilled the tongue and checked the feet,

As when a wind has ceased to blow,

A hush comes o’er the busy street,

A bugle sounds; and in reply

Rolls forth a distant storm of drums;

Then down the Linden runs the cry:

“The Kaiser comes! The Kaiser comes!”

Cold eyes, set lips, a restless glance

That wanders in uneasy quest,

With looks that like a living lance

Blaze from beneath the helmet-crest;

Upon that face as on a page

Has nature stamped with cruel truth

The heartlessness of cynic age,

The reckless insolence of youth.

What morbid motive half defined,

What oestrus-thought that stings and stays,

Goads on his restless, brooding mind—

This sceptred Sphinx of modern days?

It is ambition’s poisoned wine—

The throb, perchance, of ceaseless pain—

The spark of genius half divine—

The burning of a madman’s brain?

And this is he whose sword and pen

All Europe eyes with bated breath,

Whose word can arm a million men,

Whose nod can hurl them on to death:

A nation’s life, a nation’s ease,

The honour of a nation’s name,

The awful fates of war and peace,

All centred in a single frame.

O type of all the dreadful past

When birth made brutes the lords of brain!

When Hope stood naked to the blast,

And cowering Freedom clanked her chain!

Thou art the last of all the line

Of them that set with lordly beck

The ruthless heel of right divine

Forever on a nation’s neck!

Yet thus, perchance, must victors pay

The price that War has sternly set;

The while, ere Peace returns to stay,

There looms a conflict mightier yet

Than that which burst in years before

When German unity awoke

Saluted by the cannon’s roar

Amid the mists of battle-smoke.

To scourge the land with sword and flame

The northern Cossack grimly waits;

The Dane remembers Duppel’s shame,

The Austrian broods o’er Koniggratz;

While on the hills of fair Lorraine

That front the slopes of Vendenheim—

A tiger with a slender chain—

The Gallic foeman bides his time.

Stout-hearted sons of Fatherland!

Who kneel to God but face the foe,

And side by side together stand

To sing the song of long ago

That, rising from a myriad throats,

A nation’s battle-hymn divine,

Thrills on the ear like bugle notes:

“Fest steht und treu die Wacht am Rhein!”

Such thoughts the musing fancy weaves

Throughout the drowsy summer day,

While glints the sunlight on the eaves

Along the Linden’s stately way

Where still the curious strangers try

To wile away an idle hour,

And watch the crowd that surges by

All day before the Cafe Bauer.