by Edgar A. Guest
Of one who's claimed eternal glory,
This simple phrase, "the next of kin,"
Concludes the soldier's final story.
This tells the world what voice will choke,
What heart that bit of shrapnel broke,
What father or what mother brave,
Will think of Flanders as a grave.
"The next of kin," the cable cold
Wastes not a precious word in telling,
Yet cannot you and I behold
The sorrow in some humble dwelling,
And cannot you and I perceive
The brave yet lonely mother grieve
And picture, when that news comes in,
The anguish of "the next of kin?"
For every boy in uniform,
Another soldier brave is fighting;
A double rank the cannons storm,
Two lines the cables are uniting,
And with the hurt each soldier feels,
At home the other warrior reels;
Two suffer, freedom's cause to win
The soldier and "the next of kin."
Oh, next of kin, be brave, be strong,
As brave as was the boy that's missing;
The years will many be and long
That you will hunger for his kissing.
Yet he enlisted you with him
To share war's bitter price and grim;
Your service runs through many years
Because your name with his appears.
There are many to shout for the right;
There are many to rail at the world and its sins,
But few have the grit for the fight.
There are thousands to start with a rush for the fray
When the fighting seems easy to do,
But when danger is present and rough is the way,
The few have to see the job through.
It is easy to quit with a battle unwon,
It is hard to press on to success;
It is easy to stop with a purpose undone,
It is hard to encounter distress.
And many will march when the roadway is clear
And the glorious goal is in view
But the many, too often, when dangers appear,
Aren't willing to see the fight through.
They weaken in spirit when trials grow great,
They flinch at the clashing of steel;
They talk of the strength of the foe at the gate
And whine at the hurts that they feel.
They begin to regret having ventured for right,
They sigh that they dared to be true,
They haven't the heart they once had for the fight,
They don't want to see the job through.
We have set out to battle for justice and truth.
We have fearful disasters to meet;
We shall weep for the best of our manliest youth,
We shall suffer the pangs of defeat.
But let us stand firm for the cause that we plead,
Let the many be brave with the few;
The cry of the quitter let none of us heed
Till we've done what we started to do.
For the days that lie before;
For the grander things
The morrow brings
When the struggle days are o'er.
Dark be the clouds today,
Bitter the winds that blow,
But falter nor fail,
Through the howling gale—
Comes peace in the afterglow.
Mine is the song of hope,
A song for the mother here,
Who lulls to rest
The babe at breast,
And hopes for a brighter year.
Hope is the song she sings,
Hope is the prayer she prays;
As she rocks her boy,
She dreams of the joy
He'll bring in the future days.
Mine is the song of hope,
A song for the father, too,
Whose right arm swings,
While his anvil sings
A song of the journey through.
Hope is the star that guides,
Hope is the father's sun;
Far ahead he sees,
Through the waving trees,
Sweet peace when his work is done.
Mine is the song of hope,
Of hope that sustains us all;
Be we young or old,
Be we weak or bold,
Do we falter or even fall,
Brightly the star of hope
From the distance is shining still;
And with courage new
We rise to do
For hope is the God of Will.
And many a mother there shall say, "For truth I gave my son!"
But I shall stand in silence then and hear the stories brave,
For I must give answer at the last that gold is all I gave.
When all this age shall pass away, and silenced are the guns,
When sweethearts join their loves again, and mothers kiss their sons,
When brave unto the brave return, and all they did is told,
How pitiful my gift shall seem, when all I have is gold.
When we are asked what did you then, when all the world was red,
And some shall say, "I fell in France," and some, "I mourned my dead;",
With all the brave assembled there in glory long to live,
How trivial our lives shall seem who had but gold to give.
He tried to race the road of death, where never a coward runs.
Now he's asking of his doctor, and he's panting hard for breath,
How soon he will be ready for another bout with death.
You'd think if you had wakened in a shell hole's slime and mud
That was partly dirty water, but was mostly human blood,
And you had to lie and suffer till the bullets ceased to hum
And the night time dropped its cover, so the stretcher boys could come—
You'd think if you had suffered from a fever and its thirst,
And could hear the "rapids" spitting and the high explosives burst,
And had lived to tell that story—you could face your fellow men
In the little peaceful village, though you never fought again.
You'd think that once you'd fallen in the shrapnel's deadly rain,
Once you'd shed your blood for honor, you had borne your share of pain;
Once you'd traveled No Man's country, you'd be satisfied to quit,
And be invalided homeward, and could say you'd done your bit.
But he's lying, patched and bandaged, very white and very weak,
And he's trying to be cheerful, though it's agony to speak;
He is pleading with the doctor, though he's panting hard for breath,
To return him to the trenches for another bout with death.
That shows him up at his worst or best.
He didn't seem to care for work, he wasn't much at school.
His speech was slow and commonplace—you wouldn't call him fool.
And yet until the war broke out you'd calmly pass him by,
For nothing in his makeup or his way would catch your eye.
He seemed indifferent to the world, the kind that doesn't care—
That's satisfied with just enough to eat and drink and wear;
That doesn't laugh when others do or cry when others weep,
But seems to walk the wakeful world half dormant and asleep;
Then came the war, and soldiers marched and drums began to roll, And suddenly we realized his body held a soul.
We little dreamed how much he loved his Country and her Flag;
About the glorious Stars and Stripes we'd never heard him brag.
But he was first to volunteer, while brilliant men demurred,
He took the oath of loyalty without a faltering word,
And then we found that he could talk, for one remembered night,
There came a preaching pacifist denouncing men who fight,
And he got up in uniform and looked at him and said;
"I wonder if you ever think about our soldiers dead.
All that you are to-day you owe some soldier in his grave;
If he had been afraid to fight, you still would be a slave."
If he had died a year ago beneath a peaceful sky,
Unjust our memory would have been; of him our tongues would lie.
We should have missed his splendid worth, we should have called him frail
And listed him among the weak and sorry men who fail.
But few regrets had marked his end; he would have passed unmourned—
Perhaps by those who knew him best, indifferently scorned.
But now he stands among us all, eyes bright and shoulders true,
A strong defender of the faith; a man with work to do;
And if he dies, his name shall find its place on history's scroll;
The great chance has revealed to men the splendor of his soul.
© 1999, Lynn Waterman