Giant Hours With Poet Preachers by William L. Stidger

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[Illustration: EDWIN MARKHAM ]




Introduction by
Edwin Markham



























In writing to the readers of Mr. Stidger’s book I feel as though I were writing to old friends, friends who may have an interest in knowing some of the thoughts that I hold regarding questions of the hour and questions of the future.

The Christian as he looks out upon the battling and broken world sees much to sadden his heart. Thinkers are everywhere asking, “Is Christianity a failure?” I hasten to assure you that Christianity has not failed, for Christianity has nowhere been tried yet, nowhere been tried in a large social sense. Christianity has been tried by individuals, and it has been found to be comforting and transforming. But it has never been tried by any large group of people in any one place–never by a whole city–never by a whole kingdom—never by a whole people. It is for this trial that the watching angels are waiting.

Our holy religion is not a saving power merely for individuals; it is also a saving power for society in its industrial order. We have applied it to the individual in the past, but we have never made any wholehearted effort to make religion the working principle of society. Religion is always cooperative and brotherly, but we have not yet made any earnest effort to apply the cooperative and brotherly principle to business. We have tried to persuade the individual to express the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount, but we have made no earnest effort to urge society to express the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount.

Therefore, while it is true that we have individual Christians–men and women who make noble sacrifices in their effort to live the good life–it is also true that we have no Christian society anywhere on earth, no Christian civilization anywhere under the stars. Sometimes a careless talker will refer to our social order as “a Christian civilization.” All such references, dear friends, disturb our hearts; for they prove that the speaker has no conception of what a Christian civilization would be, how noble and brotherly it would be. Five minutes’ reading of the Sermon on the Mount will convince any alert mind that we are yet thousands of miles from a Christian civilization. To speak of only one thing, it is certain that in a Christian civilization these cruel riches we see standing side by side with these cruel poverties could not exist; they would all crumble and vanish away in the fire of the social passion of the Christ.

If we have not a Christian civilization, what have we? We have a civilization that is half barbaric; we have a social order with a light sprinkling of Christians in it. It is the hope of the future that this body of earnest Christian men and women will awaken to the call of the social Christ, awake determined to infuse his spirit into the industrial order, and thus extend the power of the cross down into the material ground of our existence. Men are not fully saved until tools are saved, till industries are saved. They must all be lit with the brother spirit of Christ the Artisan.

All of this transformation is implied in the Sermon on the Mount. For that sermon may be taken to be the first draft of the constitution of the new social order that the Christ has in his heart for men. It was this new order that he had in mind when he uttered the great invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” All the work-worn toilers of the world were to find rest in the new brotherly order about to be established on the earth. The Master has laid one great duty upon his followers–to embrother men and to emparadise the world.

This is a great labor, for it demands that the spirit of the brother Christ shall sing in all the wheels and sound in all the steps of our industrial life. It means that the Golden Rule shall become the working principle in our social order. This is the salvation that Christ came to bring to the world; this is the glad tidings; this the good news to men!

This is only a glimpse of the great social truth of the Lord that is beginning to break like a new morning upon the world. And what I have said in this letter I have tried a thousand times to say in my poems that have gone out into the world. And this new note I catch in the lines of the poets everywhere in modern poets, especially in the poets discussed in the following pages.

Yours in the Fellowship of the great hopes,

[Signature: Edwin Markham]

West New Brighton, N. Y.


Vachel Lindsay, one of the modern Christian poets, whose writings are discussed in this book, has expressed the reason for the book itself in these four lines:

“I wish that I had learned by heart
Some lyrics read that day;
I knew not ’twas a giant hour
That soon would pass away.”

The author of this book makes no assumption that the “Giant Hours” are in the setting he has given these literary gems, but in the “lyrics” themselves.






[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used by permission of the publishers, Doubleday, Page & Co., and are taken from the following works: The Shoes of Happiness and The Man with the Hoe.]


Edwin Markham is the David of modern poetry. He is biblical in the simplicity of his style. He, like the poet of old, tended sheep on “The Suisün Hills,” and of it he speaks:

“Long, long ago I was a shepherd boy, My young heart touched with wonder and wild joy.”


None less than William Dean Howells has said of him, “Excepting always my dear Whitcomb Riley, Edwin Markham is the first of the Americans.” “The greatest poet of the century” is the estimate of Ella Wheeler Wilcox; and Francis Grierson adds, “Edwin Markham is one of the greatest poets of the age, and the greatest poet of democracy.” Dr. David G. Downey makes his estimate of the poet, in his book, Modern Poets and Christian Teaching, a little broader and deeper in the two phrases: “He is not more poet than prophet,” and, “He is the poet of humanity–of man in relations.” And of them all I feel that the latter estimate is best put, for Edwin Markham is more than “the poet of democracy”; he is the poet of all humanity, down on the earth where humanity lives. And that Dr. Downey was right in calling him “prophet” one needs but to read some lines from “The Man with the Hoe” in the light of the Russian revolution, and proof is made:

“O masters, lords and rulers in all lands, Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched? How will you ever straighten up this shape?

* * * * *

How will it be with kingdoms and with kings– When those who shaped him to the thing he is– When this dumb Terror shall reply to God, After the silence of the centuries?”


“How will it be with kingdoms and with kings?” the “Man with the Hoe” is answering in Russia this star-lit night and sun-illumined day. Yes, Markham is prophet as well as poet. And to this humble writer’s way of reading poetry there were never four lines for pure poetry more beautifully writ, neither across the seas, nor here at home, neither east nor west, than these four from “Virgilia”:

“Forget it not till the crowns are crumbled And the swords of the kings are rent with rust; Forget it not till the hills lie humbled, And the springs of the seas run dust.” The Shoes of Happiness.

Prophetic? Yes! But ah, the music of it! Here rings and here sings David the shepherd; the sweet lute, the harp, the wind in the trees, the surge of the ocean-reef. It is music of a high and holy kind.

Which reminds me that I am to treat in this chapter on Markham only of what he has written since 1906, the preceding period, best known through his “Man with the Hoe,” having been discussed by Dr. Downey in the book heretofore mentioned. I have the joy-task in these brief lines to bring to you Markham’s “The Shoes of Happiness,” which seems to me the strongest book he has written, not forgetting, either, “The Hoe” book, as he himself calls it.

If you have the privilege of personal friendship with this “Father Poet,” he will write for you somewhere, some time, some place, these four favorite lines, with a twinkle in his eyes that is half boy and half sage, but all love, which quatrain he calls “Outwitted”:

“He drew a circle that shut me out– Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!”
The Shoes of Happiness.

And with these four lines he introduces the new book of poems, “The Shoes of Happiness.”


One wonders where “The Shoes of Happiness” may be found, and the answer is forthcoming in the first of “Six Stories,” when he finds that the Sultan Mahmoud is near unto death, and that there is just one thing that will make him well, and that is that he may wear the shoes of a perfectly happy man:

“For only by this can you break the ban: You must wear the shoes of a happy man.” The Shoes of Happiness.

The Vizier was sent to find these shoes or lose his own head:

“Go forth, Vizier, when the dawn is red, And bring me the shoes, or send instead, By the hand of this trusted slave, your head!” The Shoes of Happiness.

