Now what in the name of the sun and the stars
Is the meaning of this most unholy of wars?
Do men find life so full of humour and joy
That for want of excitement they smash up the toy?
Fifteen millions of soldiers with popguns and horses
All bent upon killing, because their “of courses”
Are not quite the same. All these men by the ears,
And nine nations of women choking with tears.
It is folly to think that the will of a king
Can force men to make ducks and drakes of a thing
They value, and life is, at least one supposes,
Of some little interest, even if roses
Have not grown up between one foot and the other.
What a marvel bureaucracy is, which can smother
Such quite elementary feelings, and tag
A man with a number, and set him to wag
His legs and his arms at the word of command
Or the blow of a whistle! He’s certainly damned,
Fit only for mince-meat, if a little gold lace
And an upturned moustache can set him to face
Bullets, and bayonets, and death, and diseases,
Because some one he calls his Emperor, pleases.
If each man were to lay down his weapon, and say,
With a click of his heels, “I wish you Good-day,”
Now what, may I ask, could the Emperor do?
A king and his minions are really so few.
Angry? Oh, of course, a most furious Emperor!
But the men are so many they need not mind his temper, or
The dire results which could not be inflicted.
With no one to execute sentence, convicted
Is just the weak wind from an old, broken bellows.
What lackeys men are, who might be such fine fellows!
To be killing each other, unmercifully,
At an order, as though one said, “Bring up the tea.”
Or is it that tasting the blood on their jaws
They lap at it, drunk with its ferment, and laws
So patiently builded, are nothing to drinking
More blood, any blood. They don’t notice its stinking.
I don’t suppose tigers do, fighting cocks, sparrows,
And, as to men — what are men, when their marrows
Are running with blood they have gulped; it is plain
Such excellent sport does not recollect pain.
Toll the bells in the steeples left standing. Half-mast
The flags which meant order, for order is past.
Take the dust of the streets and sprinkle your head,
The civilization we’ve worked for is dead.
Squeeze into this archway, the head of the line
Has just swung round the corner to `Die Wacht am Rhein’.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Amy Lowell's poem A Ballad of Footmen

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