WHAT’S the meaning of this queue,
Tailing down the avenue,
Full of eyes that will not meet
The other eyes that throng the street,
The questing eyes, the curious eyes,
Scornful, popping with surprise
To see a living line of men
As long as round the block, and then
As long again? The statisticians
Estimate that these conditions
Have not reached their apogee.
All lines end eventually;
Except of course in theory.
This one has an end somewhere.
End in what? — Pause, there.
What’s the meaning in these faces
Modern industry displaces,
Emptying the factory
To set the men so tidily
Along the pavement in a row?
Now and then they take a slow
Shuffling step, straight ahead,
As if a dead march said:
‘Beware! I’m not dead.’
Now and then an unaverted
Eye bespells the disconcerted
Passer-by; a profile now
And then will lift a beaten brow, —
Waiting what? — The Comforter?
The Pentecostal Visitor?
If by fasting visions come,
Why not to a hungry bum?
Idle, shamed, and underfed, Waiting for his dole of bread,
What if he should find his head
A candle of the Holy Ghost?
A dim and starveling spark, at most,
But yet a spark? It needs but one.
A spark can creep, a spark can run;
Suddenly a spark can wink
And send us down destruction’s brink.
It needs but one to make a star,
Or light a Russian samovar.
One to start a funeral pyre,
One to cleanse a world by fire.
What if our bread line should be
The long slow-match of destiny?
What if even now the Holy
Ghost should be advancing slowly
Down the line, a kindling flame,
Kissing foreheads bowed with shame?
Creep, my ember! Blaze, my brand!
The end of all things is at hand.
Idlers in the market place,
Make an end to your disgrace!
Here’s a fair day’s work for you,
To build a world all over new.
What if our slow-match have caught
Fire from a burning thought?
What if we should be destroyed
By our patient unemployed?
Some of us with much to lose
By conflagration will refuse
To hallow arson in the name
Of Pentecost. We’d rather blame
The Devil, who can always find
For idle hand or empty mind
Work to do at Devil’s hire.
The Devil loves to play with fire.
We’d rather blame him, — ah, but this
May be just our prejudice.