Studdert Kennedy or Woodbine Willie as the troops called him was a chaplain to the men fighting in the trenches of northern France during WW1. November 11th is coming up soon when we remember its a hundred years since that carnage ushered in the worst century of man’s depravity and violence. as a school boy we were taught to honor the sacrifice for Britain of so many, but when I studied the history I realized the utter pointless waste of all those men of that generation. General officers were incompetent, officers were cold blooded fatalists and the politicians couldn’t lead anywhere except into the hell of modern war and then financial collapse.
The poem was originally published in Rough Rhymes of a Padre (one of two volumes of war-time poems issued in 1914-18 under the pseudonym “Woodbine Willie”); then re-published under Studdert Kennedy’s own name in The Sorrows of God and Other Poems in 1921; and again in Rhymes in 1929, a one-volume re-print of the Rough Rhymes series. (Note plural `Sorrows’ in the book title, but singular in the poem.) In The Sorrows of God and Other Poems 1921 it is one of two items described as `Dialect Poems’. This volume is available online HERE. (I notice that some have reworked this poem in various ways so as to remove the Cockney dialect; but I think they have diminished its impact. So what follows is exactly what Studdert-Kennedy wrote.)
THE SORROW OF GOD
– A SERMON IN A BILLET
YES, I used to believe i’ Jesus Christ,
And I used to go to Church,
But sin’ I left ‘ome and came to France,
I’ve been clean knocked off my perch.
For it seemed orlright at ‘ome, it did,
To believe in a God above
And in Jesus Christ ‘Is only Son,
What died on the Cross through Love.
When I went for a walk o’ a Sunday morn
On a nice fine day in the spring,
I could see the proof o’ the living God
In every living thing.
For ‘ow could the grass and the trees grow up
All along o’ their bloomin’ selves?
Ye might as well believe i’ the fairy tales,
And think they was made by elves.
So I thought as that long-‘aired atheist
Were nubbat a silly sod,
For ‘ow did ‘e ‘count for my Brussels sprouts
If ‘e didn’t believe i’ God?
But it ain’t the same out ‘ere, ye know.
It’s as different as chalk fro’ cheese,
For ‘arf on it’s blood and t’other ‘arf’s mud,
And I’m damned if I really sees
‘Ow the God, who ‘as made such a cruel world,
Can ‘ave Love in ‘Is ‘eart for men,
And be deaf to the cries of the men as dies
And never comes ‘ome again.
Just look at that little boy corporal there,
Such a fine upstanding lad,
Wi’ a will uv ‘is own, and a way uv ‘is own,
And a smile uv ‘is own, ‘e ‘ad.
An hour ago ‘e were bustin’ wi’ life,
Wi’ ‘is actin’ and foolin’ and fun;
‘E were simply the life on us all, ‘e were,
Now look what the blighters ‘a done.
Look at ‘im lyin’ there all uv a ‘eap,
Wi’ the blood soaken over ‘is ‘ead,
Like a beautiful picture spoiled by a fool,
A bundle o’ nothin’ – dead.
And it ain’t only ‘im – there’s a mother at ‘ome,
And ‘e were the pride of ‘er life.
For it’s women as pays in a thousand ways
For the madness o’ this ‘ere strife.
And the lovin’ God ‘E looks down on it all,
On the blood and the mud and the smell.
O God, if it’s true, ‘ow I pities you,
For ye must be livin’ i’ ‘ell.
You must be livin’ i’ ‘ell all day,
And livin’ i’ ‘ell all night.
I’d rather be dead, wiv a ‘ole through my ‘ead,
I would, by a damn long sight,
Than be livin’ wi’ you on your ‘eavenly throne,
Lookin’ down on yon bloody ‘cap
That were once a boy full o’ life and joy,
And ‘earin’ ‘is mother weep.
The sorrows o’ God must be ‘ard to bear
If ‘E really ‘as Love in ‘Is ‘eart,
And the ‘ardest part i’ the world to play
Must surely be God’s part.
And I wonder if that’s what it really means,
That Figure what ‘angs on the Cross.
I remember I seed one t’other day
As I stood wi’ the captain’s ‘oss.
I remember, I thinks, thinks I to mysel’,
It’s a long time since ‘E died,
Yet the world don’t seem much better to-day
Then when ‘E were crucified.
