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Dona Nobis Pacem

A few years ago, at this time of year, I was teaching English and history to a group of high school girls at a small Muslim private school. My background is in math and science, and as much as I love history and writing, I had never taught either before. How could I bring home to these girls, whose cultural background was so different from my own, the significance of two world wars in our history?

I started searching and, in the end, found what I wanted on my own bookshelf. This poem brought tears to my eyes, and to the eyes of my students. It’s a poignant reminder that it isn’t only those who fight that pay the price of war.

Dolls

She said: “I am too old to play
With dolls,” and put them all away,
Into a box, one rainy day.

I think she must have felt some pain,
She looked so long into the rain,
Then sighed: “I’ll bring you out again;

“For I’ll have little children too,
With sunny hair and eyes of blue
And they will play and play with you.

“And now good-bye, my pretty dears;
There in the dark for years and years,
Dream of your little mother’s tears.”

Eglantine, Pierrot and Marie Claire,
Topsy and Tiny and Teddy Bear,
Side by side in the coffer there.

Time went by; one day she kneeled
By a wooden Cross in Flanders Field,
And wept for the One the earth concealed;

And made a vow she would never wed,
But always be true to the deathless dead,
Until the span of her life be sped.

More years went on and they made her wise
By sickness and pain and sacrifice,
With greying tresses and tired eyes.

And then one evening of weary rain,
She opened the old oak box again,
And her heart was clutched with an ancient pain

For there in the quiet dark they lay,
Just as they were when she put them away…
O but it seemed like yesterday!

Topsy and Tiny and Teddy Bear,
Eglantine, Pierrot and Marie Claire,
Ever so hopefully waiting there.

But she looked at them through her blinding tears,
And she said: “You’ve been patient, my pretty dears;
You’ve waited and waited all these years.

“I’ve broken a promise I made so true;
But my heart, my darlings, is broken too:
No little Mothers have I for you.

“My hands are withered, my hair is grey;
Yet just for a moment I’ll try to play
With you as I did that long dead day…

“Ah no, I cannot. I try in vain . . .
I stare and I stare into the rain . . .
I’ll put you back in your box again.

“Bless you, darlings, perhaps one day,
Some little Mother will find you and play,
And once again you’ll be glad and gay.

“But when in the friendly dark I lie,
No one will ever love you as I . . . .
My little children . . . good-bye . . . good-bye.”

ROBERT SERVICE

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