by: William Samuel Johnson

(A Battle Episode of July, 1915)

      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 your 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 Gentile's 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, sack-cloth-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 theives, 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 teachings 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 his 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 in 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 Cavalry,
      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.

"Buttadeus" is reprinted from Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1916. Ed. William Stanley Braithwaite. New York: Laurence J. Gomme, 1916.




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