by Edgar A. Guest
Where patriots were eating and drinking their fill,
The tap of his crutch on the marble of white
Caught my ear as I sat all alone there that night.
I turned—and a soldier my eyes fell upon,
He fought for his country, and one leg was gone!
As he entered a silence fell over the place;
Every eye in the room was turned up to his face.
His head was up high and his eyes seemed aflame
With a wonderful light, and he laughed as he came.
He was young—not yet thirty—yet never he made
One sign of regret for the price he had paid.
One moment before this young soldier came in
I had caught bits of speech in the clatter and din
From the fine men about me in life's dress parade
Who were boasting the cash sacrifices they'd made;
And I'd thought of my own paltry service with pride,
When I turned and that hero of battle I spied.
I shall never forget the hot flushes of shame
That rushed to my cheeks as the young fellow came.
He was cheerful and smiling and clear-eyed and fine
And out of his face golden light seemed to shine.
And I thought as he passed me on crutches: "How small
Are the gifts that I make if I don't give my all."
Some day in the future in many a place
More soldiers just like him we'll all have to face.
We must sit with them, talk with them, laugh with them, too,
With the signs of their service forever in view
And this was my thought as I looked at him then—
Oh, God! make me worthy to stand with such men.
And should we have to travel there through some strange circumstance,
Undaunted we should sail away, and gladly should we go,
Because awaiting us would be somebody that we know.
Full many a journey here we make where countless strangers roam,
Yet everywhere our faces turn we find a friend from home.
Oh, we have friends in distant towns, and friends 'neath foreign skies,
And yet we think of him as lost whene'er a loved one dies.
Yet he has merely traveled on, as many a friend must do;
Within a distant city fair he waits for me and you,
And when shall come our time to make that journey through the gloam,
To welcome us he will be there, the smiling friend from home.
The kind that double up their fists
And set their jaws, determined-like,
A blow at infamy to strike.
Not smiling men, who drift along
And compromise with every wrong;
Not grinning optimists who cry
That right was never born to die,
But optmists who'll fight to give
The truth an honest chance to live.
We need a few more optimists
For places in our fighting lists,
The kind of hopeful men who make
Real sacrifice for freedom's sake;
The optimist, with purpose strong,
Who stands to battle every wrong,
Takes off his coat, and buckles in
The better joys of earth to win!
The optimist who worries lest
The vile should overthrow the best.
We need a few more optimists,
The brave of heart that long resists
The force of Hate and Greed and lust
And keeps in God and man his trust,
Believing, as he makes his fight
That everything will end all right—
Yet through the dreary days and nights
Unfalteringly serves and fights,
And helps to gain the joys which he
Believes are some day sure to be.
We need a few more optimists
Of iron hearts and sturdy wrists;
Not optimists who smugly smile
And preach that in a little while
The clouds will fade before the sun,
But cheerful men who'll bear a gun,
And hopeful men, of courage stout,
Who'll see disaster round about
And yet will keep their faith, and fight,
And gain the victory for right.
Time's silver gleams upon his brow,
And there are lines upon his face
Which only passing years can trace.
And yet he's turned back many a page
Long written in the book of age,
For since their boy has marched away,
This kindly father, growing gray,
Is doing for the mother true
The many things the boy would do.
Just as the son came home each night
With youthful step and eyes alight,
So he returns, and with a shout
Of greeting puts her grief to rout.
He says that she will never miss
The pleasure of that evening kiss,
And with strong arms and manner brave
He simulates the hug he gave,
And loves her, when the day is done,
Both as a husband and a son.
His laugh has caught a clearer ring;
His step has claimed the old-time swing,
And though his absence hurts him, too,
The bravest thing that he can do
Is just to try to take his place
And keep the smiles on mother's face.
So, merrily he jests at night—
Tells her with all a boy's delight
Of what has happened in the town,
And thus keeps melancholy down.
Her letters breathe of hope and cheer;
No note of gloom she sends from here,
And as her husband reads at night
The many messages she writes,
He chuckles o'er the closing line.
She's failed his secret to divine—
"When you get home," she tells the lad,
"You'll scarcely know your doting dad;
Although his hair is turning gray,
He seems more like a boy each day."
Upon the snows of Flanders now, brave blood has left its stain;
With ribbons red we deck our gifts; theirs bear the red of pain.
They give their lives that joy shall live and little children play;
They pass that all that makes for peace shall not by swept away;
They die that children yet unborn shall have their Christmas Day.
Come! deck the home with holly wreaths and make this Christmas glow,
And let Old Glory wave above the bough of mistletoe!
Come! keep alive the faith of them who sleep 'neath Flanders snow.
Ye brave of heart who dwell at home, make merry now a-while;
The world has need of Christmas cheer its sorrows to beguile;
And blest is he whose love can light grief's corners with a smile.
Ring out once more, sweet Christmas bells, your message to the sky,
Proclaim in golden tones again to every passerby
That peace shall rule the lands of earth, and only war shall die.
Let love's sweet tenderness relieve war's cruel crimson clutch,
Send forth the Christmas spirit, every troubled heart to touch;
Blest will be all we do for them who do for us so much.
© 1999, Lynn Waterman