Thomas Hardy

(2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928 / Dorchester / England)

The Sick God


I

   In days when men had joy of war,
A God of Battles sped each mortal jar;
   The peoples pledged him heart and hand,
   From Israel's land to isles afar.

II

   His crimson form, with clang and chime,
Flashed on each murk and murderous meeting-time,
   And kings invoked, for rape and raid,
   His fearsome aid in rune and rhyme.

III

   On bruise and blood-hole, scar and seam,
On blade and bolt, he flung his fulgid beam:
   His haloes rayed the very gore,
   And corpses wore his glory-gleam.

IV

   Often an early King or Queen,
And storied hero onward, knew his sheen;
   'Twas glimpsed by Wolfe, by Ney anon,
   And Nelson on his blue demesne.

V

   But new light spread. That god's gold nimb
And blazon have waned dimmer and more dim;
   Even his flushed form begins to fade,
   Till but a shade is left of him.

VI

   That modern meditation broke
His spell, that penmen's pleadings dealt a stroke,
   Say some; and some that crimes too dire
   Did much to mire his crimson cloak.

VII

   Yea, seeds of crescive sympathy
Were sown by those more excellent than he,
   Long known, though long contemned till then -
   The gods of men in amity.

VIII

   Souls have grown seers, and thought out-brings
The mournful many-sidedness of things
   With foes as friends, enfeebling ires
   And fury-fires by gaingivings!

IX

   He scarce impassions champions now;
They do and dare, but tensely--pale of brow;
   And would they fain uplift the arm
   Of that faint form they know not how.

X

   Yet wars arise, though zest grows cold;
Wherefore, at whiles, as 'twere in ancient mould
   He looms, bepatched with paint and lath;
   But never hath he seemed the old!

XI

   Let men rejoice, let men deplore.
The lurid Deity of heretofore
   Succumbs to one of saner nod;
   The Battle-god is god no more.

Submitted: Saturday, January 04, 2003

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