He first found a crowd of idle rich going forth for a day’s outing among the fields and flowers, a “swarm of the folk of high degree,” and thought to find the shoes here, but, alas! he found that

“In each glad heart was a wistful cry; Behind each joy was a secret sigh.”
The Shoes of Happiness.

He turned from the rich and sought the homes of the poor, and the Father in the home of the poor said unto him:

“Ah, Vizier,
I have seven sweet joys, but I have one fear: The dread of to-morrow ever is here!”
The Shoes of Happiness.

A Poet was found weaving a song of happiness, and the Vizier thought that surely here would he find the man with the “happy shoes,” but the Poet cried:

“No,” sighed the poet; “you do me wrong, For sorrow is ever the nest of song.”
The Shoes of Happiness.

Everywhere that he wandered in search he found some touch of unhappiness. He tried Youth and Age, but,

“The young were restless that youth should stay, The old were sad that it went away.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

He thought to find the shoes on the feet of the Lover, but heard the Lover say:

“Yes, yes; but love is a tower of fears, A joy half torment, a heaven half tears!”

The Shoes of Happiness.

He had heard of a wise old Sage, who had been to Mecca, and sought him only to hear, “I am not glad; I am only wise.” At last he heard of a man from far Algiers. With hurried steps he sought in vain. At last one day he found a man lying in a field:

“‘Ho,’ cried Halil, ‘I am seeking one Whose days are all in a brightness run.’– ‘Then I am he, for I have no lands,
Nor have any gold to crook my hands. Favor, nor fortune, nor fame have I,
And I only ask for a road and a sky– These, and a pipe of the willow-tree
To whisper the music out of me.’

“Out into the field the vizier ran.
‘Allah-il-Allah! but you are the man; Your shoes then, quick, for the great sultan– Quick, and all fortunes are yours to choose!’ ‘Yes, mighty Vizier,… but I have no shoes!'”

The Shoes of Happiness.


And just as this opening poem teaches the happiness of poverty, so the next, “The Juggler of Touraine,” teaches the happiness of lowliness.

Poor Barnabas, just a common juggler, when winter came, because he had been spending the summer amusing people, had no place to go, and a sympathetic monk took him into the monastery to live. Barnabas was happy for a time; but after a while, as he saw everybody else worshiping the Beautiful Mother with lute and brush, viol, drum, talent, and prayer, he began to feel that his talents were worthless:

“But I, poor Barnabas, nothing can I, But drone in the sun as a drowsy fly.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

Then came a thought that leaped like flame over his being, and an hour later the monks found him, kneeling in the sacred altar place. What he was doing chagrined them. They were shocked just as many people of this day, to see a man worshiping with a different bend of the knee than that to which they had been accustomed. How prone we are to judge those who do not worship just as we have worshiped! This seems such a common human weakness that Alfred Noyes, with a touch of kindly indignation, speaks a word in “The Forest of Wild Thyme” that may be interjected just here in this study of Barnabas the juggler, whom the monks indignantly found worshiping the Virgin by juggling his colored balls in the air, and speaking thus as he juggled:

“‘Lady,’ he cried again, ‘look, I entreat: I worship with fingers, and body, and feet!”

“And they heard him cry at Our Lady’s shrine: ‘All that I am, Madame, all is thine!
Again I come with spangle and ball To lay at your altar my little, my all!'”

The Shoes of Happiness.

But the poor old monks were indignant. They, and some others of more modern days, had never caught the real gist of the “Judge not” of the New Testament; nor had they read Noyes:

“How foolish, then, you will agree,
Are those who think that all must see The world alike, or those who scorn
Another, who perchance, was born
Where–in a different dream from theirs– What they called sins to him are prayers! We cannot judge; we cannot know;
All things mingle, all things flow; There’s only one thing constant here–
Love–that untranscended sphere:
Love, that while all ages run
Holds the wheeling worlds in one;
Love, that, as your sages tell,
Soars to heaven and sinks to hell.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

No, we have no right to judge one another. The monks condemned poor Barnabas because he was not worshiping as they had always worshiped. They too forgot the real spirit of worship as they condemned him:

“‘Nothing like this do the rules provide! This is scandal, this is a shame,
This madcap prank in Our Lady’s name. Out of the doors with him; back to the street: He has no place at Our Lady’s feet!'”

The Shoes of Happiness.

However, then, as now, men are not the final judges:

“But why do the elders suddenly quake, Their eyes a-stare and their knees a-shake? Down from the rafters arching high,
Her blowing mantle blue with the sky– Lightly down from the dark descends
The Lady of Beauty and lightly bends Over Barnabas stretched in the altar place, And wipes the dew from his shining face; Then touching his hair with a look of light, Passes again from the mortal sight.
An odor of lilies hallows the air, And sounds as of harpings are everywhere.

“‘Ah,’ cry the elders, beating the breast, ‘So the lowly deed is the lofty test!
And whatever is done from the heart to Him Is done from the height of the Seraphim!'”

The Shoes of Happiness.



I have never found a poem which more truly pictures the Christ and how he comes to human beings than this one of Markham’s. Conrad the cobbler had a dream, when he had grown old, that the Master would come “His guest to be.” He arose at dawn on that day of great expectations, decorated his simple shop with boughs of green and waited:

“His friends went home; and his face grew still As he watched for the shadow across the sill; He lived all the moments o’er and o’er, When the Lord should enter the lowly door– The knock, the call, the latch pulled up, The lighted face, the offered cup.
He would wash the feet where the spikes had been; He would kiss the hands where the nails went in; And then at last he would sit with him
And break the bread as the day grew dim.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

But the Master did not come. Instead came a beggar and the cobbler gave him shoes; instead came an old crone with a heavy load of faggots. He gave her a lift with her load and some of the food that he had prepared for the Christ when he should come. Finally a little child came, crying along the streets, lost. He pitied the child and left his shop to take it to its mother; such was his great heart of love. He hurried back that he might not miss the Great Guest when he came. But the Great Guest did not come. As the evening came and the shadows were falling through the window of his shop, more and more the truth, with all its weight of sadness, bore in upon him, that the dream was not to come true; that he had made a mistake; that Christ was not to come to his humble shop. His heart was broken and he cried out in his disappointment:

“Why is it, Lord, that your feet delay? Did you forget that this was the day?”

The Shoes of Happiness.

Then what sweeter scene in all the lines of the poetry of the world than this that follows? Where is Christ more wonderfully and simply summed up; his spirit of love, and care?

“Then soft in the silence a voice he heard: ‘Lift up your heart, for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door; Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was the beggar with bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street!'”

The Shoes of Happiness.

One is reminded here of Masefield’s “The Everlasting Mercy,” wherein he speaks as Markham speaks about the child:

“And he who gives a child a treat
Makes joy-bells ring in Heaven’s street; And he who gives a child a home
Builds palaces in Kingdom Come;
And she who gives a baby birth
Brings Saviour Christ again to earth.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of one of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” another great-hearted Poet once said; and these words Markham, in “How the Great Guest Came,” has made real.


“Script for the Journey” is all that it claims to be. Markham is not doing what Lindsay did. Lindsay started out on a long journey with only his poems for money. He meant to make his way buying his food with a verse. And he did that very thing. But Markham had a different idea, an idea that all of us need script for that larger journey, script that is not money and script that does not buy mere material food, but food for the soul. He means it to be script that will help us along the hard way. And he who has this script is rich indeed, in his inner life.


