Home  »  library  »  Song  »  Jefferson Butler Fletcher (1865–1946)

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Jefferson Butler Fletcher (1865–1946)

Poems of the Great War: “Who Only Stand and Wait”

  • (Verses read at the Annual Dinner of the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa, December 4th, 1916.)

  • OH, goodly antique days of purer breed

    Unmongrelized by helot hordes that wealth

    Lured overseas to serve its hard blind need,

    Days when disloyalty was not by stealth

    Bred into boys and girls by cracked old maids

    And smooth-tongued traitors, days of the soul’s health

    Unsicklied by excesses and parades

    Of shoddy, days when yet unfleshed in loot

    The United States were not the United Trades,

    United—for profit and in ill repute!

    They gave a square deal then, and got one, too:

    Who Uncle Sam affronted felt his boot.

    He listens now to an unpeaceful crew

    That feigns demurest peace, and cries for peace.

    (But cuckoos just as doves can cry coo-coo,

    And most thieves would cry quits with the police.)

    So Uncle Sam the second rôle has learned

    In this amusing game of “Fox and Geese.”

    Indeed, he will not mind if he is spurned,

    For righteous anger, self-restrained from act,

    Turns callousness, and suffers unconcerned

    That for which honor were instant to exact

    Stern reparation. The Great Refusal made,

    Unto the measure must our souls contract

    Of that curst neutral folk which Dante flayed.

    Dante, thou shouldst be living in this hour,

    This land hath need of thee. She is a maid

    Of age uncertain. In her ivory tower

    She sitteth cutting coupons, having fits

    For fear some knight should see her, and deflower.

    Oh, thou mightst teach her to take off her mitts

    And grasp, a queen, the sword at honor’s call.

    (The gesture might impress, I fancy, unser Fritz.)

    Forgive me, who must utter after all

    Thoughts that do lie too deep for jests. Indeed,

    “I am not Æneas, neither am I Paul.”

    Who brought men tidings back from hell. No need,

    Alas, no need! One walketh now about

    Dissembling, in the name of prudence, greed,

    And preaching in Christ’s name the craven doubt

    Which turns men’s blood to water, and their eyes,

    That else had seen the lighted path, puts out.

    Ask you his name? The Spirit which Denies

    God: for the helping of mankind by man

    Is God. And when we stand at His Assize,

    How shall we answer, we who led the van

    Of Freedom—till the battle joined, and then

    Skulked to the rear? The name American,

    An inspiration once, is for brave men

    Become a byword. When an innocent folk

    Was herded late, like cattle to a pen,

    To its slave-task, we paltered, but Spain spoke,

    Spain, to whom we assigned the truckler’s rôle,

    Unthrifty Spain, wrapped in her beggar’s cloak,

    Hidalgo Spain, magnanimous of soul.

    Peractum est: we are that which we are;

    We’ve mixed our liquor, and must drain the bowl;

    Unless—again some leader, like the Star,

    Light us the way to Bethlehem and Christ,—

    Not the pale wraith that sick souls, cloistered far

    From mortals, made in their own image Christ,

    But the stern spirit that shamed the Pharisee,

    Drove out the money-changers, even that Christ

    Who, braving Cæsar, suffered to set free

    The enslaved of earth, who sent, he said, the sword.

    If, consecrate to the high ministry,

    There spoke a prophet worthy of that Lord,

    We yet might hear and follow, yea, forsake

    Idols of silver and gold with which we whored.

    Friends, we who hope, can we the while not make

    The way a little clearer he must go,

    Some minim of his task not undertake?

    Whether towards victory or overthrow,

    Whether in shame or glory lies our fate,

    I know not. But this much I surely know:

    They do not serve who only stand and wait.