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The Coming War -- Sam Walter Foss

(Poem #455) The Coming War
  "There will be a war in Europe,
  Thrones will be rent and overturned,"

  ("Go and fetch a pail of water," said his wife).

  "Nations shall go down in slaughter,
  Ancient capitals be burned,"

  ("Hurry up and split the kindlings," said his wife).

  "Cities wrapped in conflagration!
  Nation decimating nation!
  Chaos crashing through creation!"

  ("Go along and feed the chickens," said his wife).

  "And the war shall reach to Asia,
  And the Orient be rent,"

  ("When you going to pay the grocer?" says his wife).

  "And the myrmidons of thunder
  Shake the trembling continent,"

  ("Hurry up and beat them carpets," said his wife).

  "Million myriads invading,
  Rapine, rioting, and raiding,
  Conquest, carnage, cannonading!"

  ("Wish you'd come and stir this puddin'," said his wife).

  "Oh, it breaks my heart, this conflict
  Of the Slav and Celt and Dane,"

  ("Bob has stubbed his rubber boots on," said his wife).

  "Oh, the draggled Russian banners!
  Oh, the chivalry of Spain!"

  ("We have got no more molasses," said his wife).

  "See the marshalled millions led on
  With no bloodless sod to tread on,
  Gog and Magog! Armageddon!"

  ("Hurry up and get a yeast cake," said his wife).

  "Oh, the grapple of the nations,
  It is coming, woe is me!"

  ("Did you know we're out of flour?" said his wife).

  "Oh, the many-centuried empires
  Overwhelmed in slaughter's sea!"

  ("Wish you'd go and put the cat out," said his wife).

  "Death and dreadful dissolution
  Wreak their awful execution,
  Carnage, anarchy, confusion!"

  ("Let me have two cents for needles," said his wife.

  "All my love goes out to Europe,
  And my heart is torn and sad,"

  ("How can I keep house on nothing?" said his wife).

  "O, the carnival of carnage,
  O, the battle, malestrom mad!"

  ("Wish you'd battle for a living," said his wife).

  "Down in smoke and blood and thunder,
  While the stars look on in wonder,
  Must these empires all go under?"

  ("Where're we going to get our dinner?" said his wife).
-- Sam Walter Foss

  Gog and Magog: the nations represented in the Apocalypse as the forces of
  Satan at Armageddon -- Chambers

Today's poem is ample proof that there is still humour to be found in
stereotypes. There is nothing new in the subject matter - the man with a
rather bombastic opinion of world affairs, his wife who exhibits a complete
disinterest in affairs of state, and strives in vain to make him pay some
attention to the here and now, have been portrayed in countless comic
sketches, of varying quality.

What makes 'The Coming War' one of the good ones is Foss's wonderful feel
for language - he captures the inflated tone of the husband's remarks
beautifully (incidentally parodying a number of poems on the subject as
well). Practically every line cries out to be quoted, and every one of them
makes me smile.

On the technical side, note the use of long words and punctuation to convey
'weight' - reading the poem aloud draws one naturally into a 'declamatory'
style, with frequent pauses and exaggerated emphases (influenced heavily by
the content, of course - as I have pointed out before, these 'formal'
effects do not exist independently of the text, but merely reinforce it.)


   A poet, journalist, and humorist, Sam Walter Foss is best known
   for his inspirational poem, The House By the Side of the Road. Sam was
   born into a rural New England farm family June 19, 1858. When Sam was
   four years old his mother died, and young Sam had to mature quickly
   and do his share of chores. He graduated from Portsmouth (New
   Hampshire) High School, and obtained a bachelor's degree from Brown
   University in 1882. As owner and editor of the Lynn, Massachsetts
   Saturday Union newspaper, Mr. Foss produced a humor column once a
   week. He became skilled at cranking out his popular homespun verse and
   his poetry was soon being published across the country. In 1891 moved
   to Boston where he wrote first for the Yankee Blade and later the
   Boston Globe. Sam Foss was also a regular contributor to the Christian
   Science Monitor until his death in 1911.


['popular homespun verse' is a lovely summation of Foss's work. Didn't
particularly care for 'House by the Side of the Road' myself, though - m.]

- martin

5 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Julian Tepper said...

Dear Group,

Two comments:

I was taught, happily, that all poetry is to be read aloud, even (especially)
when one is alone, and that much will be missed if the poem is read silently,
including the rhythm (aside from the poem's meter) of the author.

This poem, it seems to me, has a great deal of current application, one example
of which is today's politically-correct penchant to orate on behalf of groups,
and yet ignore (or look down on or devalue), sometimes blindly and other times
purposefully, the misery of a person (even a spouse) in need.


stanley gaskin said...


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