One would pay much for peace at any time, but especially when one on the journey of life is wearied unto death with sin, and bickering, and trouble and hurt and pain. Life holds so much heartache and heartbreak. Markham has herein the answer:

“At the heart of the cyclone tearing the sky, And flinging the clouds and the towers by, Is a place of central calm;
So here in the roar of mortal things, I have a place where my spirit sings,
In the hollow of God’s palm.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

And when we learn to put our business ventures there as Abbey has his Sir Galahad do in the Vigil panel of “The Search for the Holy Grail,” in Boston Library; and when we have learned to put our homes, and our children, and our souls “In the hollow of God’s palm,” there will be peace on the journey of life. Yes, that is good script.


What a lesson the poet brings us from the great swinging bridge at Niagara, as he tells of the tiny thread that was flown from a kite from shore to shore; and then a larger string, and then a heavy cord, and then a rope, and finally the great cable, and the mighty bridge. And this he applies to life!

“So we may send our little timid thought Across the void out to God’s reaching hands–Send out our love and faith to thread the deep– Thought after thought until the little cord Has greatened to a chain no chance can break, And–we are anchored to the Infinite.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

Who does not need to know how simple a thing will lead to infinite anchorage? Who does not need to know that just the tiny threads of love and faith will draw greater cords and greater, stronger ropes until at last the chasm between man and God on the journey is bridged, and we may be anchored to him forever. This indeed is good script for the journey of life Godward.


The world is full of hate these days. War-mad Germany produced “The Hymn of Hate,” the lowest song that ever was written in the history of the world. It seems impossible that a censorship so strict could ever let such a mass of mire out to the world. But when one reads this Markham poem, he somehow feels that life is so big, and yet so brief, that even in war we are all brother-men and, as the opening lines say,

“There is no time for hate, O wasteful friend: Put hate away until the ages end.
Have you an ancient wound? Forget the wrong. Out in my West, a forest loud with song Towers high and green over a field of snow, Over a glacier buried far below.”

The Shoes of Happiness.

And if all the world would learn the meaning of this great phrase, “There is no time for hate,” the world would happier be. Good script for the journey? The best there is, is to know “There is no time for hate.”


VACHEL LINDSAY, POET OF TOWN; AND CITY TOO [Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used by permission, and are taken from the following works: The Congo, and General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, Published by the Macmillan Company, New York.]


Vachel Lindsay is not only a poet but he is also a preacher. I do not know whether he is ordained or not, but in a leaflet that he recently sent me, he says, “Mr. Lindsay offers the following sermons to be preached on short notice and without a collection, in any chapel that will open its doors as he passes by: ‘The Gospel of the Hearth,’ ‘The Gospel of Voluntary Poverty,’ ‘The Holiness of Beauty.'”

His truly great book, “The Congo,” that poem which so sympathetically catches the spirit of the uplift of the Negro race through Christianity, that weird, musical, chanting, swinging, singing, sweeping, weeping, rhythmic, flowing, swaying, clanging, banging, leaping, laughing, groaning, moaning book of the elementals, was inspired suddenly, one Sabbath evening, as the poet sat in church listening to a returned missionary speaking on “The Congo.” Nor a Poe nor a Lanier ever wrote more weirdly or more musically.

[Illustration: VACHEL LINDSAY]

The poet himself, Christian to the bone, suggests that his poetry must be chanted to get the full sweep and beauty. This I have done, alone by my wood fire of a long California evening, and have found it strangely, beautifully, wonderfully full of memories of church. I think that it is the echo of old hymns that I catch in his poetry. Biblical they are, in their simplicity, Christian until they drip with love.


I think that no Christian poet has so caught the soul of the real city. One phrase that links Christ with the city is the old-fashioned yet ever thrilling phrase, “The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit.”

An electrical sign suggests prayer to him. It is a unique thought in “A Rhyme About An Electrical Advertising Sign,” the lines of which startle one almost with their newness:

“Some day this old Broadway shall climb to the skies, As a ribbon of cloud on a soul-wind shall rise. And we shall be lifted rejoicing by night, Till we join with the planets who choir their delight. The signs in the street and the signs in the skies Shall make a new Zodiac guiding the wise, And Broadway make one, with that marvelous stair That is climbed by the rainbow-clad spirits of prayer.”

The Congo.

He looks straight up above the signs to heaven. But he does not forget to look down also, where the people are, the folks that walk and live and crawl under the electric signs. In “Galahad, Knight Who Perished” (a poem dedicated to all crusaders against the international and interstate traffic in young girls), this phrase rings and rings its way into Christian consciousness:

“Galahad–knight who perished–awaken again, Teach us to fight for immaculate ways among men.”

The Congo.

And again and again one is rudely awakened from his ease by such lines as “The leaden-eyed” children of the city which he pictures:

“Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly; Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap; Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve; Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.”

The Congo.

Who has not seen factory windows in village, town, and city, and who has not known that “Factory windows are always broken”? How this smacks of pall, and smoke, and dirt, and grind, and hurt and little weak children, slaves of industry! Thank God, Vachel Lindsay, that the Christian Church has found an ally in you; and poet and preacher together–for they are both akin–pray God we may soon abolish forever child slavery. Yes, no wonder “Factory windows are always broken.” The children break them because they hate a prison.

The “Coal Heaver,” “The Scissors Grinder,” “The Mendicant,” “The Tramp,” all so smacking of the city, have their interpretation.

I wish in these pages might be quoted all of “The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” for it daringly, beautifully, and strongly carries into the new philosophy which Mr. Lindsay is introducing the thought that every village, every town, every city has a community soul that must be saved, through Christian influence. But the ring of it and the swing of it will suggest itself in a few verses:

“Censers are swinging
Over the town;
Censers are swinging,
Look overhead!
Censers are swinging,
Heaven comes down.
City, dead city,
Awake from the dead!

* * * * *

“Soldiers of Christ
For battle grow keen.
Heaven-sent winds
Haunt alley and lane.
Singing of life
In town-meadows green
After the toil
And battle and pain.

* * * * *

“Builders, toil on,
Make all complete.
Make Springfield wonderful.
Make her renown
Worthy this day,
Till at God’s feet,
Tranced, saved forever,
Waits the white town.”

The Congo.

Ah, if we could but catch this vision of not only the individuals but the city itself receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, we would have therein a new and a tremendous force for good.

One might quote from “The Drunkards in the Street”:

“Within their gutters, drunkards dream of Hell. I say my prayers by my white bed to-night, With the arms of God about me, with the angels singing, singing Until the grayness of my soul grows white.”

General William Booth.

He goes to the bottom of the social evil, down to its economic causes, and blames the state for “The Trap,” and this striking couplet rings in one’s heart long after the book is laid down:

“In liberty’s name we cry
For these women about to die!”

General William Booth.

The poet who speaks in “The City That Will Not Repent” is only feeling over again, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,… how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” The “Old Horse in the City,” “To Reformers in Despair,” “The Gamblers”–it is all there: the heartaches, the struggle for existence, the fallen woman, the outcast man, the sound of drums, the tambourines, the singing of the mission halls. You find it all, especially in “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven.” Here is life–the very life of life in the city.


