‘The C.O’s’, by Donald Baxter

archibald-baxterAfter something of a blogging hiatus, I thought I’d kick off again with a poem by Donald Baxter, written while in detention (26 July, 1917). ”The C.O’s’ refer to ‘conscientious objectors’. Donald was the brother of Archibald and uncle of James K. Baxter, New Zealand’s best-known poet.

Their names are writ in every Clink –
This small but steafast band
Who for themselves have dared to think
And firmly take their stand.

The tyrants’ boast to crush and kill
And this proud spirit bend
Does only strengthen each man’s will
To conquer in the end

Although to-night in prison cell
‘Neath Mammon’s lock and key.
It only holds the earthly shell –
The mind and soul are free.

The Brotherhood of Man’s their aim ;
So come whate’er betide
They’ll bear it all in Freedom’s name.
Their conscience is their guide,

Though each should fill a Martyr’s grave,
What grander end could be ?
Their death will only help to pave
The road to Liberty

Baxter’s poem was originally published in Harry Holland’s Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors and ‘The Process of their Conversion’ (1919).

The poem raises questions for me about what differences (if any, at least on one level) might exist between those imprisoned or executed or carry out horrific crimes because of commitments to various convictions about reality, and about the relationship between reality and claims of truth. What might be the relationship between ‘bear[ing] it all in Freedom’s name’ and employing conscience as guide?

[Painting: ‘Portrait of Archibald Baxter’, by Bob Kerr, 2007. For more in this series see here]

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