There and (Not) Back!












This cartoon by John Tenniel appeared at the head of the poem.

"DEATH sits in his ticket-box, issuing forth
For the east, and the west, and the south, and the north,
His holiday billets. His task as he plies,
The Spectre looks gay, and with reason ;
For Time, his old friend, who so faithfully tries
To fill the Anatomy's maw as he flies,
Has brought back the Holiday Season!
The Holiday, Season! A very grim jest
Which Death may well mouth with ineffable zest,
As he reckons the harvest it brings him.
But the holiday-maker P. Perhaps he is one
Who may well be excused for not seeing the fun,
E'en although, for the time, he has luckily run
The cordon of danger that rings him.
For hearts must beat low at the hideous tale
Of multiplied slaughter by river and rail,
And steadiest nerves at the prospect may fail
The annual risk of renewing,
If, spite of all science, and labour, and care,
He who fronts pleasure's fast-growing perils must dare
Such horrible, swift, multitudinous wreck,
As comes when the Demon of War, without check,
Red fields with his victims is strewing.
"Weak sentiment!" smiles the calm Cynic, and airs
The time-honoured saw about Accidents."* Well,
Men who sit safe at home, with an eye to their shares
May philosophise thus; but the mind which will dwell
On the pangs of that awful ten minutes of terror,
And the wide-spreading woe it were hard to o'erstate,
May inquire if the judgment may not be in error,
As comes when the demon of War, without check,
Which sets it all down to indifferent Fate.
Glib talk of per-centage, and average may tire
When Grim Death's the assessor, and lives are his hire;
Has Greed never brand in the game, which enhances
The "average" due to the "doctrine of chances"?
Has callous Incaution, which heeds not, nor recks,
No need of stern urgings, and strenuous checks,
Which Public Opinion, plus Law, may administer?
May means not tried, and not wholly in vain,
To lessen the sum of the annual gain,
As comes when the demon of War, without check,
Of that spectre so gloating and sinister?
Lucre-lust, and impatience of trouble and care
Are her caterers twain, and the mischievous pair
Must be countered by Caution and Reason;
And then it may prove that, in spite of the saw,
And of high-sounding talk about Chance and its law,
Death need not be regarded with panic-struck awe,
As comes when the demon of War, without check,
Fated Lord of the Holiday Season.

 * "Accidents will happen in the best regulated families".