They who have found opposition to foreign missions will discover with a thrill a new helper in Poet Lindsay, he who has won the ear of the literary world. It is good to hear one of his worth, singing the battle challenge of missions, just as it is good to hear him call the modern village, town, and city to “The Gift of the Holy Spirit.” “Foreign Fields in Battle Array” brings this thrillingly prophetic, Isaiahanic verse:

“What is the final ending?
The issue can we know?
Will Christ outlive Mohammed?
Will Kali’s altar go?
This is our faith tremendous—
Our wild hope, who shall scorn–
That in the name of Jesus,
The world shall be reborn!”

General William Booth.

“Reborn”–does not that phrase sound familiar to Methodist ears, as does that other phrase, “The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit”? Or, again, hear two lines from “Star of My Heart”:

“All hearts of the earth shall find _new birth_ And wake no more to sin.”

General William Booth.


In these days, when the world is being swept clean with the besom of temperance, the poet who sings the song of temperance is the “poet that sings to battle.” Lindsay has done this in some lines in his “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven,” which he admits having written while a field worker in the Anti-Saloon League in Illinois. At the end of each verse we have one of these three couplets:

“But spears are set, the charge is on, Wise Arthur shall be King!”

“Fierce Cromwell builds the flower-bright towns And a more sunlit land;”


“Our God establishes his arm
And makes the battle sure!”

General William Booth.

He puts the temperance worker in the “Round Table” under the heading, “King Arthur’s Men Have Come Again.” He lifts the battle to a high realm. “To go about redressing human wrongs,” as King Arthur’s Knights were sworn to do, would certainly be a most appropriate motto for the modern Christian temperance worker, and Lindsay is the only poet acknowledged by the literary world who has sung this Galahad’s praise with keen insight.

But his greatest poem, “The Congo,” that poem which has captured the imagination of the literary world and which is so little known to the Christian world–where it ought to be known best of all–will give a glimpse of the new Christian influence on the races. The poet suggests that it be chanted to the tune of the old hymn, “Hark, ten thousand harps and voices.”

It is a strange poem. It is so new that it is startling, but it has won. Listen to its strange swing, and see its stranger pictures. Through the thin veneer of a new civilization, back of the Christianized Negro race, the poet sees, under the inspiration of a missionary sermon delivered in a modern church, the race that was:

“Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room, Barrel-house kings with feet unstable,
Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table, Pounded on the table,
Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom, Hard as they were able,
Boom, boom, BOOM
With a silk umbrella, and the handle of a broom, Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM
Then I had religion, then I had a vision. I could not turn from their revel in derision. THEN I SAW THE CONGO CREEPING

The Congo.

Then follows as vital, vivid, and vigorous a description as ever was written by pen, inspired of God, tipped with fire, of the uplift and redemption of the Negro race, through Jesus Christ.

The “General William Booth” title poem to the second Lindsay book shook the literary world awake with its perfect interpretation of The Salvation Army leader. It is a poem to be chanted at first with “Bass drums beaten loudly” and then “with banjos”; then softly with “sweet flute music,” and finally, as the great General comes face to face with Christ, with a “Grand chorus of all instruments; tambourines to the foreground.” Running through this poem is the refrain of “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” and the last lines catch the tender, yet absolutely unique spirit of the entire poem:

“And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer He saw his Master thro’ the flag-filled air. Christ came gently with a robe and crown For Booth the soldier, while the throng knealt down. He saw King Jesus. They were face to face, And he knealt a-weeping in that holy place, Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

General William Booth.

But one could not get Lindsay to the hearts of folks, one could not make the picture complete, without putting Lincoln in, any more than he could make Lindsay complete without putting into these pages “The Soul of the City Receives the Gift of the Holy Spirit,” or “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven,” or “The Congo.” Lincoln seems to be as much a part of Lindsay as he is a part of Springfield. Lindsay and Lincoln, to those who love both, mean Springfield, and Springfield means Lincoln and Lindsay. And what Lindsay is trying to do for city, for village, for town, for the Negro, for every human being, is voiced in his poem, “Lincoln.”

“Would I might rouse the Lincoln in you all, That which is gendered in the wilderness, From lonely prairies and God’s tenderness.”

General William Booth.

Let this poem “Heart of God” be the benediction of this chapter on Lindsay:

“O great heart of God,
Once vague and lost to me,
Why do I throb with your throb to-night, In this land, eternity?

“O, little heart of God,
Sweet intruding stranger,
You are laughing in my human breast, A Christ-child in a manger.

“Heart, dear heart of God,
Beside you now I kneel,
Strong heart of faith. O heart not mine, Where God has set His seal.

“Wild, thundering heart of God,
Out of my doubt I come,
And my foolish feet with prophets’ feet March with the prophets’ drum!”

General William Booth.

[Illustration: JOAQUIN MILLER]


[Footnote: The quotations from the poems of Joaquin Miller appearing in this chapter are used by permission of the Harr Wagner Publishing Company, owners of copyright.]


It was a warm, sunny May California day; and the day stands out, even above California days. A climb up the Piedmont hills back of Oakland, California, brought us to “The Heights,” the unique home of Joaquin Miller, poet of the West and poet of the world.

A visit to the homes of the New England poets is always interesting because of historic and literary associations, but none of them has the touch of the unique personality of Miller.

Most people interested in things literary know that Miller, with a great desire to emphasize the freedom of the individual, built a half dozen separate houses, one for himself, one for his wife, one for his daughter Juanita, several for guests from all over the world who were always visiting him, and a little chapel. Literary men from every nation on the planet visited Miller at “The Heights.” Most people interested knew also that Miller, with his own hands, had built monuments of stone to Fremont, the explorer, to Moses, and to Browning. There was also a granite funeral pyre for himself, within sight of the little “God’s Acre,” in which he had buried some eighteen or twenty outcasts and derelicts of earth who had no other plot to call their own in which to take their last long sleep.

We expected to find this strange group of buildings deserted, but after inspecting the chapel, which was modeled after Newstead Abbey, and after rambling through the old-fashioned garden that Miller himself had planted–a garden with a perfect riot of colors–suddenly a little woman with a sweet face walked up to us out of the bushes and said, “Are you lovers of the poet?”

I humbly replied that we were. Then she said: “I am Mrs. Miller, and you are welcome. When you have looked around, come into Mr. Miller’s own room and be refreshed. After that I will read to you from his writings.”

It sounded stagey at first, but the more we knew of this sweet-faced widow of the poet the less we found about her that was not simple and sweet and natural.

After wandering around, through the fascinating paths, under the great cross of a thousand pine trees, among the roses, and flowers that he had planted with his own hands, we came at last to the little house that Mrs. Miller had called “The poet’s own room,” and there were we refreshed with cool lemonade and cakes. In the littleness of my soul I wondered when we were to pay for these favors, but the longer we remained the more was I shamed as I saw that this hospitality was just the natural expression of a woman, and a beautiful daughter’s desire to extend the hospitality of the dead poet himself, to any who loved his writings.

