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The Merciful Things that Stay (Poem)

The birds have built as usual on the edge of the firing line.
—Snap Shots from the Front.

WAS there ever a time when war was not?
And what did we talk of then?
And what did the papers find to print?
And what will they print again?
When the Eastern Front and the Western Front
And the gas and the submarine,
And the thin brown lines, and the Zeppelin raid
And the loss and gain of the sea blockade
Are as if they had not been?

Was there ever a time when we slept serene
With hearts that were not opprest?
When we woke with spirits unperturbed
By the pulse of the world’s unrest?
When we did not flinch from the head-line’s tale
Of the ruthless waste of men?
When we were not wonted to cruelty,
And things were just as they used to be,
But never can be again.
We sigh as we think of those far-off days,
The time when the war was not,
When our land was at peace with all the world
And ancient feuds forgot;
When the lost bells chimed from their belfries high,
And the harvests waved below,
When the silent woods and the quiet dells
Were undisturbed by the bursting shells
In the peaceful Long Ago.

But out where the trenches scar the earth,
And the ground is torn with the shells,
The grass is green in the valley’s lap,
And the violets bloom in the dells;
And under the trees with their branches shorn,
In many a sunny glade,
The little birds build on the tiring line,
And nature covers with leaf and vine
The wounds that man has made.

Thank God for the things that are just the same,
The merciful things that stay;
The dear and the lovely, unestranged,
Unmarred, unshattered and still unchanged
By the heartbreak of today;
For the sun that shines through the battle-cloud,
For the birds that sing where the guns are loud,
For the flowers that grow from the grave’s dark shroud,
In the beautiful olden way.

Thank God for the things more precious still—
For the love and the trust that is sure,
For the faith and the hope that our souls have known,
That are set too high to be overthrown,
And shrined in a peace secure;
The faith in God and His guiding hand,
The hope of a home in a better land
In a kingdom that shall last;
For the deathless dead who are waiting there
Beyond our sorrow and our despair
And the wreck of our crumbling past.

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Annie Johnson Flint

  • Born December 25th, 1866 in Vineland, New Jersey
  • American poet

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