Ah! What avails the classic bent
And what the cultured word,
Against the undoctored incident
That actually occurred?
And what is Art whereto we press
Through paint and prose and rhyme—
When Nature in her nakedness
Defeats us every time?
It is not learning, grace nor gear,
Nor easy meat and drink,
But bitter pinch of pain and fear
That makes creation think.
When in this world’s unpleasing youth
Our godlike race began,
The longest arm, the sharpest tooth,
Gave man control of man;
Till, bruised and bitten to the bone
And taught by pain and fear,
He learned to deal the far-off stone,
And poke the long, safe spear.
So tooth and nail were obsolete
As means against a foe,
Till, bored by uniform defeat,
Some genius built the bow.
Then stone and javelin proved as vain
As old-time tooth and nail;
Till, spurred anew by fear and pain,
Man fashioned coats of mail.
Then was there safety for the rich
And danger for the poor,
Till someone mixed a powder which
Redressed the scale once more.
Helmet and armour disappeared
With sword and bow and pike,
And, when the smoke of battle cleared,
All men were armed alike. . . .
And when ten million such were slain
To please one crazy king,
Man, schooled in bulk by fear and pain,
Grew weary of the thing;
And, at the very hour designed
To enslave him past recall,
His tooth-stone-arrow-gun-shy mind
Turned and abolished all.
All Power, each Tyrant, every Mob
Whose head has grown too large,
Ends by destroying its own job
And works its own discharge;
And Man, whose mere necessities
Move all things from his path,
Trembles meanwhile at their decrees,
And deprecates their wrath!