Bees in Amber - A Little Book Of Thoughtful Verse
by John Oxenham
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The Master spoke. His voice so soft and sweet Thrilled my heart's core and shook me where I stood,— "Time runs apace. The New Time is at hand. Shall it be Peace or War? It rests with THEE." In dumb amaze the other shook his head. "Thy brother of the North has cast his lot For peace. Alone he cannot compass it. Shall it be Peace or War? It rests with THEE." Again the other shook his head amazed, But never swerved a hair's breadth in his gaze. "Shall it be Peace or War? Join hands with him, Thy Northern brother, with the Western Isles, And with their brethren of the Further West, And Peace shall reign to Earth's remotest bound." And still the other shook his head amazed. "Shall it be Peace or War? Millions of lives Are in thy hand, women and men and those My little ones. Their souls are mine. Their lives Are in thy hand. Of thee I shall require them. Shall it be Peace or War?"

* * * * *

"I am but one," The other answered with reluctant tongue. "Thou art THE one and so I come to thee. For Peace or War the scales are in thy hand. As thou decidest now, so shall it be. But,—as thou sayest now, so be it With thee—then. Shall it be Peace or War? Nay—look!—" And at the word—where stood the wall—a space; And at their feet, like mighty map unrolled,— The kingdoms of the earth, and every kingdom Groaned with the burden of its armour-plate. And the weight grew till man was crushed beneath, And lost his manhood and became a cog To roll along the great machine of war. And, as he watched, the War-Lord's eyes flamed fire, His nostrils panted like a mettled steed's. This was the game of games he knew and loved, And every fibre of his soul was knit To see what passed. Then,—in a sun-white land, Where a great sea poured out through narrow gates To meet a greater,—came the clang of arms, And drew the nations like a tocsin peal, Till all the sun-white sands ran red, and earth Sweat blood, and writhed in fiery ashes, and Grew sick with all the reek and stench of war, And heaven drew back behind the battle-clouds. And ever, through the clamour of the strife, I heard the ceaseless wailing of a child, And the sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, endless Sobbing of a reft and broken woman;— And the hoarse whisper of the War-Lord's voice,— "Britain fights once again for Barbary Lest others occupy to her undoing. And Italy and Greece and Turkey join, To beat back France and Spain." Again I saw,— Where legions marched and wound 'mid snowy peaks, And came upon a smiling vine-clad land, And filled it with the reek and stench of war. The hoarse voice spoke,— "The provinces she stole And lost, Austria takes back." Again I saw,— Where white-capped hosts crept swiftly to the straits Twixt old and new, and drenched the land with blood, And filled it with the reek and stench of war. The War-Lord spoke,— "Despite his love of peace, Our brother of the North has seized his chance, And got his heart's desire." Again I saw,— Where legions poured through the eternal snows, And legions swept o'er every sea to meet Their long-expected onslaught, and the dead Were piled in mountains, and the snows ran red. The War-Lord spoke,— "Up, Britain, up! Strike home! Or drop your rod of Empire in the dust— One of you dies this day." Again I saw,— Beneath us, legions swarming to the West, Devouring kingdoms till they reached the sea, And filling all the lands with blood and fire. The War-Lord gazed, with eyes that blazed and flamed, And panted like a soul in torment,—"Mine! All these are mine!" "Thine, sayest thou?—Thine now, When thou shalt stand before me—then, I shall require them of thee." —Thus the voice Of Him who sat and gazed with sorrowing face, While all the earth beneath us reeked of war, And heaven grew dim behind the battle-clouds. And ever, through the clamour of the strife, I heard the ceaseless wailing of a child, And the sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, endless Sobbing of a reft and broken woman. "Shall it be Peace or War?" A two-edged sword Could cut no sharper than the gentle voice Of Him who bowed with sorrow at the sight Of man destroying man for sake of gain. I waited, breathless, for the warrior's word. But no word came. His heart was with his men. "Shall it be Peace or War? Look yet again!" And at their feet, like mighty map unrolled, Lay all the kingdoms of the earth—at peace. The glad earth smiled beneath a smiling heaven, And brought forth fruit for all her children's needs. The desert lands had blossomed, and the earth Was large enough for all. Her voice came up, A softly-rounded murmur of content, Like bees that labour gladly on the comb. The reign of Peace,—and yet an army lay Couchant and watchful, ready for the strife If strife need be,—the strife of quelling strife,— An army culled in part from all the lands. Owning no master but the public weal, And prompt to quench the first red spark of war. Even as we watched, a frontier turmoil rose, And therewith rose the army, and the fire Died out while scarce begun. The smoke of it Was scarcely seen, the noise scarce heard; for all The lands, sore-spent with war, had welcomed Peace, And bowed to mightier forces than their own; Men cast aside their armour and their arms, And lived men's lives and were no more machines. "Wars shall there be, indeed, till that last war That shall wage war on War and sweep the earth Of all war-wagers and of all mankind." So spake the voice and ceased. And still we gazed,— A great white building, on its topmost tower A great white flag, proclaimed a World's Tribunal For the righting of the nations' wrongs. And that great army answered its behests And owned allegiance to no other head. Peace reigned triumphant. On the quiet air I heard the merry laughter of the child, And the great sigh of gratitude that rose From all the mother-hearts of all the world. "Shall it be Peace or War?"— Once more the voice,— "To one man is it given to decide, THOU ART THE MAN! The scales are in THY hand. Think well, and say,—Shall it be Peace or War? As thou, shalt say so shall it be with thee." But, ere the answer came, all vanished like A scrap of paper in a fire of coals. Then, with a crackling peal, the thick black vail That hangs before the face of men was rent, And in the instant lightning flash I saw,—