There was the bed on which Miller lay for months writing many of his greatest poems, including the famous “Columbus.” There was his picturesque sombrero, still hanging where he had put it last on the post of the great bed. His pen was at hand; his writing pad, his chair, his great fur coat, his handkerchief of many colors which in life he always wore about his neck; his great heavy, high-topped boots. And it was sunset.

Then Mrs. Miller began to read. As the slanting rays of as crimson a sunset as God ever painted were falling through the great cross of pine trees, Mrs. Miller’s dramatic, sweet, sympathetic voice interpreted his poems for us. I sat on the bed from which Miller had, just a few months previous to that, heard the great call. The others sat in his great rockers. Mrs. Miller stood as she read. I am sure that “Columbus” will never be lifted into the sublime as it was when she read it that late May afternoon, with its famous, and thrilling phrase “Sail on! Sail on! And on! And on!”


I had thought before hearing Mrs. Miller read “The Greatest Battle that Ever was Fought” that I had caught all the subtle meanings of it, but after her reading that great tribute to womanhood I knew that I had never dreamed the half of its inner meaning:

“The greatest battle that ever was fought— Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not: It was fought by the Mothers of Men.

“Not with cannon or battle shot,
With sword or nobler pen;
Not with eloquent word or thought
From the wonderful minds of men;

“But deep in a walled up woman’s heart; A woman that would not yield;
But bravely and patiently bore her part; Lo! there is that battlefield.

“No marshaling troops, no bivouac song, No banner to gleam and wave;
But Oh these battles they last so long–From babyhood to the grave!

“But faithful still as a bridge of stars She fights in her walled up town;
Fights on, and on, in the endless wars; Then silent, unseen goes down I

“Ho! ye with banners and battle shot, With soldiers to shout and praise,
I tell you the kingliest victories fought Are fought in these silent ways.”

Then, as if to give us another illustration of her great poet husband’s home love, she read for us “Juanita”:

“You will come, my bird, Bonita?
Come, for I by steep and stone,
Have built such nest, for you, Juanita, As not eagle bird hath known.
. . . . . . . . .
All is finished! Roads of flowers
Wait your loyal little feet.
All completed? Nay, the hours
Till you come are incomplete!”

Who that hath the blessing of little children will not understand this waiting, yearning love of Miller for his ten-year-old girl, who was at that time in New York with her mother waiting until “The Heights” should be finished? Who does not understand how incomplete the hours were until she came?

“You will come, my dearest, truest?
Come, my sovereign queen of ten:
My blue sky will then be bluest;
My white rose be whitest then.”


Miller had a profound, deep, sincere love for Christ, and more than any poet I know did he express with deep insight and with deeper sweetness the great moments in Christ’s life. He made these great moments human. He brings them near to us, so that we see them more clearly. He makes them warm our hearts, and we feel that Christ’s words are truly our words in this, our own day. In that great scene where Christ blessed little children, who has ever made it sweeter and nearer and warmer with human touch?

“Then reaching his hands, he said, lowly, ‘Of such is my Kingdom,’ and then
Took the little brown babes in the holy White hands of the Saviour of Men;

“Held them close to his heart and caressed them, Put his face down to theirs as in prayer, Put their hands to his neck and so blessed them With baby-hands hid in his hair.”

The scene with the woman taken in adultery he has also made human and near in these lines, called “Charity”:

“Who now shall accuse and arraign us? What man shall condemn and disown?
Since Christ has said only the stainless Shall cast at his fellows a stone?”

That Jesus Christ died for the world, that Calvary had more meaning for humanity than anything else that has ever happened, Miller put in four lines:

“Look starward! stand far, and unearthy, Free souled as a banner unfurled.
Be worthy! O, brother, be worthy!
For a God was the price of the world!”

He caught Christ’s teaching, and the whole gist of the New Testament expressed in that immortal phrase “Judge not,” and he wrote some lines that have been on the lips of man the world over, and shall continue to be as long as men speak poetry. A unique pleasure was mine on this afternoon. I had noticed something that Mrs. Miller had not noticed in this great poem. She quoted it to us:

“In men whom men condemn as ill
I find so much of goodness still;
In men whom men pronounce Divine
I find so much of sin and blot,
I hesitate to draw the line
Between the two, where God has not!”

Miller wrote it that way when he first wrote it, in his younger days. It was natural for Mrs. Miller to quote it that way. But I had discovered in his revised and complete poems that he had changed a significant phrase in that great verse. He had said, “I do not dare,” in the fifth line, instead of “I hesitate.” His mature years had made him say, “I do not dare to draw the line!”


He knew that heaven and God were near to humanity and earth. He was not afraid of death. He teaches us all Christian courage in this line of thought. He knew that his “Greek Heights” were very near to heaven because he knew that anywhere is near to heaven to the believer:

“Be this my home till some fair star Stoops earthward and shall beckon me;
For surely God-land lies not far
From these Greek Heights and this great sea!”

He yearned to teach men to believe in this God and his nearness; this God in whom he believed with all his heart. This cry out of his soul, written just a few days before his death, is like Tennyson’s “Crossing The Bar” in that it was his swan song:

“Could I but teach man to believe,
Could I but make small men to grow, To break frail spider webs that weave
About their thews and bind them low. Could I but sing one song and lay
Grim Doubt; I then could go my way In tranquil silence, glad, serene,
And satisfied from off the scene.
But Ah! this disbelief, this doubt, This doubt of God, this doubt of God
The damned spot will not out!
Wouldst learn to know one little flower, Its perfume, perfect form, or hue?
Yea, wouldst thou have one perfect hour Of all the years that come to you?
Then grow as God hath planted, grow A lovely oak, or daisy low,
As he hath set his garden; be
Just what thou art, or grass or tree. Thy treasures up in heaven laid
Await thy sure ascending soul:
Life after life–be not afraid I”

Yes, Miller believed in home, in Christ, and God and immortality. He believed that heaven and God were near to man, and in his last days there was no doubt. Thus his own writings confirm what Mrs. Miller, on that memorable afternoon, made certain by her warm, tear-wet, personal testimony. And as she quoted these last lines, and the sun had set behind the Golden Gate, which we could even then see from the room in which we sat, we felt as though Miller himself were near, listening as she read, listening with us. And these are the last verses that she quoted, which seem fit verses with which to close this chapter study of Joaquin Miller:

“I will my ashes to my steeps,
I will my steeps, green cross, red rose, To those who love the beautiful,
Come, learn to be of those.”

And is it any wonder that, as we sat in the twilight listening to that invitation to his home, these words made the red roses and the green cross of Christ against the hill our very own? And is it any wonder that, as she quoted these last verses we felt him near to us?

“Enough to know that I and you
Shall breathe together there as here Some clearer, sweeter atmosphere,
Shall walk, high, wider ways above Our petty selves, shall learn to lead
Man up and up in thought and deed.


“Come here when I am far away,
Fond lovers of this lovely land,
And sit quite still and do not say, ‘Turn right or left and lend a hand,’
But sit beneath my kindly trees
And gaze far out yon sea of seas.
These trees, these very stones could tell How much I loved them and how well,
And maybe I shall come and sit
Beside you; sit so silently
You will not reck of it.”

