“And the brave man go with the coward, and the chained mind shackle the free”

Not a news flash: it’s a bad idea to unilaterally disarm, and hope the bad guys will be nice enough not to attack. This was written in 1919 – just after “the war to end all wars” – by Australian Henry Lawson (1867-1922).

“The League of Nations”

Light on the towns and cities, and peace for evermore!
The Big Five met in the world’s light as many had met before,
And the future of man is settled and there shall be no more war.

The lamb shall lie down with the lion, and trust with treachery;
The brave man go with the coward, and the chained mind shackle the free,
And the truthful sit with the liar ever by land and sea.

And there shall be no more passion and no more love nor hate;
No more contempt for the paltry, no more respect for the great;
And the people shall breed like rabbits and mate as animals mate.

For lo! the Big Five have said it, each with a fearsome frown;
Each for his chosen country, State, and city and town;
Each for his lawn and table and the bed where he lies him down.

Cobbler and crank and chandler, magpie and ape disguised;
Each bound to his grocery corner – these are the Five we prized;
Bleating the teaching of others whom they ever despised.

But three shall meet in a cellar, companions of mildew and rats;
And three shall meet in a garret, pungent with stench of the cats,
And three in a cave in the forest where the torchlight maddens the bats –

Bats as blind as the people, streaming into the glare –
And the Nine shall turn the nations back to the plain things there;
Tracing in chalk and charcoal treaties that none can tear:

Truth that goes higher than airships and deeper than submarines,
And a message swifter than wireless – and none shall know what it means –
Till an army is rushed together and ready behind the scenes.

The Big Five sit together in the light of the World and day,
Each tied to his grocery corner though he travel the world for aye,
Each bleating the dreams of dreamers whom he has despised alway.

And intellect shall be tortured, and art destroyed for a span –
The brute shall defile the pictures as he did when the age began;
He shall hawk and spit in the palace to prove that he is a man.

Cobbler and crank and chandler, magpie and ape disguised;
Each bound to his grocery corner – these are the Five we prized;
Bleating the teaching of others whom they ever despised.

Let the nations scatter their armies and level their arsenals well,
Let them blow their airships to Heaven and sink their warships to Hell,
Let them maim the feet of the runner and silence the drum and the bell;

But shapes shall glide from the cellar who never had dared to “strike”,
And shapes shall drop from the garret (ghastly and so alike)
To drag from the cave in the forest powder and cannon and pike.

As of old, we are sending a message to Garcia still –
Smoke from the peak by sunlight, beacon by night from the hill;
And the drum shall throb in the distance – the drum that never was still.

More

  • A biography of Henry Lawson, with a list of all his poems, is here. When I’m not obsessed with foreign policy, my favorite is “The Ships That Won’t Go Down.”
  • Want more art like this delivered weekly to your inbox? Check out my Patreon page.
Posted in Poetry Tagged permalink

About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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