BETA

The Noble Coward.

A Prince loquitur
If I were a ruler, I would never make war.”
Am I afraid of man ?1
Of his swarming myriads, death in their van,2
Spreading like locusts over my plains ?3
Of his mitrailleuses, that sweep like rains4
The iron drops blasting as they fall5
O’er my serried battalions, stout and tall,6
Till that wonderful, moving, breathing mass7
All human souls—thick as blades of grass8
Lies prone, like the swathe when the mowers pass ?9
Afraid, did you say ?  What, I,10
To be afraid of a man that shall die,11
Who can kill the body, but not the soul ?12
Shall a will imperious my will control,13
To force me go sowing the earth with graves ?14
I—a king, no tyrant—ruling men, not slaves ;15
I, my people’s father, who keep the keys16
Of joy or misery, want or increase,17
Curses or blessings, war or peace ?18
But I am afraid of God :19
Afraid of His law, written clear and broad,20
Thou shalt do no murder : and (hear, ye dead ! )21
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, man his blood shall shed ;22
Ay, whether one man’s or ten thousand’s. The sound23
Of that terrible blood will cry out from the ground,24
Murder ! ” Go to !  Nations, bless me or ban ; —25
If I sit here for judgment, as a king can,26
I will judge by the law of God, not man.27
And I am a king, unafraid28
Of those ghosts of brute valour, false glory, scarce laid29
In the old Gehenna of Europe. I stand30
Holding my honour in my right hand,31
My left on my sheathed sword, and cry32
Looking down on God’s earth and up to His sky33
I will do no murder.” If I must fight,34
It shall be for hearth and home and right ;35
And my tears shall wash my red hands white.36
Lo ! we stand here, I and mine,37
Like a living wall down our frontier line.38
Let the enemy come—and we strike, in faith39
There may be a life that is worse than death.40
And God will forgive both slayer and slain,41
Nor fix on our brows the mark of Cain.42
But I make no war. And where war is made,43
’Twixt the dead and the living my feet shall wade,44
Blood-christened, until the plague be stayed.45
My soul shall be clean, O Lord !46
I will not go forth with fire and sword47
O’er the pleasant lands which Thou madest so fair,48
I will not teach brother-men to tear49
The dear life out from the quivering flesh,50
Inventing each day deaths fierce and fresh,51
Till the nations gaze—aghast at first52
On the new Aceldama ; then, athirst,53
Drink the horror up, with hot eyes accurst.54
God forbid I should do this thing55
I, crowned and anointed a sovereign king56
Who, with arm made strong for holy use,57
Can chain the hell-hounds or let them loose.58
I, a city set on a hill, from birth59
Chosen Heaven’s vicegerent upon earth60
I will not fight. Here I stand, unawed61
By smile or sneer, by treason or fraud62
I, a king before men, am the servant of God.63