Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WORDS ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS, by WITTER BYNNER

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

WORDS ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Continents twisted in the grip of war
Last Line: Was that a whisper in the evening trees?
Alternate Author Name(s): Morgan, Emanuel
Subject(s): Lincoln, Abraham (1809-1865); Presidents, United States; Unknown Soldier


Continents twisted in the grip of war --
What for?
Markets and roads and tariffs and per cents
And rents;
New buzzards for old eagles, birds of prey
At play;
Empire, whatever be its altered name,
The same
Outcome of peoples' passions and their dreams,
In schemes
Of politicians and of banking-men!
And then --
The dreamers wake. And to an iron few
Come due
The notes of folly at the rates of fear.
The seer,
Reviled by lawyers, hated by the schools
Of fools,
Comes out of prison, with a crown of pain
And the average man, confused and meek and lean,
Has seen
Only the stars in moving-picture shows --
And goes
Yielding his bonds at a discount to the banks,
With thanks.


Lincoln, come back to us, for all our ways are changed
From open difference between right and wrong.
Only the strong
Are right. We are estranged
From our own childhood. We have fought a war
Illumined with the name
Of liberty -- yet, unashamed of shame,
We sell the liberty we fought it for.

Lincoln, come back
To make our cowardice brave.
There is no darkness in the grave
Like to this lack
Of decent manhood, no decay in death
Like to this lust
For comfortable importance and no dust
In any mouth so cruel as our living breath.

Ireland has cried to us. Perhaps we heard.
China we seem to answer. India we may befriend.
And yet we only swagger and pretend
When, infamous, we speak the word
You, Lincoln, spoke for us and dare to call
A race like this American at all:
A traitor-race,
Enslaving Haiti, casting out the truth
From Santo Domingo, fouling its own youth. . . .
Lincoln, come back and look us in the face.


And then I felt a fever in my veins
To be done with all these passions, all these pains.
I envied the Unknown Soldier. Let him lie
Solemn, anonymous. A man must die --
What difference whether mighty with no name
Or with dated lettering of a puny fame?
Death is a simpler matter, anyway,
Than merely living on from day to day,
The blunders and the blaming and the blinking --
No wonder wars occur, instead of thinking!
Must we be fools and, when we organize,
Grow twice as sinister and half as wise?
When we enlist as soldiers of a State
Or race or creed or culture, anything great,
Why will we think as little as we can,
Instead of being friendly man to man? . . .
The hour the great memorial went by,
I saw a woman clasp a child and cry --
And then a touch of fever caught her breath,
To have her baby die as fine a death.

Are there any fruits to know us by but these?
Was that a whisper in the evening trees?

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