(The Assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand)

By Cale Young Rice

[The Century Magazine, December 1914]

Look at him there, a lad of nineteen years,
Slipping along the street with Slavic tread;
A moment, and from out his pistol's mouth
Shall leap the spark to set a world in flames;
For with the red death of a royal duke
The infinite tangle of a continent
Of immemorially warring peoples
Is kindled, and thro millions of calm breasts
The old race hatred runs. Austria, reft,
Knowing the shot was at her feudal heart,
Flashes from out her molten indignation
A word that wakes the wild Caucasian urgence
Of Slavdom, ever swelling toward the west.
And evolution's endless tragedies,—
The friction fostered by uncounted kings,
The ancient war-cries that ring still in the blood
With timeless memories of rape and slaughter,
Inheritances, bred deep in the bone,
Of battling tongues and creeds and cruelties,
Of ruined homes, wrecked loves, and razed delights,—
These and a thousand scorns and dark contempts
And hatreds, heirlooms of long ignorance,
Flare up into one frenzied thirst for war!

Prinzip, Prinzip, lad of the nineteen years,
Was it the finger of God that pulled your trigger
And loosed the avalanches of destruction
With a blind bullet of predestination?
Was it of God, Who found His upward way
To some world-aim thwarted by all the mesh
And fever of impenetrable passions?
A hundred times within one haunted week
The scales of destiny hung even:
Who weighed them down to war? Was it our God?
Who spoke into the Teuton veins a faith
That the inexorable hour had rung
To face the Russian horror, and, perchance,
By letting their own blood, relieve their hearts
Of the long warward strain that pride and fear
And pent world-hunger kept so peril-taut?
Who used the living enmity of France,
Bidding her stretch an oath of dark allegiance
Across Germanic borders to the Slav,
And plight a fearful or revengeful troth
To the wild Muscovite in whose vast breast
A consciousness, perchance, of low estate
Is the dim whip that drives him west to freedom?
And England, with her greed, for good or ill
Girdled about the globe, and with her pride
And dominance of empire thundering
From ships on every sea, who flung her heart,
A-quest for peace, yet with a secret sense
That now her envied foe might be struck down—
Who flung her heart upon the bloody fields?
Prinzip, with nineteen years, can you not tell?

Is God in this? Or was His Immanence
O'erwhelmed by atavistic nature's surge
Up from the core of earth? Are East and West,
From Asia to young Yukon, swept by winds
Of war into this crucible of time,
To emerge after long fumes of pain and horror
More nearly fused to one humanity?
Or has void chance, on which was builded up
The babel of our boasted civilization,
Betrayed us as we grasped toward the stars?
Can He, the Alchemist of the Universe,
Pour blood and burning tears and misery
And waste and famine out upon the earth,
Yet in a year, or in a yoke of years,
Transmute them into human betterment?
Or does intemperable fatality
Strain now the heart-strings of a continent
To breaking, and its mind to mad unfaith?
Prinzip, God's tool or hell's, can you not tell?

"Autocracies shall go, and armaments,
And that peace-murdering trade, diplomacy!"
Such the cry is, Prinzip. And shall your blow—
Your petty, obsessed, patriotistic blow,
The last of the innumerable that ages
Have struck against the ancient iron gates
Of tyranny—shall yours avail at last?
Or shall steel yet entrench the happiness
Of nations, not far mightier commonweal?
And since men seize at last, with wan clairvoyance,
The vision of a world-state shaping dim
Upon the horizon of their misery,
Is it mirage, desert delusion, dream,
Born not of possibility, but pain?
Or does in truth the misty dome arise,
Already shadowed forth by their desire,
Of a world-parliament's protecting peace,
And in it the one universal right
Of HUMAN WELFARE, graven high, to guide
Their vast deliberations, and to link
At last, with brave and noble assent to law,
The nations bruted now by bloody might?
Prinzip, with nineteen years, can you not tell?

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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An Odyssey through the World War of 1914-1918
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury