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Stefan George, "The War" (1917)

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You shall not cheer. No rise will mark the end,
But only downfalls, many and inglorious.
Monsters of lead and iron, tubes and rods
Escape their maker’s hand and rage unruly.
Who saw his comrade crushed to pulp and fragments,
Who lived the life of vermin in the broken
And desecrated earth, must laugh with hatred
At speeches once heroic, now deceitful.
The ancient god of battles is no more.
And in decay a fevered world is sickening
Toward death. The only ichors that are sacred
Are those which, still unstained, are spent in floods.

Where is the man who stands for all? And where is
The only word that holds on Judgment Day?
Monarchs with pasteboard crowns and silly gestures,
Lawyers, and scribes, and traders—froth and chaff!
Even in firm and charted limits: turmoil!
Then threat of chaos. From a modest house
In suburbs of the greyest of our towns,
Supported by his cane, a plain, forgotten
Old man appeared and solved the hour’s riddle.
He saved what they—God knows!—with pompous slogans
Had driven to the chasm’s brink: the realm,
But from the fouler foe he cannot succour.

“Have you no eye for sacrifice unmeasured,
For strength of unity?” These also flourish
Across the border. In nefarious eras
Offerings are useless, duties dim and dull.
Crowds have their value, but they shape no symbols,
Are aimless and forgetful. Only sages
Want reasons. People drool of charity,
Humaneness—and embark on monstrous slaughter.
On spittle of the basest wooing follows
The slime of vile affront, and what’s at odds
Would fawn with fond caresses if the future
Made manifest its terror to their eyes.

This bloated mask is spirit? Blooms so frail
Spring from another soil. The withered cant
Of zenith and a resurrection savours
Of rotted fruit. The old will not be young
When they return! Who speaks of truth and errs
In basic truth is maddest of the mad.
The wily say: a lesson for the future!
That will be different, though, and those who face it
Must learn to change, to grow the inner eye.
Not one who summons now and thinks he governs,
Knows that he gropes about in doom, and no one
Can see the palest flicker of a dawn.

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