by William Morris


It was down in our far-off village that we heard of the war begun,
But none of the neighbours were in it save the squire's thick-lipped son,
A youth and a fool and a captain, who came and went away,
And left me glad of his going. There was little for us to say
Of the war and its why and wherefore--and we said it often enough;
The papers gave us our wisdom, and we used it up in the rough.
But I held my peace and wondered; for I thought of the folly of men,
The fair lives ruined and broken that ne'er could be mended again;
And the tale by lies bewildered, and no cause for a man to choose;
Nothing to curse or to bless--just a game to win or to lose.

But here were the streets of London--strife stalking wide in the world;
And the flag of an ancient people to the battle-breeze unfurled.
And who was helping or heeding? The gaudy shops displayed
The toys of rich men's folly, by blinded labour made;
And still from naught to nothing the bright-skinned horses drew
Dull men and sleek-faced women with never a deed to do;
While all about and around them the street-flood ebbed and flowed,
Worn feet, grey anxious faces, grey backs bowed 'neath the load.
Lo the sons of an ancient people! And for this they fought and fell
In the days by fame made glorious, in the tale that singers tell.

We two we stood in the street in the midst of a mighty crowd,
The sound of its mingled murmur in the heavens above was loud,
And earth was foul with its squalor--that stream of every day,
The hurrying feet of labour, the faces worn and grey,
Were a sore and grievous sight, and enough and to spare had I seen
Of hard and pinching want midst our quiet fields and green;
But all was nothing to this, the London holiday throng.
Dull and with hang-dog gait they stood or shuffled along,
While the stench from the lairs they had lain in last night went up in the wind,
And poisoned the sun-lit spring: no story men can find
Is fit for the tale of their lives; no word that man hath made
Can tell the hue of their faces, or their rags by filth o'er-laid:
For this hath our age invented--these are the sons of the free,
Who shall bear our name triumphant o'er every land and sea.
Read ye their souls in their faces, and what shall help you there?
Joyless, hopeless, shameless, angerless, set is their stare:
This is the thing we have made, and what shall help us now,
For the field hath been laboured and tilled and the teeth of the dragon shall grow.

But why are they gathered together? what is this crowd in the street?
This is a holiday morning, though here and there we meet
The hurrying tradesman's broadcloth, or the workman's basket of tools.
Men say that at last we are rending the snares of knaves and fools;
That a cry from the heart of the nation against the foe is hurled,
And the flag of an ancient people to the battle-breeze unfurled.
The soldiers are off to the war, we are here to see the sight,
And all our griefs shall be hidden by the thought of our country's might.
'Tis the ordered anger of England and her hope for the good of the Earth
That we to-day are speeding, and many a gift of worth
Shall follow the brand and the bullet, and our wrath shall be no curse,
But a blessing of life to the helpless--unless we are liars and worse -
And these that we see are the senders; these are they that speed
The dread and the blessing of England to help the world at its need.

Sick unto death was my hope, and I turned and looked on my dear,
And beheld her frightened wonder, and her grief without a tear,
And knew how her thought was mine--when, hark! o'er the hubbub and noise,
Faint and a long way off, the music's measured voice,
And the crowd was swaying and swaying, and somehow, I knew not why,
A dream came into my heart of deliverance drawing anigh.
Then with roll and thunder of drums grew the music louder and loud,
And the whole street tumbled and surged, and cleft was the holiday crowd,
Till two walls of faces and rags lined either side of the way.
Then clamour of shouts rose upward, as bright and glittering gay
Came the voiceful brass of the band, and my heart beat fast and fast,
For the river of steel came on, and the wrath of England passed
Through the want and the woe of the town, and strange and wild was my thought,
And my clenched hands wandered about as though a weapon they sought.

Hubbub and din was behind them, and the shuffling haggard throng,
Wandering aimless about, tangled the street for long;
But the shouts and the rhythmic noise we still heard far away,
And my dream was become a picture of the deeds of another day.
Far and far was I borne, away o'er the years to come,
And again was the ordered march, and the thunder of the drum,
And the bickering points of steel, and the horses shifting about
'Neath the flashing swords of the captains--then the silence after the shout -
Sun and wind in the street, familiar things made clear,
Made strange by the breathless waiting for the deeds that are drawing anear.
For woe had grown into will, and wrath was bared of its sheath,
And stark in the streets of London stood the crop of the dragon's teeth.
Where then in my dream were the poor and the wall of faces wan?
Here and here by my side, shoulder to shoulder of man,
Hope in the simple folk, hope in the hearts of the wise,
For the happy life to follow, or death and the ending of lies,
Hope is awake in the faces angerless now no more,
Till the new peace dawn on the world, the fruit of the people's war.

War in the world abroad a thousand leagues away,
While custom's wheel goes round and day devoureth day.
Peace at home!--what peace, while the rich man's mill is strife,
And the poor is the grist that he grindeth, and life devoureth life?