Michael Shepherd

Rookie (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

! A Good Man In An Evil Time - Poem by Michael Shepherd

This is the story I was told – I’ve omitted
the details which might identify
and narrow down the nation,
the place, the family, the man…

It was in his teens, at school,
when the national leader arose
to bring the nation to its future,
its fulfilment, its destiny; so, like
his fellows, he joined the youth corps,
their eyes shining with ideals.

When the war inevitably came,
the time to show the world,
he was conscripted as a soldier.
He was not easy with this; killing for any noble cause
was not in his beliefs; he sought advice
in every holy book of every faith,
and knew within himself that he was right:
life is in the gift of the gods, and not of men.

One against the many, what could he do?
Should he commit suicide, there and then,
or its equivalent, disobey until he was shot,
unrecorded, unpublicised? That too,
he felt was wrong, life denied.

He decided to do just what he was told;
but at night, alone, to lay all this in prayer
at the feet of God; to sleep then and awake
with a conscience washed by that same God
who, it seemed, allowed wars just and unjust
for reasons which few men may unravel.

As war continued, this model soldier
rose within the ranks; and by an irony of fate
was chosen to be on the staff
of the death camps now being secretly set up.
How intense his prayer now became;
how testing was this time.

The details of this now are all known
(more than even those involved then knew) :
after the war, when the trials of war criminals
attempted human justice, some leaders
felt that suicide was the honourable death;
some lived in hope, were tried and hanged;
some committed to life imprisonment
to repent their life; or not.

For him (and some camp victims who survived
even spoke for him; ‘unyielding,
but never wantonly cruel’ said one)
and truth to tell, at that sorry time,
those not involved
sneered at ‘I was only obeying orders’, and
to his fellow countrymen, he was an uneasy figure
to represent their national conscience
-for him, the ten year sentence
was much the same as a (conscript's) monastic cell;
adequate sustenance, housing, humble clothes,
and prayer.

Here the story told to me
breaks off; I cannot say
whether as a model prisoner
he won the admiration of his guards,
even the love; whether he wrote this down
and it was lost, or may one day make a book;
whether, if you met him, he would shine out
with love and truth and wisdom,
even saintliness; so that
you'd be proud to have met him; some say
that when he came out of prison, aged around 38,
he became a schoolteacher; some say, a priest;
others say, a doctor in a hospital..

I can only say, here was a good man;
and wonder how I would have behaved
had I been in his place; and whether,
as his life drew to a close,
he was even grateful in his soul
to have been so tested; and
to have known life whole.


Comments about ! A Good Man In An Evil Time by Michael Shepherd

  • Yen Cress (10/24/2007 12:07:00 PM)

    One of the most thought-provoking pieces I've read on this whole site. How dare any of us say aloud what we might do when put to such a test? We can guess, but history shows that people are sometimes put into situations they were not well-prepared to deal with. And since we can never truly know what struggle another has had to endure, our judgment is likely to be inadequate. (I have printed this poem out, and will reread it later.) Thank you! (Report)Reply

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  • David Dennis (4/15/2007 10:59:00 PM)

    Interesting the voting on this one - 2 x 10 and 3 x 1 by my reckoning. Some obviously don't agree with you Michael when you say 'Here was a good man'. I'll have to think about this a bit more. (Report)Reply

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  • Gaurav Silwal (1/8/2007 5:42:00 PM)

    And there must be many such cases....' Good Men in an Evil Time '

    This time itself is not very good......
    And the people are also very selfish and inhuman.

    Ultimate resolve being......Prayers and nothing else.....Prayers for one and everyone.......Prayers only come to rescue.....Let's us have faith,
    cheers

    Gaurav
    (Report)Reply

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  • Alison Cassidy (1/8/2007 5:35:00 PM)

    This is a fascinating story Michael told by a wonderful storyteller. As to your question: I am reminded of Gibran's words 'Even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, So the wicked and weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also. So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.' It is so easy to judge from a distance. love, Allie xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Report)Reply

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  • Aldo Kraas (1/4/2007 12:24:00 PM)

    Dear Michael
    It is true that life brlongs to God
    Kiling is an evil thing to do
    Your poem is briliant
    This poem is a master piece
    (Report)Reply

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  • The poet known as kiibaati (1/4/2007 10:44:00 AM)

    Am impressed by the story. It makes one put himself in the shoes of 'hated strong man'. In many ways, it is really about an ordinary man in this crazy real world.

    What I have always wondered about is how such experiences affect the making of a man. Does he begin to enjoy his role as a source of pain? And if not, will he not feel bitter when the tides turn, as in, when he is in jail?

    Splendid!
    (Report)Reply

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  • Mary Nagy (1/3/2007 8:38:00 AM)

    Michael,
    You manage to bring a person to such a state of introspection that we really do look at the world and life a little differently after reading this. It takes a very courageous person to say ''What would I have done...truthfully...''. Most people just judge, they don't try to put themselves in the shoes of the other. Wonderful write. I will remember this one! Sincerely, Mary
    (Report)Reply

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  • Charley60 K (1/3/2007 7:50:00 AM)

    I think this was such a touching and interesting story/write. Thank you for sharing it. It is interesting that I have heard of some in countries of Germany and others when even back in Hitler days refused to go to war; yes, because of their conscience for they too felt it was not in their hands to kill another. We sometimes look upon people like that as 'being gutless, cowards, or not having courage.' I suppose in the face of patriotism as in his case he 'did what he was told-although inside, ' it wasn't his way and good that God can read hearts. I am imagining what this man went through in his mind constantly and not even that in his dreams. He apparently though was good in other respects for it was told by prisoners that he had not been cruel. Yes, this was a fitting title.....I guess in the end it balls down to what we can live with, when faced with the question of what shall we do? A good write. Thanks for sharing. (Report)Reply

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  • Danny Reynolds (1/3/2007 7:27:00 AM)

    You may not know how you would have reacted in those circumstances, but I bet you know how you would have liked to react? Morals, ethics, and only reality of need to bring truth, eh? Will we ever really know, till tested so?
    Danny
    (Report)Reply

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Poem Edited: Saturday, December 18, 2010


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