Patriotic pieces from the Great War/The Prayer
Permission of the publishers, Geo. H. Doran Co., New York
You say there's only evil in this war—
That bullets drive out Christ? If you had been
In Furnes with me that night ... what would you say,
It was ruin past all words,
Horror where joyous comfort used to be,
And not clean quiet death, for all day long
The great shells tore the little that remained
Like vultures on a body that still breathes.
They stopped as it grew dark. I looked about
The ghastly wilderness that once had been
The village street, and saw no other life
Except a Belgian soldier, shadowy
Among the shadows, and a little group
Of children creeping from a cellar school
And hurrying home. One older than the rest—
So little older!—mothered them along
Till all at once a stray belated shell
Whined suddenly out of the gloom, and burst
Near by. The babies wailed and clung together,
Helpless with fear. In vain the little mother
Encouraged them—"But no! you mustn't cry,
That isn't brave, that isn't French!" At last
She led her frightened brood across the way
To where there stood a roadside Calvary
Bearing its sad indomitable Christ—
Strange how the shells will spare just that! I saw
So many ... There they knelt, poor innocents,
Hands folded and eyes closed. I stole across
And stood behind them. "We must say our prayer—
Our Father which art in heaven," she began,
And all the little sobbing voices piped,
"Hallowed be Thy Name." From down the road
The Belgian soldier had come near. I felt
Him standing there beside me in the dusk.
"Thy kingdom come—
"Thy will be done on earth
As it is In heaven." The irony of it
Cut me like steel. I barely kept an oath
Behind my teeth. If one could name this earth
In the same breath with heaven—what is hell?
Only a little child could pray like this.
"Give us this day our daily bread—" A pause.
There was no answer. She repeated it
Urgently. Still the hush. She opened wide
Reproachful eyes at them. Their eyes were open
Also, and staring at the shadowy shapes
Of ruin all around them. Now that prayer
Had grown too hard even for little children.
"I know—I know—but we must say the prayer,"
She faltered. "Give us this day our daily bread,
And—and forgive—" she stopped.
As we forgive them who have trespassed against us."
The children turned amazed to see who spoke
The words they could not. I too turned to him,
The soldier there beside me—and I looked
Into King Albert's face ... I have no words
To tell you what I saw ... only I thought
That while a man's breast held a heart like that,
Christ was not—even here—so far away.