THE HESITATING VETERAN
by Ambrose Bierce
When I was young and full of faith
And other fads that youngsters cherish
A cry rose as of one that saith
With emphasis: "Help or I perish!"
'Twas heard in all the land, and men
The sound were each to each repeating.
It made my heart beat faster then
Than any heart can now be beating.
For the world is old and the world is gray--
Grown prudent and, I think, more witty.
She's cut her wisdom teeth, they say,
And doesn't now go in for Pity.
Besides, the melancholy cry
Was that of one, 'tis now conceded,
Whose plight no one beneath the sky
Felt half so poignantly as he did.
Moreover, he was black. And yet
That sentimental generation
With an austere compassion set
Its face and faith to the occasion.
Then there were hate and strife to spare,
And various hard knocks a-plenty;
And I ('twas more than my true share,
I must confess) took five-and-twenty.
That all is over now--the reign
Of love and trade stills all dissensions,
And the clear heavens arch again
Above a land of peace and pensions.
The black chap--at the last we gave
Him everything that he had cried for,
Though many white chaps in the grave
'Twould puzzle to say what they died for.
I hope he's better off--I trust
That his society and his master's
Are worth the price we paid, and must
Continue paying, in disasters;
But sometimes doubts press thronging round
('Tis mostly when my hurts are aching)
If war for Union was a sound
And profitable undertaking.
'Tis said they mean to take away
The Negro's vote for he's unlettered.
'Tis true he sits in darkness day
And night, as formerly, when fettered;
But pray observe--howe'er he vote
To whatsoever party turning,
He'll be with gentlemen of note
And wealth and consequence and learning.
With saints and sages on each side,
How could a fool through lack of knowledge,
Vote wrong? If learning is no guide
Why ought one to have been in college?
O Son of Day, O Son of Night!
What are your preferences made of?
I know not which of you is right,
Nor which to be the more afraid of.
The world is old and the world is bad,
And creaks and grinds upon its axis;
And man's an ape and the gods are mad!--
There's nothing sure, not even our taxes!
No mortal man can Truth restore,
Or say where she is to be sought for.
I know what uniform I wore--
O, that I knew which side I fought for!