In War Time

“Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott.”

(Luther’s Hymn)


John Greenleaf Whittier

WE WAIT beneath the furnace-blast
    The pangs of transformation;
Not painlessly doth God recast
    And mould anew the nation.
        Hot burns the fire
        Where wrongs expire;
        Nor spares the hand
        That from the land
        Uproots the ancient evil.

The hand-breadth cloud the sages feared
    Its bloody rain is dropping;
The poison plant the fathers spared
    All else is overtopping.
        East, West, South, North,
        It curses the earth;
        All justice dies,
        And fraud and lies
        Live only in its shadow.

What gives the wheat-field blades of steel?
    What points the rebel cannon?
What sets the roaring rabble’s heel
    On the old star-spangled pennon?
        What breaks the oath
        Of the men o’ the South?
        What whets the knife
        For the Union’s life?—
        Hark to the answer: Slavery!

Then waste no blows on lesser foes
    In strife unworthy freemen.
God lifts to-day the veil, and shows
    The features of the demon
        O North and South,
        Its victims both,
        Can ye not cry,
        “Let slavery die!”
        And union find in freedom?

What though the cast-out spirit tear
    The nation in his going?
We who have shared the guilt must share
    The pang of his o’erthrowing!
        Whate’er the loss,
        Whate’er the cross,
        Shall they complain
        Of present pain
        Who trust in God’s hereafter?

For who that leans on His right arm
    Was ever yet forsaken?
What righteous cause can suffer harm
    If He its part has taken?
        Though wild and loud,
        And dark the cloud,
        Behind its folds
        His hand upholds
        The calm sky of to-morrow!

Above the maddening cry for blood,
    Above the wild war-drumming,
Let Freedom’s voice be heard, with good
    The evil overcoming.
        Give prayer and purse
        To stay the Curse
        Whose wrong we share,
        Whose shame we bear,
        Whose end shall gladden Heaven!

In vain the bells of war shall ring
    Of triumphs and revenges,
While still is spared the evil thing
    That severs and estranges.
        But blest the ear
        That yet shall hear
        The jubilant bell
        That rings the knell
        Of Slavery forever!

Then let the selfish lip be dumb,
    And hushed the breath of sighing;
Before the joy of peace must come
    The pains of purifying.
        God give us grace
        Each in his place
        To bear his lot,
        And, murmuring not,
        Endure and wait and labor!

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