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Louis Untermeyer: Daybreak after war

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

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Louis Untermeyer
Daybreak

Four years of night and nightmare; years of black
Hate and its murderous attack.
Four years of midnight terrors till the brain,
Beaten in the intolerable campaign,
Saw nothing but a world of driven men
And skies that never could be clean again.
Hot winds that tore the lungs, great gusts
Of rotting madness and forgotten lusts.
Hills draped with death; the beat of terrible wings;
Flowers that smelt of carrion; monstrous things
That crawled on iron bellies over trees
And swarmed in blood…till even the seas
Were one wet putrefaction, and the earth
A violated grave of trampled mirth.
What light there was, was only there to show
Intolerance delivering blow on blow,
Bigotry rampant, honor overborn,
And faith derided with a blast of scorn
This was our daily darkness; we had thought
All freedom worthless and all beauty naught.
The eager, morning-hearted days were gone
When we took joy in small things: In the sun
Tracing a delicate pattern through thick leaves
With its long yellow pencils. Or blue eaves
Frosted with moonlight, and one ruddy star
Ringing against the night, a chime
Like an insistent single rhyme.
Or see the full-blown moon stuck on a spar,
A puff-ball flower on a rigid stalk.
Or think of nothing better than to walk
With one small boy and listen to the war
Of waters pulling at a stubborn shore,
And laugh to see the waves run out of bounds
Like boisterous and shaggy hounds.
Watching the stealthy rollers come alive,
And shake their silver manes and leap and dive.
Or listen with him to the voiceless talk
Of fireflies and daisies; feel the late
Dusk full of unheard music, or vibrate
To a more actual magic; hear the notes
Of birds with sunset shaking on their throats.
Or watch the emerald and olive trees
Turn purple ghosts in dusty distances.
The city’s kindling energy; the sweet
Pastoral of an empty street.
Football and friends; lyrics and daffodils.
The sovereign splendor of the marching hills
These were all ours to choose from and enjoy
Until this vast disease came to destroy
The casual beneficence of life.

But now a thin edge, like a merciful knife,
Pierces the shadows, and a chiselling ray
Cuts the thick folds away.
Murmurs of morning; glad, awakening cries;
Hints of majestic rhythms rise.
Dawn will not be denied. The blackness shakes;
And here a brand and there a beacon breaks
Into the challenge that may soon be hurled
With a new fire for a burned-out world.
A world of wide experiments, of fair
Disputes, desires and tolerance everywhere,
With laughter loose again and time enough
To feel the warm-lipped and cool-fingered love
With kindly passion lifted from the dead;
Where daylight shall be bountifully spread
And darkness but a wide and welcome bed.

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