Policeman X

by John Oxenham

William Arthur Dunkerley

I stood, unseen, within a sumptous room,
Where one clothed all in white sat silently.
So sweet his presence that a pure soft light
Rayed from him, and I saw--most wondrous sight!--
The Love of God shrined in the flesh once more,
And glowing softly like a misted sun.
His back was towards me. Had I seen his face
Methought I must have fallen. I was wrong.
The door flung wide. With hasty step
Came one in royal robes and all the pride
And pomp of majesty, and on his head
A helmet with an eagle poised for flight.
He stood amazed at sight of him in white,
His lips apart in haughty questioning.
But no words came. Breathless, he raised his hand
And gave salute as to a mightier lord,
And doffed his helm, and stood. And in his eyes I saw
The reflex glory of his Master's face.
The Master spoke. His voice so soft and sweet
Thrilled my heart's core and shook me where I stood,--
"_Time runs apace. The New Time is at hand.
Shall it be Peace or War? It rests with_ THEE."
In dumb amaze the other shook his head.
"_Thy brother of the North has cast his lot
For peace. Alone he cannot compass it.
Shall it be Peace or War? It rests with_ THEE."
Again the other shook his head amazed,
But never swerved a hair's breadth in his gaze.
"_Shall it be Peace or War? Join hands with him,
Thy Northern brother, with the Western Isles,
And with their brethren of the Further West,
And Peace shall reign to Earth's remotest bound_."
And still the other shook his head amazed.
"_Shall it be Peace or War? Millions of lives
Are in thy hand, women and men and those
My little ones. Their souls are mine. Their lives
Are in thy hand. Of thee I shall require them.
Shall it be Peace or War_?"
* * * * *
"I am but one,"
The other answered with reluctant tongue.
"_Thou art_ THE _one and so I come to thee.
For Peace or War the scales are in thy hand.
As thou decidest now, so shall it be.
But,--as thou sayest now, so be it
With thee--then.
Shall it be Peace or War? Nay--look_!--"
And at the word--where stood the wall--a space;
And at their feet, like mighty map unrolled,--
The kingdoms of the earth, and every kingdom
Groaned with the burden of its armour-plate.
And the weight grew till man was crushed beneath,
And lost his manhood and became a cog
To roll along the great machine of war.
And, as he watched, the War-Lord's eyes flamed fire,
His nostrils panted like a mettled steed's.
This was the game of games he knew and loved,
And every fibre of his soul was knit
To see what passed.
Then,--in a sun-white land,
Where a great sea poured out through narrow gates
To meet a greater,--came the clang of arms,
And drew the nations like a tocsin peal,
Till all the sun-white sands ran red, and earth
Sweat blood, and writhed in fiery ashes, and
Grew sick with all the reek and stench of war,
And heaven drew back behind the battle-clouds.
And ever, through the clamour of the strife,
I heard the ceaseless wailing of a child,
And the sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, endless
Sobbing of a reft and broken woman;--
And the hoarse whisper of the War-Lord's voice,--
"Britain fights once again for Barbary
Lest others occupy to her undoing.
And Italy and Greece and Turkey join,
To beat back France and Spain."
Again I saw,--
Where legions marched and wound 'mid snowy peaks,
And came upon a smiling vine-clad land,
And filled it with the reek and stench of war.
The hoarse voice spoke,--
"The provinces she stole
And lost, Austria takes back."
Again I saw,--
Where white-capped hosts crept swiftly to the straits
Twixt old and new, and drenched the land with blood,
And filled it with the reek and stench of war.
The War-Lord spoke,--
"Despite his love of peace,
Our brother of the North has seized his chance,
And got his heart's desire."
Again I saw,--
Where legions poured through the eternal snows,
And legions swept o'er every sea to meet
Their long-expected onslaught, and the dead
Were piled in mountains, and the snows ran red.
The War-Lord spoke,--
"Up, Britain, up! Strike home!
Or drop your rod of Empire in the dust--
One of you dies this day."
Again I saw,--
Beneath us, legions swarming to the West,
Devouring kingdoms till they reached the sea,
And filling all the lands with blood and fire.
The War-Lord gazed, with eyes that blazed and flamed,
And panted like a soul in torment,--"Mine!
All these are mine!"
"_Thine, sayest thou?--Thine now,
When thou shalt stand before me--then,
I shall require them of thee_."
--Thus the voice
Of Him who sat and gazed with sorrowing face,
While all the earth beneath us reeked of war,
And heaven grew dim behind the battle-clouds.
And ever, through the clamour of the strife,
I heard the ceaseless wailing of a child,
And the sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, endless
Sobbing of a reft and broken woman.
"_Shall it be Peace or War_?"
A two-edged sword
Could cut no sharper than the gentle voice
Of Him who bowed with sorrow at the sight
Of man destroying man for sake of gain.
I waited, breathless, for the warrior's word.
But no word came. His heart was with his men.
"_Shall it be Peace or War? Look yet again_!"
And at their feet, like mighty map unrolled,
Lay all the kingdoms of the earth--at peace.
The glad earth smiled beneath a smiling heaven,
And brought forth fruit for all her children's needs.
The desert lands had blossomed, and the earth
Was large enough for all. Her voice came up,
A softly-rounded murmur of content,
Like bees that labour gladly on the comb.
The reign of Peace,--and yet an army lay
Couchant and watchful, ready for the strife
If strife need be,--the strife of quelling strife,--
An army culled in part from all the lands.
Owning no master but the public weal,
And prompt to quench the first red spark of war.
Even as we watched, a frontier turmoil rose,
And therewith rose the army, and the fire
Died out while scarce begun. The smoke of it
Was scarcely seen, the noise scarce heard; for all
The lands, sore-spent with war, had welcomed Peace,
And bowed to mightier forces than their own;
Men cast aside their armour and their arms,
And lived men's lives and were no more machines.
"_Wars shall there be, indeed, till that last war
That shall wage war on War and sweep the earth
Of all war-wagers and of all mankind_."
So spake the voice and ceased. And still we gazed,--
A great white building, on its topmost tower
A great white flag, proclaimed a World's Tribunal
For the righting of the nations' wrongs.
And that great army answered its behests
And owned allegiance to no other head.
Peace reigned triumphant. On the quiet air
I heard the merry laughter of the child,
And the great sigh of gratitude that rose
From all the mother-hearts of all the world.
"_Shall it be Peace or War_?"--
Once more the voice,--
"_To one man is it given to decide_,
THOU ART THE MAN! _The scales are in_ THY _hand.
Think well, and say,--Shall it be Peace or War?
As thou, shalt say so shall it be with thee_."
But, ere the answer came, all vanished like
A scrap of paper in a fire of coals.
Then, with a crackling peal, the thick black vail
That hangs before the face of men was rent,
And in the instant lightning flash I saw,--
A chamber hung with black and heaped with flowers,
Where candles tall flashed white on watchers' swords.
High on a high-raised bier lay one at rest--
Crosses and orders on his quiet breast,
Head proudly cushioned on his country's flag,
Hands calmly folded on his helmet's crest,
His back to earth, his mute face turned to heaven,--
Answering the summons of his Over-Lord.
I strained my eyes upon his face to learn
Thereon his answer. But the dark vail dropped,
And left me wondering what his word had been.
Had I but read his face I should have known
Who lay there.--Man, like other men? Or one
Who grasped the greater things, and by his will
Brought Peace on Earth and drew Earth nearer Heaven.
The bells beat softly on the midnight air
Proclaiming the New Time? Shall it be Peace?
A voice within me cried and would not cease,
"_One man could do it if he would but dare_."

Last updated January 14, 2019