The Benefactors

Ah! What avails the classic bent  
  And what the cultured word,  
Against the undoctored incident  
  That actually occurred?
And what is Art whereto we press  
  Through paint and prose and rhyme—
When Nature in her nakedness
  Defeats us every time?
It is not learning, grace nor gear,
  Nor easy meat and drink,
But bitter pinch of pain and fear
  That makes creation think.
When in this world’s unpleasing youth  
  Our godlike race began,
The longest arm, the sharpest tooth,  
  Gave man control of man;
Till, bruised and bitten to the bone
  And taught by pain and fear,
He learned to deal the far—off stone,
  And poke the long, safe spear.
So tooth and nail were obsolete  
  As means against a foe,
Till, bored by uniform defeat,  
  Some genius built the bow.
Then stone and javelin proved as vain  
  As old—time tooth and nail;
Till, spurred anew by fear and pain,  
  Man fashioned coats of mail.
Then was there safety for the rich  
  And danger for the poor,
Till someone mixed a powder which
  Redressed the scale once more.
Helmet and armour disappeared
  With sword and bow and pike,
And, when the smoke of battle cleared,
  All men were armed alike. . . .
And when ten million such were slain  
  To please one crazy king,
Man, schooled in bulk by fear and pain,  
  Grew weary of the thing;
And, at the very hour designed
  To enslave him past recall,
His tooth—stone—arrow—gun—shy mind  
  Turned and abolished all.
All Power, each Tyrant, every Mob
  Whose head has grown too large,  
Ends by destroying its own job
  And works its own discharge;
And Man, whose mere necessities
  Move all things from his path,  
Trembles meanwhile at their decrees,
  And deprecates their wrath!
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