by Edgar A. Guest
It has a task for you to do.
It has a job for you to face.
Somewhere for you it has a place.
Not all the slackers dodge the work
Of service where the cannon lurk,
Not all the slackers of life's stage,
Are boys of military age.
The old, the youthful and unfit
Must also do their little bit.
The country needs a man like you,
'Twill suffer if you prove untrue.
What though you cannot bear a gun?
That isn't all that's to be done.
There are a thousand other ways
To serve your country through the days
Of trial and the nights of storm.
You need not wear a uniform
Or with the men in council sit
To serve the Flag and do your bit.
Somewhere for you there is a place,
Somewhere you have a task to face.
There's none so helpless or so frail
That cannot, when our foes assail,
In some way help our common cause
And be deserving of applause.
Behind the Flag we all must be,
Each at his post, awake to see
That in so far as he has striven
His best was to his country given.
You can be patient, brave and strong,
And not complain when plans go wrong;
You can be cheerful at your toil,
Or till, perhaps, some patch of soil;
You can encourage others who
Have heavier, greater tasks to do;
You can be loyal, not in creed
Alone, but in each thought and deed;
You can make sacrifices, too.
The country needs a man like you.
That I'm a soldier in the fray;
That I must serve, from sun to sun,
As well as he who bears a gun
The flag that flies above us all,
And answer well my Country's call.
I must not for one hour forget
Unto the Stars and Stripes my debt.
'Twas spotless on my day of birth,
And when at last I quit this earth
Old Glory still must spotless be
For all who follow after me.
At some post where my work will fit
I must with courage do my bit;
Some portion of myself I'd give
That freedom and the Flag may live.
And in some way I want to feel
That I am doing service real.
I must in all I say and do
Respect the red, the white and blue;
Nor dim with petty deeds of shame
The splendor of Old Glory's fame;
I must not let my standards drag,
For my disgrace would stain the Flag.
A longing for rest,
A hope for the battles to cease,
A dream for the best;
And he is not living who stays
Contented with things,
Unconcerned with the work of the days
And all that it brings.
He is dead who sees nothing to change,
No wrong to make right;
Who travels no new way or strange
In search of the light;
Who never sets out for a goal
That he sees from afar
But contents his indifferent soul
With things as they are.
Life isn't rest—it is toil;
It is building a dream;
It is tilling a parcel of soil
Or bridging a stream;
It's pursuing the light of a star
That but dimly we see,
And in wresting from things as they are
The joy that should be.
His soul is sick with coward shame, his head hangs low to-day,
His eyes no longer sparkle, and his breast is void of pride
And I think that she has lost him though she's kept him at her side.
Oh, I'm sorry for the mother, but I'm sorrier for the lad
Who must look on life forever as a hopeless dream and sad.
He must fancy men are sneering as they see him walk the street,
He will feel his cheeks turn crimson as his eyes another's meet;
And the boys and girls that knew him as he was but yesterday,
Will not seem to smile upon him, in the old familiar way.
He will never blame his mother, but when he's alone at night,
His thoughts will flock to tell him that he isn't doing right.
Oh, I'm sorry for the mother from whose side a boy must go,
And the strong desire to keep him that she feels, I think I know,
But the boy that she's so fond of has a life to live on earth,
And he hungers to be busy with the work that is of worth.
He will sicken and grow timid, he'll be flesh without a heart
Until death at last shall claim him, if he doesn't do his part.
Have you kept him, gentle mother? Has he lost his old-time cheer?
Is he silent, sad and sullen? Are his eyes no longer clear?
Is he growing weak and flabby who but yesterday was stong?
All his comrades have departed on their country's noblest work,
And he hungers to be with them—it is not his wish to shirk.
As I passed it yesterday:
"Months ago your friendly hands
Fastened me on slender strands
And with patriotic love
Placed me here to wave above
You and yours. I heard you say
On that long departed day:
'Flag of all that's true and fine,
Wave above this house of mine;
Be the first at break of day
And the last at night to say
To the world this word of cheer:
Loyalty abideth here.'
"Here on every wind that's blown,
O'er your portal I have flown;
Rain and snow have battered me,
Storms at night have tattered me;
Dust of street and chimney stack
Day by day have stained me black,
And I've watched you passing there,
Wondering how much you care.
Have you noticed that your flag,
Is to-day a wind-blown rag?
Has your life so careless grown
By the long neglect you've shown
That you never raise your eye
To the symbol that you fly?"
"Flag, on which no stain has been,
'Tis my sin that you're unclean,"
Then I answered in my shame.
"On my head must lie the blame.
Now with patriotic hands
I release you from your strands,
And a spotless flag shall fly
Here to greet each passer-by.
Nevermore shall Flag of mine
Be a sad and sorry sign
Telling all who look above
I neglect the thing I love.
But my Flag of faith shall be
Fit for every eye to see."
And to pray for Our Flag to the good God above;
If it's wrong to believe that Our Country is the best;
That honor's her standard, and truth is her crest;
If placing her first in our prayers and our song
Is false to true reason, we're glad to be wrong.
If it's wrong to wish victory day after day
For the troops of Our Country now marching away;
If it's wrong to believe they are moved by the right
And not by the love and the lure of the fight;
If to cheer them to battle and bid them be strong
Is false to right thinking, then let us be wrong.
If it's wrong to believe in America's dreams
Of a freedom on earth that's as real as it seems;
If it's error to cherish the hope, through and through
That the Stars in Old Glory's immaculate blue
Shall shine through the ages, true beacons to men,
We pray that no right phrase shall flow from our pen.
And British mothers wearing black to mark some troop's advance.
The war was, O, so distant then, the grief so far away,
We couldn't see the weeping eyes, nor hear the women pray.
We couldn't sense the weight of woe that rested on that land,
But now our boy is called to go—to-day, we understand.
There, some have heard the blackest news that o'er the wires has sped,
And some are living day by day beneath the clouds of dread;
Some fear the worst; some know the worst, but every heart is chilled,
And every soul is sorrow touched and laughter there is stilled.
There, old folks sit alone and grieve and pray for peace to come,
And now our little boy has heard the summons of the drum.
Their grief was such a distant thing, we made it fruit for speech.
We never thought in days of old such pain our hearts would reach.
We talked of it, as people do of sorrow far aloof,
Nor dreamed such care would ever dwell beneath our happy roof.
But England's woes are ours to-day, we share the sighs of France;
Our little boy is on the sea with Death to take his chance.
© 1999, Lynn Waterman