by A. M. Smith
It’s a cheerless, lonesome evening,
When the soaking, sodden ground
Will not echo to the footfall
Of the sentinel’s dull round.
God’s blue star-spangled banner
To-night is not unfurled,
Surely He has not deserted
This weary, warring world.
I peer into the darkness,
And the crowding fancies come,
The night wind blowing northward
Carries all my heart towards home.
For I ’listed in this army,
Not exactly to my mind,
But my country called for helpers,
And I couldn’t stay behind.
So I’ve had a sight of drilling,
And have roughed it many ways,
And death has nearly had me,
Yet I think the service pays.
It’s a blessed sort of feeling,
That though you live or die,
You have helped your grand old country,
And fought right loyally.
But I can’t help thinking sometimes,
When a wet day’s leisure comes,
That I hear the old home voices
Talking louder than the drums.
And the far, familiar faces
Peep in at the tent door,
And the little children’s footsteps
Go pit-pat on the floor.
I can’t help thinking, some how,
Of what the parson reads,
All about that other warfare,
Which every true man leads.
And wife, dear-hearted creature,
Seems saying in my ear,
“I’d rather have you in those ranks
Than to see you brigadier.”
I call myself a brave man,
But in my heart I lie;
For my country and her honor
I am fiercely free to die.
But when the Lord, who gave me,
Asks for my service here,
To fight the good fight faithfully,
I’m slacking in the rear.
And yet I know this Captain
All love and care to be,
He would never get impatient,
With a weak recruit like me.
And I know He’d not forget me
When the day of peace appears;
I should share with Him the victory
Of all His volunteers.
And it’s kind of cheerful thinking,
Beside the dull tent fire,
About that big promotion,
When He says, “Come up higher.”
For I seem to see Him waiting,
Where a gathered army meets;
A great victorious army,
Surging up the golden streets.
And I hear Him read the roll call,
And my heart is beating fast,
When the dear Recording Angel
Writes down my happy name.
But the fire is dead white ashes,
And the tent is chilling cold,
And I’m playing with the battle,
When I have never been enrolled.
A year and a day from America’s official entry into World War I, the Newark Sunday Call published selections, “from among the best,” of “a barrage fire of verse” received from local men under arms. The editors on April 7, 1918, observed that “the great mass of verse produced since the inception of the world war is one of the most interesting phases of its development.”
Poet A. M. Smith was one of the 20,876 service members from Newark thought to have taken part in the conflict. A list of their names took seven years to compile; it was laid in a vault beneath the monument Planting the Standard of Democracy by Charles Henry Niehaus, which stands in Lincoln Park.