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 god-like 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!