Oliver Wendell Holmes
Choose You This Day Whom Ye Will Serve
YES, tyrants, you hate us, and fear while you hate
The self-ruling, chain-breaking, throne-shaking State!
The night-birds dread morning,--your instinct is true,--
The day-star of Freedom brings midnight for you!
Why plead with the deaf for the cause of mankind?
The owl hoots at noon that the eagle is blind!
We ask not your reasons,--'t were wasting our time,--
Our life is a menace, our welfare a crime!
We have battles to fight, we have foes to subdue,--
Time waits not for us, and we wait not for you!
The mower mows on, though the adder may writhe
And the copper-head coil round the blade of his
'No sides in this quarrel,' your statesmen may urge,
Of school-house and wages with slave-pen scourge!--
No sides in the quarrel! proclaim it as well
To the angels that fight with the legions of hell!
They kneel in God's temple, the North and the South,
With blood on each weapon and prayers in each mouth.
Whose cry shall be answered? Ye Heavens, attend
The lords of the lash as their voices ascend!
'O Lord, we are shaped in the image of Thee,--
Smite down the base millions that claim to be free,
And lend thy strong arm to the soft-handed race
Who eat not their bread in the sweat of their face!'
So pleads the proud planter. What echoes are these?
The bay of his bloodhound is borne on the breeze,
And, lost in the shriek of his victim's despair,
His voice dies unheard.--Hear the Puritan's prayer!
'O Lord, that didst smother mankind in thy flood,
The sun is as sackcloth, the moon is as blood,
The stars fall to earth as untimely are cast
The figs from the fig-tree that shakes in the blast!
'All nations, all tribes in whose nostrils is breath
Stand gazing at Sin as she travails with Death!
Lord, strangle the monster that struggles to birth,
Or mock us no more with thy 'Kingdom on Earth!'
'If Ammon and Moab must reign in the land
Thou gavest thine Israel, fresh from thy hand,
Call Baal and Ashtaroth out of their graves
To be the new gods for the empire of slaves!'
Whose God will ye serve, O ye rulers of men?
Will ye build you new shrines in the slave-breeder's den?
Or bow with the children of light, as they call
On the Judge of the Earth and the Father of All?
Choose wisely, choose quickly, for time moves apace,--
Each day is an age in the life of our race!
Lord, lead them in love, ere they hasten in fear
From the fast-rising flood that shall girdle the sphere!
Oliver Wendell Holmes's Other Poems
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