Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, GOD AND MY COUNTRY, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS

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GOD AND MY COUNTRY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: He had the bluest eyes I ever saw
Last Line: "to get some cigarettes and some shaving blades."
Subject(s): Fathers & Sons; Soldiers; World War I; First World War

He had the bluest eyes I ever saw,
And a smiling face like a bed of yellow daisies,
And a voice around the house like a pet crow.
And he went whistling through the yard and rooms,
His hands grimed up with grease about machines,
Which he could take apart and put together.
And he could run a motor boat or a car.
Or mend a telephone or a dynamo.
And he knew novels, poetry and science.
And he could swim, and box and run a race.
And on a morning I went in his room
And saw his naked body, saw his shoulders
As broad as a great wrestler's, and his arms
As big as mine. He started to play bear,
And took me in his arms and hugged me so
I felt my ribs crack. Then I wondered when
He had quit wearing stockings and knee breeches,
And when it was he slipped to seventeen,
Became a man.

And so the war came on.
He tried to be a flyer, for he knew
What engines were and all about machines
And he knew trigonometry, and chemistry,
And wireless telegraphy -- but his age
Debarred him from the flyers; so he chafed
And did not whistle as he used to do,
But growled a little like a yearling bear.
And then his face grew bright again: he had gone,
Enlisted in the army, came to me,
His face all glowing: "Everything I am
You taught to me," he said; "to love the truth,
To love democracy and America.
And now we have a war, the very first
When men could fight to bring democracy.
Our country turned against the revolution
In France, which was a democratic cause,
But now we war to bring democracy
To peoples everywhere, and I am off.
God moves among us, and to serve and die
Are blessings, I am happy, and am off."

He terrified me with his shining face,
His blue eyes, beautiful body, slim and strong.
St. George was not more beautiful. I was awed,
And said to him: "You terrify me, boy.
There are plenty of men to go, await the call;
Go if they call you, but you have your school,
And if you go you'll never go to school
Again, and that will leave you half prepared
For life, you'll feel it all the rest of life."
But he stood up so straight and stern and shining
And said: "I owe this service to you, Dad,
For what you've been and taught me, and I owe it
To God and to my country." So it was
He terrified me, and I said: "My boy,
I am not wise enough, after all, to say
What you should do. Perhaps you have a vision --
You are America come to herself;
A vision and a mission and a glory
Perhaps, perhaps. I step aside. Go on!"

They took him to a camp, and in a week
I went to see him. He was in a pen
Like a prize porker, looked a little down.
He had been shot with vaccines of all sorts.
He didn't say much. Two weeks after that
I saw him and he had a cold he caught
From doing picket duty in the rain
And sleeping on a mattress soaked with rain.
The food was pretty good, not very good.
He whispered: "All the pin-heads in the world
Have got the jobs of officers. I'm surprised.
I know more mathematics than they do,
And more of everything. I thought an officer
Was educated. Well, I am surprised."
He said the boys were dying right and left
Because they had no care. And on a day
When he came home to visit for a while
He was stricken with the flu. I telephoned
The officer, who raved and said no trick
Would go with him. He'd send for him. He did,
And took him out with a raging temperature,
And back to camp. He almost died for that.
And, when he got up, wobbled for some weeks.
And about the time he stood up fairly strong
They shipped him off to Europe; and they went
Yelling like tigers smelling blood, and God
Seemed farthest from their thoughts.

Well, so it went.
And after while we had the armistice,
The war was over, but no letter came.
Where was he? Dead? We couldn't learn a thing.
Until at last this boy who went to fight
For God and for democracy landed up
In Russia fighting democracy, as America
Fought France in eighteen hundred -- for a letter
Came to us telling where he was. And there
He stayed some months and fought for covenants
Arrived at in the open, independence
Of little and big peoples, for the sea's
Freedom, or democracy, I'm not sure,
For one of these or all, I am not sure.
He got through anyway, or they got through
With him, perhaps, for he came back at last,
One eye out and one leg gone, and he'd lost
God, so he said, and didn't use the word
Democracy at all, and, as for war,
He said to me: "What is it? Everything
Has its own idea, and the idea of war
Is killing people? That's our job, that's war!
And everybody yells atrocities,
And everybody does 'em -- what the hell
Do people think war is, a Sunday School?
I want some money, Dad, for I am broke;
And I can't work at much now, and, by God,
I think I'll write my story. So they'll know
They use you, and they fool you, and you die
That some one may make money selling stuff,
Or grab off lands or commerce. Hell's delight!
When I was sick in Russia, had delusions,
I saw a snake so big he wrapped the world
And swallowed it with everybody in it.
You see, the snake's the money-men, big business,
The schemers, human buzzards, who eat up
Young fellows and the kids, and lay on fat
With fresh young blood that wants to shed itself
For God and truth! I killed a Russian soldier
And said: 'You bastard,' as I stuck him through,
You hate yourself, so you just kill to glut
Your hatred of yourself, your cruelty
Which lusts, as it can masquerade behind
The mask of duty. Give me a dollar, Dad,
To get some cigarettes and some shaving blades."

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