Backblock Ballads and Later Verses

Son of a Fool

C.J. Dennis

GYVED and chained in his father’s home,
    He toiled ’neath a conqueror’s rule;
Bowed to the earth in the land of his birth;
    The Slave who was Son of a Fool.

Poor remnant he of a conquered race,
    Long shorn of its power and pride,
No reverence shone in his sullen face
    When they told how that race had died.
But the meed that he gave to his father’s name
Was a down-drooped head and a flush of shame.

Burned in his brain was the pitiful tale
    Of a sabre too late unsheathed;
Deep in his heart lay the poisoned dart
    Of the shame that his sire bequeathed:
The searing shame of a laggard life,
Of an arm too weak in the hour of strife.

Oh, the Fool had reigned full many a year
    In the Land of the Bounteous Gifts,
Dreaming and drifting, with never a fear,
    As a doomed fool pleasantly drifts;
And he ate his fill of the gifts she gave—
The Fool who was sire of a hopeless Slave.

Through years of plenty and years of peace
    He lolled in the pleasing shade,
Marking his flocks and his herds increase,
    Watching his waxing trade;
And he smiled when he heard of the old world’s wars,
With never a care for his own rich stores.

Year by year as his harvest grew,
    He gleaned with a lightsome heart;
His barns he filled, and he sowed and tilled,
    Trading in port and mart.
Proud of his prowess in sport and trade
Was the Fool, who scoffed at an alien raid.

Little he recked of the gathering cloud
    That boded a swift disgrace.
Was he not seed of a manly breed,
    Proud son of a warlike race?
And he told of the deeds that his sires had done—
While he wielded a bat in the place of a gun.

Small were his fears in the rich fat years,
    Loud was his laugh of scorn
When they whispered low of a watching foe,
    Greedy for gold and corn;
A foe grown jealous of trade an power,
Marking the teasure, and waiting the hour.

’Twas a cheerful Fool, but a Fool foredoomed
    Gazed out on a clear spring morn;
And his eye ranged wide o’er the countryside,
    With its treasures, its kine and corn.
And, “Mine, all mine!” said the prosperous Fool.
“And it never shall pass to an alien rule!”

And, e’en when the smoke of the raiders’ ships
    Trailed out o’er the northern skies,
His laugh was loud: “’Tis a summer cloud,”
    Said the Fool in his Paradise.
And, to guard his honor, he gave a gun
To the feeble hands of his younger son.

Oh, a startled Fool, and a Fool in haste
    Awoke on a later day,
When they sped the word that a foe laid waste
    His ports by the smiling bay,
And his voice was shrill as he bade his sons
Haste out to the sound of the booming guns.

He was brave, they tell, as a fool is brave,
    With an oath ’tween his hard-clenched teeth,
When he found the sword that he fain would wave
    Held fast in its rusty sheath;
When he learned that the hand, so skilled in play,
Was the hand of a child that fatal day.

And scarce had he raised his rallying cry,
    Scarce had he called one note,
When he died, as ever a fool must die,
    With his war-song still in his throat.
And an open ditch was the hasty grave
Of the Fool who fathered a hopeless Slave.

They point the moral, they tell the tale,
    And the old world wags its head:
“If a Fool hath treasure, and Might prevail,
    Then the Fool must die,” ’tis said.
And the end of it all is a broken gun
And the heritage gleaned by a hapless son.

Gyved and chained in his father’s home,
    He toiled ’neath a conqueror’s rule;
While they flung in his face the taunt of his race:
    A Slave and the Son of a Fool.

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