by Edgar A. Guest
Before he went away,
The walls still keep the pennants he
Brought home but yesterday.
The picture of his baseball team
Still holds its favored spot,
And oh, it seems a dreadful dream,
This age of shell and shot!
His golf clubs in the corner stand;
His tennis racket, too,
That once the pressure of his hand
In times of laughter knew
Is in the place it long has kept
For us to look upon.
The room is as it was, except
The boy, himself, has gone.
The pictures of his girls are here,
Still smiling as of yore,
And everything that he held dear
Is treasured as before.
Into his room his mother goes
As usual, day by day,
And cares for it, although she knows
Our boy is far away.
We keep it as he left it, when
He bade us all good-bye,
Though I confess that, now and then,
We view it with a sigh.
For never night shall thrill with joy
Nor day be free from gloom
Until once more our soldier boy
Shall occupy his room.
We have lived the days of pleasure; now the gray days have begun
And upon your manly shoulders fall the burdens of the strife;
Yours must be the sacrifices of the trial time of life.
Oh, I don't know how to say it, but I'll never think of you
Without wishing I were sharing in the work you have to do.
I have never known a moment that was fraught with real care,
Save the hurts and griefs of sorrow that all mortals have to bear;
With the gay and smiling marchers I have tramped on pleasant ways,
And have paid with feeble service for the gladness of my days.
But to you has come the summons, yours are days of sacrifice,
And for all life has of sweetness you must pay a bitter price.
Men have fought and died before me, men must fight and die to-day,
I have merely taken pleasures for which others had to pay;
I have been a man of laughter, there's no path my feet have made,
I have merely been a marcher in life's gaudy dress parade.
But you wear the garb of service, you have splendid deeds to do,
You shall sound the depths of manhood, and my boy, I envy you.
But that our children after us shall know life at its best;
For all we care about ourselves—a crust of bread or two,
A place to sleep and clothes to wear is all that we'd pursue.
We'd tramp the world on sunny days, both light of heart and mind,
And give no thought to days to come or days we leave behind.
Your dream and my dream is not that we shall play,
But that our children after us shall tread a merry way.
We brave the toil of life for them, for them we clamber high,
And if 'twould spare them hurt and pain, for them we'd gladly die.
If we had but ourselves to serve, we'd quit the ways of pride
And with the simplest joys of earth we'd all be satisfied.
The best for them is what we dream. Our little girls and boys
Must know the finest life can give of comforts and of joys.
They must be shielded well from woe and kept secure from care,
And if we could, upon our backs, their burdens we would bear.
And so once more we rise to-day to face the battle zone
That those who follow us may know the Flag that we have known.
Your dream and my dream is not that we shall live;
The greatest joys we hope to claim are those that we shall give.
We face the heat and strife of life, its battle and its toil
That those who follow us may know the best of freedom's soil.
And if we knew that by our death we'd keep that flag on high,
For your boy and my boy, how gladly we would die.
Is the way he does his duty without grumbling or complaint;
His work's not always pleasant, but he does it rain or shine,
And he grabs a bit of glory when he's fighting in the line;
But the lesson that he teaches every day to me an' you
Is the way to do a duty that we do not like to do.
Any sort o' chap can whistle when his work is mostly fun;
A hundred want the pleasant jobs to every sturdy one
That'll grab the dreary duty an' the mean an' lowly task,
Or the drab an' cheerless service that life often has to ask;
But somebody has to do it, an' the test of me an' you
Is the way we face the labor that we do not like to do.
Now, it isn't very pleasant standin' guard out in the rain
But it's in the line o' duty, an' no soldier will complain,
An' there isn't any soldier but what sometimes hates his work
When the dress parade is over, an' perhaps he'd like to shirk,
But he's there to follow orders, not to pick an' choose his post,
An' he sometimes shines the finest at the job he hates the most.
Let's be soldiers in the stuggle, let's be loyal through and through;
Life is going to give us duties that perhaps we'll hate to do.
There'll be little sacrifices that we will not like to make,
There'll be many tasks unpleasant that will fall to us to take.
An' although we all would rather do the work that brings applause,
Let's forget our whims and fancies an' just labor for the cause.
There's work that must be done.
Great danger's riding on the seas.
The storm is coming on.
Don't think that it will quickly pass.
Who smiles at distant fate,
And waits until it strikes, alas!
Has roused himself too late.
Who thinks the fight will end before
The need of him arrives,
Is lengthening this brutal war
And costing many lives.
For over us that storm shall break
Ere many weeks have fled,
And we shall pay for our mistake
In fields of mangled dead.
Be ready when the foe shall near,
Be there to strike him hard;
Let us, though he be miles from here,
Be standing now on guard.
To-morrow's victories won't be won
By pluck that we display
To-morrow when the foe comes on,
But by our work to-day.
And I'm facing now the struggle that I've dreaded through the years;
For the boy that was our baby has been changed into a man.
He's enlisted in the army as a true American.
He held her for a moment in his arms before he spoke,
And I watched him as he kissed her, and it seemed to me I'd choke,
For I knew just what was coming, and I knew just what he'd done!
Another little mother had a soldier for a son.
When we'd pulled ourselves together, and the first quick tears had dried,
We could see his eyes were blazing with the fire of manly pride;
We could see his head was higher than it ever was before,
For we had a man to cherish, and our baby was no more.
Oh, I don't know how to say it! With the sorrow comes the joy
That there isn't any coward in the make-up of our boy.
And with pride our hearts are swelling, though with grief they're also hit,
For the boy that was our baby has stepped forth to do his bit.
Yet he will return to you on some brighter day;
Dry your tears and cease to sigh, keep your mother smile,
Brave and strong he will come back in a little while.
Little mother, heed them not—they who preach despair—
You shall have your boy again, brave and oh, so fair!
Life has need of him to-day, but with victory won,
Safely life shall bring to you once again your son.
Little mother, keep the faith: not to death he goes;
Share with him the joy of worth that your soldier knows.
He is giving to the Flag all that man can give,
And if you believe he will, surely he will live.
Little mother, through the night of his absence long,
Never cease to think of him—brave and well and strong;
You shall know his kiss again, you shall see his smile,
For your boy shall come to you in a little while.
© 1999, Lynn Waterman