The Lay of the German Lint-Makers.

Tear the smooth linen, pull out the pale threads1
That were woven so deftly, so firm, and fast,2
For an hour is coming, that each heart dreads,3
As we sit here lonely, bowing our heads4
O’er the thought of the sweet, calm Past5
The Past that, when present, we knew not other6
Than its earlier brethren, born of one mother,7
Children of Peace, that each lived his day8
And in mild monotony passed away :—9
We knew not their beauty, but now we know,10
As the last has fled at the blast of the foe,11
And a stern dark Present over us broods,12
Just dropping a word in her churlish moods13
Ye call me harsh, but a harsher than I14
Stands under that clond-built canopy15
A Future drawing terribly nigh,16
Whom many must greet with a bitter cry !17
So work, aye work ere worse may hap”—18
And the lint-heap rises up in the lap.19
The lint-heap rises—like a white foam20
On the crest of the deep dark billow,21
That none dare track down its awful gloom,22
But we know that it sunders the youth from his home,23
The husband’s head from the pillow.24
Ah, fair white napery, soft bed-drapery,25
Given by our mothers when each was bride,26
The young girl’s vision, the matron’s pride !27
Your slender threads, as we rend them apart,28
Seem like a tearing of heart from heart :—29
They were woven together in the web of our life,30
For life to endure,1 but the mighty strife31
Hath smitten us, as with a thunder-clap32
And the lint-heap rises up in the lap.33
The lint-heap rises—is it this, is it this,34
The best we can do for our men, our own35
(Save the prayer flung up from the heart’s abyss),36
For those who left us with quick warm kiss,37
Our young men strong in brain and in bone,38
Whom the handwork craft, or the desk, or the spade39
Awaits, to take up the task down-laid40
Is it this we store up for their coming again ?41
Their coming ?  Oh how ? ask the men who remain42
Why they bind the white badge with the red cross wrought43
Round each stout arm, when sounds the alarm44
To go meet their fellows, the men who have fought,—45
1 The marriage-stock of linen in Germany is supposed, in ordinary cases, to require no re-
plenishing during the lifetime of the couple.
Helpless now, all wearily brought46
One by one—like these pale, pale threads47
To rest the torn limbs and the fevered heads48
In a refuge of hard-won calm.49
Ah ! how endure when that “ worse” shall hap ?—50
Work on : let the lint-heap rise in the lap.51
For what is War, but a rending asunder52
All the fair gifts of the years gone by ?53
The looms that wrought comfort, and pleasure, and wonder54
Lie shattered beneath the shock of its thunder,55
The blooming plantations languish and die.56
Pestilent wind, smiting nation from nation,57
Uptearing the highways of civilization,58
And plunging us back in the rude “ long-ago,”59
Each time thy harsh cry bids gentle arts fly,60
The savage triumphs, with scorn in his eye61
For the race who know all secrets below62
Of world-wide mastery, yet can show63
For a moral wrong no fitter reply64
Than blindfold mutual butchery !65
Yet while kingly strife must be quenched with life,66
Honoured be they who fight bravely and long,67
Maintaining the glory of Fatherland’s story68
Thro’ the steadfast will and the sinew strong.69
Honoured the friend, ay and honoured the foe,70
Whom Duty in terrible garb lays low71
Where he came to scatter death,—but finds72
Perchance, in a sympathy born of pain,73
A deeper chord in the world’s wide strain74
Than the passion of patriot minds.75
Tear the smooth linen, pull out the pale threads,76
Mete out the bandage, make ready the beds ;77
It is come, the hour we dreaded is come,78
And the call to act strikes our terrors dumb.79
No time for doubting, no leisure for sorrow,80
To God we must leave the care of to-morrow ;81
For the men who have lost, the men who have won,82
Are brought on their litters one by one.83
’Tis the awful Future we knew was near84
Now turned to a Present !— yet stay that tear ;85
For the hand may bind and the voice ring kind86
O’er the shattered forms as they slowly wind87
Along, on their living bier.88
We’ll wrestle and strive to save them alive,89
The men who for us would die ;90
So work, work on, lest the lifethread snap91
Snap, as the fateful moments fly.92
We know not to-day what to-morrow shall hap,93
And still must the lint-heap rise in the lap.94