The Worship of Death

Within a vast cathedral, dimly lit by the shaded light of innumerable lamps, was gathered a great multitude of people. It was a motley assembly : old and young, rich and poor, the great and the small, the soldier and the civilian, all having apparently met together in order that they might share in common the gratification and consolation to be obtained from the due performance of the rites and ceremonies called for by their particular form of religion. And certainly the prayers and hymns that were said, the sonorous intonations of the priests, the long and eloquent address given by the great high priest, all seemed to have their due effect. A rapt expression shone on the laces of the people,, a light was in their eyes, a smile upon their lips. One might say with truth that here indeed was an earnest and enthusiastic congregation, entering whole-heartedly into the outward expression of the tenets of their faith. Among much that was noteworthy, the following hymn was rendered peculiarly so by the air of great gusto and enjoyment with which it was sung by the entire concourse. (I learnt later that it was known as “The (Hymn to Death “) ;

Oh ! Death, thou great and glorious King,
We hymn thy praises through the world.
Monarch of pain and suffering,
Thy blood-stained banners stream unfurled
Where’er humanity draws breath.
Thou bearest in thy strong right hand
Famine and pestilence and blight;
Thou sendest forth as thy command
The word to kill, to bleed dead-white.
All hail ! Lord Death !

From every continent and sea
The echo of thy voice is heard.
The nations gather at thy knee,
The kings and captains to thy word
Harken with awe and bated breath.
At thy behest the cannons roar,
The bayonets clash, the bullets fly,
Thy dreams are dreams of endless war,
Dreams of a mad ferocity.
All hail ! Lord Death.

Greater than beauty is thy power,
Greater than love, or fame, or art
Hasten the long-expected hour
When we, thy slaves, shall see depart
Life and what it has sometimes meant.
When in a waste of starless night
Life shall be trampled in the dust ;
Hurled from their proud, stupendous height
Beauty and love shall rot and rust.
Hail ! Death Omnipotent !

As the multitude surged out into the street the latest war news was being called—”Great Victory ! Advance of a thousand yards on a five miles front ? Enormous enemy losses !” Good news indeed. There were gleeful smiles and a rubbing of hands with satisfaction as the crowd dispersed on its several ways.

F. J. W.

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