Friday, June 12, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Logic of the Gun

By Samuel Walter Foss (1858-1911)

He wrote in letters plain to see,
That all could understand;
ALL PERSONS CARRYING FIREARMS
FORBIDDEN ON THIS LAND.
And through his hundred-acre woods,
To stay through calm and breeze,
He nailed his minatory sign
Upon two hundred trees.
So all who wandered through those wilds
Could read and understand:
ALL PERSONS CARRYING FIREARMS
FORBIDDEN ON THIS LAND.

Ben Bean, the Nimrod of the town,
Went shooting through the land;
His vocal musket banged in tones
That all could understand.
And then the owner of the woods
Who placed the warnings signs,
Went after Ben and talked to him
Of penalties and fines.
"Do you now see these signs?" he said he,
"A child can understand,
"All persons carrying firearms
Forbidden on this land?"

"But how’ll you get me off?" asked Ben,
And spoke without a wince,
"A person carrying firearms
Ain’t easy to convince."
"Go off!" the farmer cried; "Begone!"
"Come drive me off," Ben said,
And raised his musket toward the man,
And aimed it at his head.
"Why, I have right upon my side,"
The farmer said, "Now run!"
"You may have right, I don’t deny’t,
But I have got the gun."

And there are empires, just like Ben,
Who hunt the world around,
Whose purpose ‘tis to use the world
For their own hunting ground.
And there’s no potentate or power,
No premier or prince,
Who’s well-equipped with firearms,
That’s easy to convince.
And when their victims prate of rights
They say to every one,
"You may have right, I don’t deny’t,
But I have got the gun."

From Songs of the Average Man, 1907

I have seen that gun-control advocates use this titular phrase in their arsenal, but I think the poem exposes an interesting view into both the very purpose of government, the protection of individual rights, and an indictment against the abuses of its force.

4 comments:

Amy said...

Love that poem.

LB said...

You might also enjoy the poem that introduced me to Foss this morning, "The Coming American" written July 4, 1896. I certainly do.

Until 2003, the first three words of that poem graced an arch on the Air Force Academy grounds. Apparently the words "Bring Me Men..." were thought to have somehow contributed to the rape scandal that plagued the Academy and the removal of the offending words was an important step in changing the behavior there.

Huh?

Amy said...

Wow. What amazing poems. I like the cadence of the one you posted better, but I love the sentiment of The Coming American. I wish I could write music so I could make a song out of that. I'm not good at "getting" poems - I only understand the simple ones - but I do know what I like. Thanks.

LB said...

I feel the same way - on all counts. I'm glad you enjoyed it too.