It’s allus the same, as it seems to me,
The weakest must go to the wall,
And whether e’s right, or whether e’s wrong,
It don’t seem to matter at all.
The better ye are and the ‘arder it is,
The ‘arder ye ‘ave to fight,
It’s a cruel ‘ard world for any bloke
What does the thing as is right.
And that’s ‘ow ‘E came to be crucified,
For that’s what ‘E tried to do.
‘E were allus a-tryin’ to do ‘Is best
For the likes o’ me and you.
Well, what if ‘E came to the earth to-day,
Came walkin’ about this trench,
‘Ow ‘Is ‘eart would bleed for the sights ‘E seed,
I’ the mud and the blood and the stench.
And I guess it would finish ‘Im up for good
When ‘E came to this old sap end,
And ‘E seed that bundle o’ nothin’ there,
For ‘E wept at the grave uv ‘Is friend.
And they say ‘E were just the image o’ God.
I wonder if God sheds tears,
I wonder if God can be sorrowin’ still,
And ‘as been all these years.
I wonder if that’s what it really means,
Not only that ‘E once died,
Not only that ‘E came once to the earth
And wept and were crucified?
Not just that ‘E suffered once for all
To save us from our sins,
And then went up to ‘Is throne on ‘igh
To wait till ‘Is ‘eaven begins.
But what if ‘E came to the earth to show,
By the paths o’ pain that ‘E trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart o’ God?
O God, if that’s ‘ow it really is,
Why, bless ye, I understands,
And I feels for you wi’ your thorn-crowned ‘ead
And your ever pierced ‘ands.
But why don’t ye bust the show to bits,
And force us to do your will?
Why ever should God be suffering so
And man be sinning still?
Why don’t ye make your voice ring out,
And drown these cursed guns?
Why don’t ye stand with an outstretched ‘and,
Out there ‘twixt us and the ‘Uns?
Why don’t ye force us to end the war
And fix up a lasting peace?
Why don’t ye will that the world be still
And wars for ever cease?
That’s what I’d do, if I was you,
And I had a lot o’ sons
What squabbled and fought and spoilt their ‘ome,
Same as us boys and the ‘Uns.
And yet, I remember, a lad o’ mine,
‘E’s fightin’ now on the sea,
And ‘e were a thorn in ‘is mother’s side,
And the plague o’ my life to me.
Lord, ‘ow I used to swish that lad
Till ‘e fairly yelped wi’ pain,
But fast as I thrashed one devil out
Another popped in again.
And at last, when ‘e grew up a strappin’ lad,
‘E ups and ‘e says to me,
“My will’s my own and my life’s my own,
And I’m goin’, Dad, to sea.”
And ‘e went, for I ‘adn’t broke ‘is will,
Though God knows ‘ow I tried,
And ‘e never set eyes on my face again
Till the day as ‘is mother died.
Well, maybe that’s ‘ow it is wi’ God,
‘Is sons ‘ave got to be free;
Their wills are their own, and their lives their own,
And that’s ‘ow it ‘as to be.
So the Father God goes sorrowing still
For ‘Is world what ‘as gone to sea,
But ‘E runs up a light on Calvary’s ‘eight
That beckons to you and me.
The beacon light of the sorrow of God
‘As been shinin’ down the years,
A-flashin’ its light through the darkest night
O’ our ‘uman blood and tears.
There’s a sight o’ things what I thought was strange,
As I’m just beginnin’ to see
“Inasmuch as ye did it to one of these
Ye ‘ave done it unto Me.”
So it isn’t just only the crown o’ thorns
What ‘as pierced and torn God’s ‘ead;
‘E knows the feel uv a bullet, too,
And ‘E’s ‘ad ‘Is touch o’ the lead.
And ‘E’s standin’ wi’ me in this ‘ere sap,
And the corporal stands wiv ‘Im,
And the eyes of the laddie is shinin’ bright,
But the eyes of the Christ burn dim.
O’ laddie, I thought as ye’d done for me
And broke my ‘eart wi’ your pain.
I thought as ye’d taught me that God were dead,
But ye’ve brought ‘Im to life again.
And ye’ve taught me more of what God is
Than I ever thought to know,
For I never thought ‘E could come so close
Or that I could love ‘Im so.
For the voice of the Lord, as I ‘ears it now,
Is the voice of my pals what bled,
And the call of my country’s God to me
Is the call of my country’s dead.