[Illustration: ALAN SEEGER]


[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used by permission, and are taken from poems by Alan Seeger. Published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. ]


Rupert Brooke and Alan Seeger–so shall their names be linked together forever by those who love poetry. In the first place, they were much alike: buoyant, young; loving life, living life; and both dying for the great cause of humanity in the world’s greatest war. Brooke the Englishman; Seeger the American; so are they linked. Both were but lads in their twenties; both vivid as lightning and as warm as summer sunshine in their personalities; both truly great poets, who had, even in the short time they lived, run a wide gamut of poetic expression.

I am not saying that either Brooke or Seeger may be called a Christian poet; nor am I saying that they may not be called that. This war in which they have given their lives will make a vast difference in the definition of what a Christian is. I can detect no orthodox Christian message in either of their dreamings, but I do find in both poets a clean, high moral message, and therefore give them place in this pulpit of the poets.

The wide range of this young American’s writing astonishes the reader. He died very young: while the morning sun was just lifting its head above the eastern horizon of life; while the heavens were still crimson, and gold, and rose, and fire. What he might have written in the steady white heat of noontime and in life’s glorious afternoon of experience, and in its subtle charm of “sunset and the evening star,” one can only guess. But while he lived he lived; and, living, wrote. He dipped his pen in that same gold and fire of the only part of life he knew, its daybreak, and wrote. No wonder his writing was warm; no wonder he wrote of Youth, Beauty, Fame, Joy, Love, Death, and God.


Nor Byron, nor Shelley, nor Keats, nor Swinburne, nor Brooke, nor any other poet ever sounded the heights and depths and glory of Youth as did Seeger. He sang it as he breathed it and lived it, and just as naturally. His singing of it was as rhythmic as breathing, and as sweet as the first song of an oriole in springtime. In his fifth sonnet, a form in which he loved to write and of which he was a master, he sings youth in terms “almost divine”:

“Phantoms of bliss that beckon and recede–, Thy strange allurements, City that I love, Maze of romance, where I have followed too The dream Youth treasures of its dearest need And stars beyond thy towers bring tidings of.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

He loved New York; he loved Paris; he loved any city because youth and life and romance and love were there. He drank all of these into his soul like a thirsty desert drinks rain; to spring to flowers and life and color again. He drank of life and youth as a flower drinks of dew, or a bird at a city fountain, with fluttering joy, drinks, singing as it drinks. You feel all of that eagerness in “Sonnet VI” where he says:

“Where I drank deep the bliss of being young, The strife and sweet potential flux of things I sought Youth’s dream of happiness among!”

Poems by Alan Seeger.


And closely akin to Youth always is Beauty. Beauty and Youth walk arm in arm everywhere, and one may even go so far as to say anywhere. Youth cares not where he goes as long as Beauty walks beside him. He will walk to the ends of the earth. Indeed, he prefers the long way home. Anybody who has known both Youth and Beauty knows this, and it need not be argued about much, thank God. And so it is most natural to find this young poet singing the lyric of Beauty even as he sings the lyric of Youth. How understandingly he addresses Beauty, and how reverently in “An Ode to Natural Beauty”!

“Spirit of Beauty, whose sweet impulses, Flung like the rose of dawn across the sea, Alone can flush the exalted consciousness With shafts of sensible divinity,
Light of the World, essential loveliness.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

Then, talking about the “Wanderer” as though that character were some far off person no kin to the poet (a way that poets have to hide the pulsing of their own hearts), Seeger writes of Beauty. But we who know him cannot be made to think that this “Wanderer” is a fellow we do not know; “nor Launcelot, nor another.” It is he, the poet of whom we write. It bears his imprint. It bears his trade mark. It is stamped “with the image of the king.” He cannot hide from us in this:

“His heart the love of Beauty held as hides One gem most pure a casket of pure gold. It was too rich a lesser thing to hold; It was not large enough for aught besides.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.


Fame always lures Youth. Perhaps later experience proves that it is indeed a hollow thing, hardly worth striving for. But to Youth there is no goal that calls more insistently than Fame. Youth and Beauty and Fame–how closely akin they are! If Beauty and Fame keep him company, Youth is next the stars with delight. And so it is natural that this young poet shall sing the song of Fame with exuberant enthusiasm. He says in “The Need to Love”:

“And I have followed Fame with less devotion, And kept no real ambition but to see
Rise from the foam of Nature’s sunlit ocean My dream of palpable divinity.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And while we are listening to the music of these human stars, the music of the celestial spheres set down in human words, let us catch again the poetic echo of that third line and let it linger long as we listen, “Rise from the foam of Nature’s sunlit ocean,” and

“Forget it not till the crowns are crumbled, Till the swords of the kings are rent with rust; Forget it not till the hills lie humbled, And the Springs of the seas run dust,”

that, as Edwin Markham sings, this echo is the echo of the eternal poetic music.

With these wondrous lines he answers the question which he himself asks in “Fragments,” “What is Success?”

“Out of the endless ore
Of deep desire to coin the utmost gold Of passionate memory: to have lived so well That the fifth moon, when it swims up once more Through orchard boughs where mating orioles build And apple trees unfold,
Find not of that dear need that all things tell The heart unburdened nor the arms unfilled.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

Joy comes next in our treatment of the outstanding singings of this singing poet, and he himself has given us the connecting link in the following lines:

“He has drained as well
Joy’s perfumed bowl and cried as I have cried: Be Fame their mistress whom Love passes by.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And thus smoothly we pass from Fame to Joy and hear him sing of this fourth high peak of Youth.


Whatever he did, whatever he sang, whatever he lived, this man swept all things else aside and plunged in over head. He loved to swim and he loved to dive. Perhaps into his living and his writing he carried this athletic joy also, and as he lived he lived to the full. It seems so as one reads in “I Loved” these impassioned lines:

“From a boy
I gloated on existence. Earth to me Seemed all sufficient and my sojourn there One trembling opportunity for joy.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And then one pauses to weep awhile, and the lines grow dim as he reads them again to know that this man, who so loved to live, who gloated on existence, who saw life as a trembling opportunity for Joy, must leave it so soon. And yet he left it nobly. Again in “An Ode to Antares” he sings of Joy:

“What clamor importuning from every booth! At Earth’s great market where Joy is trafficked in Buy while thy purse yet swells with golden Youth!”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

Kindly Age, Age who had not lost his love, always sings like that to Youth; always tells Youth to live while he may, play while the playworld is his. Every poet who has older grown, from Shakespeare to Lowell, and yet retained his love, has told us this. We expect it of older poets, but here a young poet sees it all clearly; that Youth must buy Joy while his purse is full with Youth. And ye who rob Youth of playtime, of Joy, ye capitalists, ye money makers and life destroyers, listen to this dead poet who yet lives in these words. Fathers, mothers, let childhood spend its all for Joy while the purse of Youth is full. It will be empty after while and it shall never be filled again with Youth. So says the Poet.


The discriminating reader of Seeger soon sees, however, that, while he sings as needs he must, because of the springs that are within him bubbling over, sings of Youth, and Beauty, and Fame, and Joy, yet he knows that these are not all of life. He knows that there are higher things than these. These higher things are Love, Death, God–what a trilogy!

