Robert William Service
Politeness - Poem by Robert William Service
The English and the French were met
Upon the field of future battle;
The foes were formidably set
And waiting for the guns to rattle;
When from the serried ranks of France
The English saw with woeful presage
Under a flaming flag advance
A trumpeter who bore a message.
'Twas from their Marshal, quite polite,
Yet made the English leader shiver.
"We're perched," said he, "upon the height,
While you're exposed beside the river.
We have the vantage, you'll agree,
And your look-out is melancholy;
But being famed for courtesy
We'll let you fire the starting volley."
The English General was moved,
In fact his eyes were almost tearful;
Then he too his politeness proved
By writing back: "We are not fearful.
Our England is too proud to take
The privilege you thrust upon her;
So let your guns in thunder break:
To you, M'sieu, shall be the houour."
Again a note the Marshall sent
By envoy for his battle station:
"Your spirit wins my compliment,
Your courage my appreciation.
Yet you are weak and we are strong,
And though your faith is most inspiring,
Don't let us linger all day long -
Mon General, begin the firing."
"How chivalrous the soul of France."
The English General reflected.
"I hate to take this happy chance,
But I suppose it's what's expected.
Politeness is a platitude
In this fair land of gallant foemen."
So with a heart of gratitude
He primed his guns and cried: "Let's go men!"
The General was puzzled when
No answer came, said he: "What is it?
Why don't they give us hell?" And then
The herald paid another visit.
The Marshall wrote: "to your salute
Please pardon us for not replying;
To shatter you we cannot shoot . . .
My men are dead and I am dying."
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