War Time Rhymes
by Edgar A. Guest
(published 1918)

The Important Thing

He was playing in the garden when we called him in for tea,
But he didn't seem to hear us, so I went out there to see
What the little rogue was up to, and I stooped and asked him why,
When he heard his mothing calling, he had made her no reply.
"I am playing war," he told me, "and I'm up against defeat,
And until I stop the Germans, I can't take the time to eat."

"Isn't supper so important that you'll quit your round of play?
Don't you want to eat the shortcake mother made for you to-day?"
Then I asked him, but he answered as he shook his little head:
"I don't dare to stop for shortcake, if I do they'll kill me dead!
When I drive them from their trenches, then to super I'll come in,
but I mustn't stop a minute, 'cause this war I've got to win."

I left him in his battle, left him there to end his play,
For he'd taught to me a lesson that is needed much to-day;
Not the lure of cake could turn him from the work he had to do;
There was nothing so important as to see his struggle through.
And I wondered all that evening, as he slumbered in his bed
If we'd risen to the meaning of the work that lies ahead?

Are we roused to the importance of the danger in our way?
Are we thinking still of pleasures as we thought but yesterday?
Are our comforts and our riches in our minds still uppermost?
Must we wait, to see our danger, till the foe is on our coast?
Oh, there's nothing so important, nothing now that's worth a pin
Save the war that we are fighting. It's a war we've got to win.


Search history, my boy, and see
What petty selfishness has done.
Find if you can one victory
That little minds have ever won.
There is no record there to read
Of men who fought for self alone,
No instance of a single deed
Of splendor they may proudly own.

Through all life's story you will find
The miser—with his hoarded gold—
A hermit, dreary and unkind,
An outcast from the human fold.
Men hold him up to view with scorn,
A creature by his wealth enslaved,
A spirit craven and forlorn,
Doomed by the money he has saved.

No man was ever truly great
Who sought to serve himself alone,
Who put himself above the state,
Above the friends about him thrown.
No man was ever truly glad
Who risked his joy on hoarded pelf,
And gave of nothing that he had
Through fear of needing it himself.

For selfishness is wintry cold,
And bitter are its joys at last,
The very charms it tries to hold,
With woes are quickly overcast.
And only he shall gladly live,
And bravely die when God shall call,
Who gathers but that he may give,
And with his fellows shares his all.

Constant Beauty

It's good to have the trees again, the singing of the breeze again,
It's good to see the lilacs bloom as lovely as of old.
It's good that we can feel again, the touch of beauties real again,
For hearts and minds, of sorrow now, have all that they can hold.

The roses haven't changed a bit, nor have the peonies stranged a bit,
They bud and bloom the way they did before the war began.
The world is upside down to-day, there's much to make us frown to-day
And gloom and sadness everywhere beset the path of man.

But now the lilacs bloom again and give us their perfume again
And now the roses smile at us and nod along the way;
And it is good to see again the blossoms on each tree again
And feel that nature hasn't changed the way we have to-day.

Oh, we have changed from what we were, we're not the carefree lot we were,
Our hearts are filled with sorrow now and grave concern and pain,
But it is good to see once more the budding lilac tree once more,
And find the constant roses here to comfort us again.

When the Drums Shall Cease to Beat

When will the laughter ring again in the way that it used to do?
Not till the soldiers come home again, not till the war is through.
When will the holly gleam again and the Christmas candles burn?
Not till the swords are sheathed once more and the brave of our land return.

When will happy hearts meet again in the lights of the Christmas tree?
Not till the cannons cease their roar and the sailors come from sea.
When shall we sing as we used to do and dance in the old-time way?
Not till the soldiers come home again and the bugles cease to play.

Oh, dull is the red of the holly now and faintly the candles burn;
And we long for the smile of the missing face and the absent one's return.
We long for the laughter we used to know and the love that made giving sweet,
But we must wait for the joys of old till the drums shall cease to beat.

We shall laugh once more as we used to do, and dance in the old-time way,
For this is the pledge they have made to us who serve in the war today;
And the joys of home that we treasure so are the joys that their lives defend,
And they shall give us our Christmas time as soon as the war shall end.


We shall thank our God for graces
That we've never known before;
We shall look on manlier faces
When our troubled days are o'er.
We shall rise a better nation
From the battle's grief and grime,
And shall win our soul's salvation
In this bitter trial time.
And the old Flag waving o'er us
In the dancing morning sun
Will be daily singing for us
Of a splendor new begun.

When the rifles cease to rattle
And the cannon cease to roar,
When is passed the smoke of battle
And the death lists are no more,
With a yet undreamed of beauty
As a people we shall rise,
And a love of right and duty
Shall be gleaming in our eyes.
As a country, tried by sorrow,
With a heritage of worth,
We shall stand in that to-morrow
With the leaders of the earth.

© 1999, Lynn Waterman