Love is all. He is sure of this. He is true to this. Romantic love he knows–love of comrade, love of God. In this same “An Ode to Natural Beauty” his final conclusion is that Love is best after all:

“On any venture set, but ’twas the first For Beauty willed them, yea whatever be The faults I wanted wings to rise above; I am cheered yet to think how steadfastly I have been loyal to the love of Love!”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

This is more than romantic love; it is the “love of Love.”

And lest this be not strong enough, he sings in “The Need to Love” as great a song as man ever heard on this great theme:

“The need to love that all the stars obey Entered my heart and banished all beside. Bare were the gardens where I used to stray; Faded the flowers that one time satisfied.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

Then, not content, he sets up an altar of poetry and dedicates it to Love and lights a fire of worship there, and leaves it not, nor night nor day:

“All that’s not love is the dearth of my days, The leaves of the volume with rubric unwrit, The temple in times without prayer, without praise, The altar unset and the candle unlit.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

If Love be not queen to him, the palace is cold and barren; the “altar unset and the candle unlit”


Like Brooke, a victim of the Hun, so Seeger, also a victim of the barbarian, seemed to feel the constant presence of Death, an unseen guest at the Feast of Youth and Joy and Fame and Love. Perhaps the war made these two imaginative poets think of Death sooner than Youth usually gives him heed. But most men will think of Death when they are face to face with the shadow day and night as were these soldier-crusading poets; when they see him stalking in every trench, in every wood, on every hill and road, and in every field and village. But how bravely he spoke of Death!–

“Learn to drive fear, then, from your heart. If you must perish, know, O man,
‘Tis an inevitable part
Of the predestined plan.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And again in this same poem, “Makatooh,” he sings of Death:

“Guard that, not bowed nor blanched with fear You enter, but serene, erect,
As you would wish most to appear
To those you most respect.

“So die, as though your funeral
Ushered you through the doors that led Into a stately banquet hall
Where heroes banqueted;

“And it shall all depend therein
Whether you come as slave or lord, If they acclaim you as their kin
Or spurn you from their board.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

What a challenge this is to all who must die in this war, to all lads who are giving their lives heroically in God’s great cause of liberty in his world–this challenge to die so that you may be welcomed into the fraternity of heroes!

Without doubt Seeger’s best-known poem, and one which illustrates also most strongly his attitude toward Death, is that poem entitled “I Have a Rendezvous With Death,” from which we quote:

“I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade;
When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple blossoms fill the air–
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

* * * * *

“God knows, ’twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear,…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town;
When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.


From the lighter thoughts of Youth, Joy, Fame, Beauty, through the “long, long thoughts of Youth”; through Love and Death it is not a long way to climb to God. We would not expect this young poet to be thinking much in this direction, but he does just the same. I have even found those who say that he was not a God-man, but these poems refute that slander on a dead man and poet. I find him singing in “The Nympholept”:

“I think it was the same: some piercing sense Of Deity’s pervasive immanence,
The life that visible Nature doth indwell Grown great and near and all but palpable He might not linger but with winged strides Like one pursued, fled down the mountainsides.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

This reminds one instantly of the haunting Christ of Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven.” And again in the presence of War’s death the poet felt that other and greater presence without doubt, as these words prove:

“When to the last assault our bugles blow: Reckless of pain and peril we shall go, Heads high and hearts aflame and bayonets bare, And we shall brave eternity as though
Eyes looked on us in which we would see fair– One waited in whose presence we would wear, Even as a lover who would be well-seen, Our manhood faultless and our honor clean.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And with magnificent acknowledgment of the divine plan of it all, of life and war and all, he sweeps that truly great poem, “The Hosts,” to a swinging climax in its last tremendous stanza; which, fitting too, shall be the closing lines of this chapter on our dead American, martyred poet.

He first speaks of the marching columns of soldiers as “Big with the beauty of cosmic things. Mark how their columns surge!”

“With bayonets bare and flags unfurled, They scale the summits of the world–“

Poems by Alan Seeger.

And then:

“There was a stately drama writ
By the hand that peopled the earth and air And set the stars in the infinite
And made night gorgeous and morning fair, And all that had sense to reason knew
That bloody drama must be gone through.”

Poems by Alan Seeger.







[Illustration: JOHN OXENHAM.]


[Footnote: The poetical selections appearing in this chapter are used by permission, and are taken from the following works The Vision Splendid, All’s Well, and The Fiery Cross Published by George H. Doran Company, New York.]


In the first volume of The Student in Arms, that widely read book of the war, Donald Hankey has a chapter on “The Religion of the Inarticulate,” in which he shows that the “Tommy” who for so long has been accused of having no religion, really has a very definite one. He has a religion that embraces all the Christian virtues, such as love, sacrifice, brotherhood, and comradeship, but he has never connected these with either Christ or the church. His religion is the “Religion of the Inarticulate.” Hankey then shows that this war is articulating religion as never before.

John Oxenham, Poet-Preacher, is giving articulation to the voice of Christianity–a voice ringing out from over and above the thunder of the guns, the blare, the flare, the outcry, the hurt, the pain and anguish of the most awful war that earth has ever suffered. Some of us have been thinking of this war in terms of Christian hope. We have thought that we see in it a new Calvary out of which shall come a new resurrection to the spiritual world. We have dreamed that men are being redeemed through the sacrifice, through the spirit of service and brotherhood thrust upon the world by war’s supreme demands. We have thought all of this, but we have not been able to make it articulate. Now comes a poet to do it for us.

What magnificent hope sings out, even in the titles that Oxenham has selected for his books in these days of darkness, anguish and lostness. After his first book, Bees in Amber, comes that warm handclasp of strength: that thrill of hope; that word of a watchman in the night, like a sentinel crying through the very title of his second book, “All’s Well.” Then came The Vision Splendid, and soon we are to have The Fiery Cross. The publishers were kind enough to let me examine this last book while it was still in the proof sheets. It is the one great hope book of the war. Every mother and father who has a boy in the war, every wife who has a husband, every child who has a father will thrill with a new pride and a new dignity after reading The Fiery Cross.


No poet has voiced America’s reasons for being in the war as has Oxenham, and nowhere does he do it better than in “Where Are You Going, Great-Heart?” the concluding stanza of which sums up compactly America’s high purposes:

“Where are you going, Great-Heart?
‘To set all burdened peoples free; To win for all God’s liberty;
To ‘stablish His sweet Sovereignty.’ God goeth with you, Great-Heart!”

The Vision Splendid.

To those who go to die in war the poet addresses himself in lines which he titles “On Eagle Wings”:

“Higher than most, to you is given
To live–or in His time, to die;
So, bear you as White Knights of Heaven– The very flower of chivalry!
Take Him as Pilot by your side,
And ‘All is well’ whate’er betide.”

The Vision Splendid.

“If God be with you, who can be against you?” is the echo that we hear going and coming behind these great Christian lines. Indeed, behind every poem that Oxenham writes we can hear the echoes of some great scriptural word of promise, or hope or faith or courage. The Christian, as well as those who never saw the Bible or a church, will feel at home with this poet anywhere. The advantage that the Christian will have in reading him is that he will understand him better.

Turning to those who stay at home and have lost loved ones, with what sympathy and deep, tender understanding does he write in “To You Who Have Lost.” You may almost see a great kindly father standing by your side, his warm hand in yours as he sings:

“I know! I know!–
The ceaseless ache, the emptiness, the woe– The pang of loss–
The strength that sinks beneath so sore a cross. ‘Heedless and careless, still the world wags on, And leaves me broken,… Oh, my son I my son!'”

