by Edgar A. Guest
In the night air 'twas cold and was bitterly damp,
And they asked me to dine, which I readily did,
For at dining I've talents I never keep hid.
Then a bright-eyed young fellow came in with the meat,
And straightway the troop of us started to eat.
I silently noticed that young fellow wait,
At each officer's side 'til he'd filled up his plate;
I was startled a bit at the very first look
By the size of the helping each officer took,
And I thought as I sat there among them that night
Of the army's effect on a man's appetite.
The waiter at last brought the platter to me
And modestly proper I started to be.
A small piece of meat then I gracefully took;
The young fellow stood there and gave me a look.
"Better get all you want," he remarked to me then,
"I pass this way once, but I don't come again."
I turned in amazement. He nodded his head
In a way that convinced me he meant what he said.
I knew from his manner and smile on his lip
That the rule in the army is "no second trip."
And I thought as he left me my food to attack,
Life gives us one chance, but it never comes back.
He used to sit around and fool
And watch the clock and say:
"I can't see that I'll ever need
This stuff the teacher makes me read,
I'll work no more to-day.
And anyhow it's almost June
And school days will be over soon."
One time we played a baseball game,
And when a chance for stealing came,
On second base he stood,
And when we asked him why, he said:
"What was the use, they're far ahead,
One run would do no good.
The game is almost over now,
We couldn't win it anyhow."
The same old slacker still is he,
With men at war on land and sea,
And our lads plunging in it;
He spreads afar his old excuse.
"I'd like to help, but what's the use,
The Allied troops will win it.
There's nothing now to make us fret, there,
They'll have it won before we get there."
The worst of slackers is the man
Who will not help whene'er he can,
But plays the idle rover,
And tells to all beset with doubt
There's naught to be alarmed about,
The storm will soon be over.
Let no such dangerous person lead us,
To-day in France they sadly need us.
With your boy so far away;
May the joy of service smother
All your grief this Christmas day;
May the magic of his splendor
Thrill your spirit through and through
And may all that's fine and tender
Make a smiling day for you.
May you never know the sadness
That from day to day you dread;
May you never find but gladness
In the Flag that's overhead;
May the good God watch above him
As he stands to duty stern,
And at last to all who love him
May he have a safe return.
Little mother, take the blessing
Of a grateful nation's heart;
May the news that is distressing
Never cause your tears to start;
May there be no fears to haunt you,
And no lonely hours and sad;
May your trials never daunt you,
But may every day be glad.
Little Mother, could I do it,
This my Christmas gift would be:
That he'd safely battle through it,
This to you I'd guarantee.
And I'd pledge to you this morning
Joys to banish all your cares,
Gifts of gold and silver scorning,
I would answer all your prayers.
Are a high ideal and a purpose true;
Better than all of the wealth we've made
Is the work for others that now we do.
For Rome grew rich and she turned to song
And danced to music and drank her wine,
But she sapped the strength of her fibres strong
And a gilded shroud was her splendor fine.
The Rome of old with its wealth and wine
Was the handiwork of a sturdy race;
They builded well and they made it fine
And they dreamed of it as their children's place.
They thought the joys they had won to give,
And which seemed so certain and fixed and sure,
To the end of time in the world would live
And the Rome they'd fashioned would long endure.
They passed to their children the hoarded gold,
Their marble halls and their fertile fields!
But not the spirit of Rome of old,
Nor the Roman courage that never yields.
They left them the wealth that their hands had won,
But failed to leave them a purpose true.
They left them thinking life's work all done,
And Rome went down and was lost to view.
We must guard ourselves lest we follow Rome.
We must leave our children the finer things.
We must teach them love of the spot called home
And the lasting joy that a purpose brings.
For vain are our Flag and our battles won,
And vain are our lands and our stores of gold,
If our children feel that life's work is done.
We must give them a high ideal to hold.
"But he marched away with his regiment and they tell me that he's dead!
'We all must go,' he whispered low, 'We must fight for the Fatherland.'
Now the heart of me's torn with the grief I know, and I cannot understand,
For none of the Kaiser's princes lie out there where my soldier sleeps;
Here's a land where grief is the common lot, but never the Kaiser weeps.
"My Crown Prince was a kindly prince, and his eyes were gentle, too,
And glad were the days of his youth to me when his wonderful smile I knew.
Then the Kaiser flattered and spoke him well, and he sent him out to die,
But his Crown Prince hasn't felt one hurt and the heart of me questions why?
He talks of war in his regal way and he boasts of his strength to strike,
But his boys all live and he doesn't know what the sting of a bullet's like.
"Rebellion gnaws at the soul of me as I think of his Crown Prince gay,
And my Prince cold in the arms of death, and harsh are the things I say.
I join with the grief-torn muttering men who challenge the Kaiser's right
To build his joys on the graves of ours. We shall rise in our wrath to smite!
And this is the thing we shall ask of him: to give us the reason why
Our boys must fall on his battlefields, but never his boys must die?"
From that day unto this, for him, we've struggled side by side.
We can recount his daily deeds, and backwards we can look,
And proudly live again the time when first a step he took.
I see him trudging off to school, his mother at his side,
And when she left him there alone she hurried home and cried.
And then the sturdy chap of eight that was, I proudly see,
Who packed a little grip and took a fishing trip with me.
Among the lists of boys to go his name has now appeared;
To us has come the sacrifice that mothers all have feared;
And though we dread the parting hour when he shall march away,
We love him and the Flag too much to ask of him to stay.
His baby ways shall march with him, and every joy we've had,
Somewhere in France some day shall be a little brown-eyed lad;
A toddler and a child at school, the chum that once I knew
Shall wear our country's uniform, for they've been drafted, too.
© 1999, Lynn Waterman