Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, BUTTADEUS, by WILLIAM SAMUEL JOHNSON



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BUTTADEUS, by            
First Line: I understand: that smoke-cloud is souchez
Last Line: Where waits the peace of god.
Subject(s): Crucifixion; God; War; Jesus Christ - Crucifixion


I understand: that smoke-cloud is Souchez
(Your gunners know their craft!); that is Ablain,
Or was Ablain; this dust and shattered stone,
The chapel of Our Lady of Lorette;
And there you fought, that frenzied middle May,
From spur to spur along this torn Plateau,
From trench to trench; and there you burrowing bombs
Tossed from their graves the rotting Teuton dead
To mix with these new slaughtered . . .

You are blest
Who, for the winged and visioning spirit of France,
Tread God's permitted way to splendid death!
If I could also die . . .

Yes; I am old,
Old by uncounted battles. Friends, I saw
Jerusalem fall! I saw the sacred hill
Boil horribly skyward from a plain of dead,
A mount of blood and flame. I saw the walls,
The strength of Zion, razed to earth. I lived
Whilst they, a million, five score thousand, died
Of pestilence and hunger, fire and sword.

You smile. -- This is not dotage: I am he,
The cobbler -- surely you have heard the tale --
Who, buffeting the Master (whence my name
Buttadeus, God-smiter), bade him go,
He fainting on my threshold 'neath the cross.
"I go," he said; "wait thou until I come,
Ahasuerus!" . . . I am waiting still . . .

Smile on, French comrades! If I too could smile,
Perchance I too could die! . . . In your dear tongue,
Tongue of the Midi, I am Boutedieu;
I am the watcher of the wars of earth;
I am the witness of the man he was;
I am the prophet of his peace. Smile on!

Great war? World war? I hear you call it so --
Well, you have seen but this, while I have seen
Blood reddening nineteen hundred rings of growth
Of the fair tree of Christ, that tree whose roots
Suck from the muck of earth the living sap
That flowers in man's consciousness of God.

Great war? This is a skirmish! Good and ill
Fight out their age-long battle and shall fight
Till heaven's kingdom, even as he said,
Is all in all within us . . .
Peace? Peace? Peace?
While wrong is wrong let no man prate of peace!
He did not prate, the Master. Nay, he smote!
I am his witness and this thing I saw:

It was the Passover. The Gentiles' Court
Was thronged with hucksters; and I too was there

Yelping my string of sandals; and the beasts
Bellowed and bleated, while the cries of greed,
The filthy word, the reek of sweat, steamed up
The sacred steps, across the Women's Court,
Even to the Holy Place. And as I yelped
He came swift striding, silent, sackcloth-girt,
Wielding a mighty scourge. No flagellant's toy
It was that purged the Temple! Shittim-wood,
Hard, heavy, fashioned by his craftsman hands,
With ropes, hard, heavy, knotted at the ends,
Bone-biting. See! these old, old scars will show
Whether his arm could strike, trained to the axe,
To hew the plow-beam, shape the oxen's yoke
(His yokes were easy, said the Nazarenes)
And fell the oak and gopher. Through the Court
He strode, with stroke on axeman's stroke, his hair
Sweat-matted, in every sinew righteousness
That wrought the will of God by wrath of man!
And there were shrieks of fear and snarls of pain
And blood and bruises, as those hewing stripes
Fell on our thieving backs -- and mine was one.
And when the Court was purged and all was calm,
He turned him to the common folk he loved
And spake the words you know. But words and blows
And these dear witness scars mean only this:
"While wrong is wrong let no man prate of peace!"

You nod, French comrades, looking grimly down
On lost Souchez, on shattered Givenchy,
And the white road to Lens. You understand
The godlike flame and frenzy of the man;
You think of Belgium, all her ruins and wrongs,
A den of thieves, a temple still unpurged;
You think of France, her sacred woman-soul
Maddened with memories of nameless things --
You understand! How well you understand . . .

Hate wrong! Slay wrong! Your master-gunners there
Thunder that gospel; and evolving life,
Life mounting Godward, knows that teaching true
While flesh is flesh, while sin is sin -- And yet
There is another gospel! For your hearts,
Passioned with wonder and worship and great dreams,
There is another gospel!
Feel this air,
Warm with the sun of France, invisible,
Fluent, enfolding, palpitating, vast,
Breathing and breathed. Dear friends, around our souls
Floweth another air invisible,
Vast, palpitating, breathed and breathing -- God!

This was the Master's message; nothing more:
This was the Master's message! But He dies,
Nailed to misunderstanding as a cross,
Through age on age of error. He was man
As we are men, and God as we are God,
Not otherwise, else is that message vain --
O Lover I smote! Ineffable Loneliness
That faced Golgotha! Thou hast come indeed;
I share thy vigil on the mountain height;
I know the passion of Gethsemane;
I feel the Presence flow across thy soul,
Vast, palpitating, breathed and breathing -- Love!

Brothers, believe this truth: that whoso prays
As prayed the Master; whoso fashions his heart
By wonder and worship and immortal dreams
To a gift meet for Godhead; whoso yearns
To lose his self in Self's infinitude --
The pure Shechinah in his soul shall dwell
As in the Master's. And every man on earth
May live as he, wrapt in the Spirit Divine,
The Fatherhood whose sons are all that love;
And, living so, shall year by happy year,
And life by life, and light by mystic light,
Up to the mount of self's last Calvary,
Know that which passeth understanding -- Peace;
Vast, palpitating, breathed and breathing -- Peace!

Hate wrong! Slay wrong! else mercy, justice, truth,
Freedom and faith, shall die for humankind --
Slay! that His Law may live! But, having slain,
O seek the quiet places in your souls,
The lonely shore of your Gennesaret,
Your Mount of Olives, your Gethsemane,
Where waits the Peace of God.





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