A chamber hung with black and heaped with flowers, Where candles tall flashed white on watchers' swords. High on a high-raised bier lay one at rest— Crosses and orders on his quiet breast, Head proudly cushioned on his country's flag, Hands calmly folded on his helmet's crest, His back to earth, his mute face turned to heaven,— Answering the summons of his Over-Lord. I strained my eyes upon his face to learn Thereon his answer. But the dark vail dropped, And left me wondering what his word had been. Had I but read his face I should have known Who lay there.—Man, like other men? Or one Who grasped the greater things, and by his will Brought Peace on Earth and drew Earth nearer Heaven. The bells beat softly on the midnight air Proclaiming the New Time? Shall it be Peace? A voice within me cried and would not cease, "One man could do it if he would but dare."

NOTE.—This was written in 1898, at the time of the Tzar's Rescript to the Powers suggesting a Peace Conference with a view to the lightening of the ever-growing burden of arms.

The possibilities have changed their faces, but at heart the great problem remains much the same. And above all, the great fact remains that if Great Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States joined hands for a World Peace, they could ensure it. Germany is still mistrustful. On her lies a great responsibility.


Is your place a small place? Tend it with care!— He set you there.

Is your place a large place? Guard it with care!— He set you there.

Whatever your place, it is Not yours alone, but His Who set you there.


Some lives are set in narrow ways, By Love's wise tenderness. They seem to suffer all their days Life's direst storm and stress. But God shall raise them up at length, His purposes are sure, He for their weakness shall give strength, For every ill a cure.


(For the Braille Magazine)

When the outer eye grows dim, Turns the inner eye to Him, Who makes darkness light. Fairer visions you may see, Live in nobler company, And in larger liberty, Than the men of sight.

He sometimes shuts the windows but to open hidden doors, Where all who will may wander bold and free, For His house has many mansions, and the mansions many floors, And every room is free to you and me.


Earthly props are useless, On Thy grace I fall; Earthly strength is weakness, Father, on Thee I call,— For comfort, strength, and guidance, O, give me all!


I have been tried, Tried in the fire, And I say this, As the result of dire distress, And tribulation sore— That a man's happiness doth not consist Of that he hath, but of the faith And trust in God's great love These bring him to. Nought else is worth consideration. For the peace a man may find In perfect trust in God Outweighs all else, and is The only possible foundation For true happiness.


Lord, when Thou seest that my work is done, Let me not linger on, With failing powers, Adown the weary hours,— A workless worker in a world of work. But, with a word, Just bid me home, And I will come Right gladly,— Yea, right gladly Will I come.


Mr. F.W. Christian, of the Polynesian Society of New Zealand, whose personal acquaintance with the South Sea Islands and their dialects is unique, is translating "Kapiolani" into Rarotongan. He writes—

"I enclose a four-line stanza which, translating your first line—'Where the great green combers break,' etc.—strictly according to East Polynesian ballad-metres, ushers in your great theme.

"'Kapiolani' will, I trust, God willing, become a household classic in many of the Eastern Islands, such as Rapa and Manahiki, where the Rarotongan language runs current as a sort of Lingua Franca or Sacred Esperanto, thanks to the magnificent translation of the Bible by the great missionary, John Williams. I have translated the poem most carefully, and as accurately as possible into the peculiar metre and cast of expression which an Eastern Polynesian 'Atu-Pe'e, or Versifier, would immediately grasp as idiomatic. The first lines run thus:—"

Tei te ngai mangungu—anga no te an ngaru roro'a Ki runga no te punga matoato'a Ngaru kerekere, ngaru mamaata e tini Ki runga no te 'Akau-Pipini.


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