“Yea–think of this!–
Yea, rather think on this!–
He died as few men get the chance to die– Fighting to save a world’s morality.
He died the noblest death a man may die, Fighting for God, and Right, and Liberty– And such a death is Immortality.”

All’s Well.

If those who have lost loved ones “Over There” cannot be buoyed by that, I know not what will buoy them, what will comfort.

Oxenham too gives us a picture of a battlefield where birds sing and roses bloom, just as do Service and several other poets who have been in the midst of the conflict. We have become familiar with this picture, but no writer yet has caught its full, eternal meaning and pressed it down into three lines for the world as has this man; in “Here, There, and Everywhere”:

“Man proposes–God disposes;
Yet our hope in Him reposes
Who in war-time still makes roses.”

The Fiery Cross.

But this poet in his interpretation of war does not forget peace; does not forget that it is coming; does not forget that the world is hungry for it; does not forget that it is the duty of the poets and the thinking men and women of the world not only to get ready for it, but to lead the way to it.


In a remarkable poem called “Watchman! What of the Night?” we see this great heart standing sentinel on the walls of the world, watching the midnight skies red with the blaze and glow of carnage:

“Watchman! What of the night?
No light we see;
Our souls are bruised and sickened with the sight Of this foul crime against humanity.
The Ways are dark—

* * * * *

“Beyond the war-clouds and the reddened ways, I see the promise of the Coming Days!
I see His sun rise, new charged with grace, Earth’s tears to dry and all her woes efface! Christ lives! Christ loves! Christ rules! No more shall Might,
Though leagued with all the forces of the Night, Ride over Right. No more shall Wrong
The world’s gross agonies prolong. Who waits His time shall surely see
The triumph of His Constancy;
When, without let, or bar, or stay, The coming of His Perfect Day
Shall sweep the Powers of Night away; And Faith replumed for nobler flight,
And Hope aglow with radiance bright, And Love in loveliness bedight

All’s Well.

Then, as is most fair and logical, the poet tells us how we are to build again after peace comes. We must needs know that. The newspapers are full of a certain popular move–and success to it–to rebuild the destroyed cities of France and Belgium. But the rebuilding that the poet speaks of in “The Winnowing” is a deeper thing. It is a spiritual rebuilding without which there is no permanent peace in the world and no permanent safety for the material world.

“How shall we start, Lord, to build life again, Fairer and sweeter, and freed from its pain? ‘Build ye in Me and your building shall be Builded for Time and Eternity.'”

All’s Well.

There is the answer to the world’s cry in short, sharp, succinct lines; compact as a biblical phrase; and as meaningful. Hearken it, ye world! Only in Him can the new spiritual world be built for “Time and Eternity.” And only to those who so believe and hold shall the world belong henceforth. At least so says our poet:

“To whom shall the world henceforth belong And who shall go up and possess it?”

which question he himself answers in the same verse:

“To the Men of Good Fame
Who everything claim–
This world and the next–in their Master’s great name–

“To these shall the world henceforth belong, And they shall go up and possess it;
Overmuch, overlong, has the world suffered wrong, We are here by God’s help to redress it.”

The Fiery Cross.

And finally in this fight for peace he does not forget prayer, and in “The Prayer Immortal,” which is introduced, as are so many of Oxenham’s poems, by a phrase from the Bible, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” he admonishes those who seek peace:

“So–to your knees–And,
with your heart and soul, pray God That wars may cease,
And earth, by His good will,
Through these rough ways, find peace!”

The Fiery Cross.


The voice of the cross of Calvary is being heard this day of war as it has never been heard before. The world is resonant with its message. Every soldier, every nation, every home, every mother and father and child and wife who has suffered because of this war, shall henceforth understand the Christ and his cross the better. All through this writer’s interpretations of the war we find the cross to the fore. To him the cross symbolizes the war. This war is the cross in a deep and abiding sense. In “Through the Valley” he says:

“And there of His radiant company,
Full many a one I see,
Who has won through the Valley of Shadows To the larger liberty.
Even there in the grace of the heavenly place, It is joy to meet mine own,
And to know that not one but has valiantly won, By the way of the Cross, his crown.”

The Vision Splendid.

Thank God for that hope! Thank God for that word!

In “The Ballad of Jim Baxter” this same thought is more vividly and strongly set forth. It is the story of one type of German cruelty of which we have heard in the war dispatches several times and that have been confirmed on the spot; the story of the Germans nailing men to crosses. Jim Baxter suffered this experience:

“When Jim came to, he found himself
Nailed to a cross of wood,
Just like the Christs you find out there On every country road.

“He wondered dully if he’d died,
And so, become a Christ;
‘Perhaps,’ he thought, ‘all men are Christs When they are crucified.'”

The Vision Splendid.

And in this homely lad’s homely way of putting his cruel experience who knows but that there may be such truth as yet we cannot see in the dark chaos of war?


It isn’t a far step from the cross to the Christ of the cross, and in this man’s poetry the two mingle and commingle so closely that one overlaps the other. But always these two things stand out–the cross and the Christ. And in the new volume, The Fiery Cross, one finds many pages devoted to this great thought alone.

Of the tenderness of the Christ he speaks most sympathetically, having in mind again the lads that war has taken. In “The Master’s Garden” hear him:

“And some, with wondrous tenderness, To His lips He gently pressed,
And fervent blessings breathed on them, And laid them in His breast.”

The Vision Splendid.

And then of his sweetness, referring again to the “Jim Baxter,” we have a wonderful picture of the oft mentioned Comrade in White, who is so real to the wounded soldiers:

“His face was wondrous pitiful,
But still more wondrous sweet;
And Jim saw holes just like his own In His white hands and feet;
But His look it was that won Jim’s heart, It was so wondrous sweet.

“‘Christ!’–said the dying man once more, With accent reverent,
He had never said it so before,
But he knew now what Christ meant–“

The Vision Splendid.

Oxenham has great faith in humanity. From time to time we find him expressing man’s kinship with the stars and with God and Christ. “Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels” this poet takes seriously, thank God. This word from the Book means something to him. And so it is in a poem called “In Every Man” we see him finding Christ in every man:

“In every soul of all mankind
Somewhat of Christ I find,
Somewhat of Christ–and Thee;
For in each one there surely dwells That something which most surely spells Life’s immortality.

* * * * *

“And so, for love of Christ–and Thee, I will not cease to seek and find,
In all mankind,
That hope of immortality
Which dwells so sacramentally
In Christ–and Thee.”

The Fiery Cross.

He feels Christ’s eternity so much that he cries out for him continually and will not be satisfied without him. He knows that he must have the Christ if he wants to grow great enough to meet life’s demands. In a poem, “A Prayer for Enlargement,” which I quote in full because of its brevity, one feels this dependence:

“Shrive me of all my littleness and sin! Open your great heart wide!
Open it wide and take me in,
For the sake of Christ who died!

“Was I grown small and strait?–
Then shalt Thou make me wide.
Through the love of Christ who died, Thou–thou shalt make me great.”

The Fiery Cross.