Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Who in the devil wrote this poem?

G. Campbell Morgan preached a series of sermons about 100 years ago on "The world, the flesh and the devil." [The Westminster Pulpit, book 3-4, pp. 183-208] He said that this trinity of forces are distinct from each other but that any two of them are powerless without the third. Then he went on to preach three sermons, one on each. I've reread them several times, and think they could easily make a series of 6 or 9 sermons for today's shorter sermons and shorter attention spans.

Attribution was not a big thing for Morgan and he didn't provide the author of this poem, very clever and timely, considering what the polls say today:
    Men don't believe in a devil now,
    As their fathers used to do;
    They reject one creed because it's old
    For another because it's new.

    There's not a print of his cloven foot,
    Nor a fiery dart from his bow,
    To be found in the earth or air today!
    At least—they declare it is so!

    But who is it mixes the fatal draught
    That palsies heart and brain,
    And loads the bier of each passing year
    With its hundred thousand slain.

    But who blights the bloom of the land today;
    With the fiery breath of hell?
    If it isn't the devil that does the work,
    Who does? Won't somebody tell?

    Who dogs the steps of the toiling saint?
    Who spreads the net for his feet?
    Who sows the tares in the world's broad field.
    Where the Saviour sows his wheat?

    If the devil is voted not to be,
    Is the verdict, therefore, true?
    Some one is surely doing the work
    The devil was thought to do.

    They may say the devil has never lived,
    They may say the devil is gone;
    But simple people would like to know
    Who carries the business on?
So I went to Google, and found most attribution were to Alfred J. Hough, one as early as 1885 in a New Zealand newspaper. When I Google this name, I found a poet of the same name in Oddfellows of Vermont publications of the late 19th century (haven't taken the time to determine if they are one and the same).

Then there were two Catholic publications of recent years (one citing the other, I think) that listed Herbert Trench, Irish-born playwright (1865-1923) as the author, and he seems to believe the rumor, but wonders who's creating the mischief just the same. That version had some slightly different verses:
    Who dogs the steps of the toiling saint
    and digs the pit for his feet?
    Who sows the tares in the field of time,
    wherever God sows His wheat?

    The devil is voted not to be,
    and of course, the thing is true,
    But who is doing the kind of work
    the devil alone should do?

    We are told he does not go
    about as a roaring lion now,
    But whom shall we hold responsible
    for the everlasting row

    To be heard in home, in church, in state,
    to the earth’s remotest bound,
    If the devil by a unanimous vote
    is nowhere to be found?

    Won’t somebody step to the front forthwith,
    and make his bow and show
    How the frauds and the crimes of the day spring up,
    for surely we want to know.

    The devil was fairly voted out,
    and of course, the devil is gone.
    But simple people would like to know,
    who carries his business on?
Of course, it's possible that Trench was publishing as early as age 20, but given the early dates of circulation, I think I'll swing toward Hough with some borrowing, tweaking and weak copyright law by Trench.


Unknown said...

I heard this poem quoted in a message by Alistar Bigg in a sermon and was struck by how current it is. Thank you for your enlightening post. I will share this on Facebook.

Unknown said...

Yes, I did, too. I agree of its succinct significance. By the way, his name is Alastair Begg.

Unknown said...

I agree. I, too heard this in Rev. Alastair Beggs'message. Quite significant, I wish more would take it seriously.

Pam Clegg said...

Alistair Begg, Truth for Life, today's radio broadcast 9/11/17 and amen to how current and significant the poem is today.

Norma said...

Alistair Begg was born in 1952, so although he may quote this poem, he isn't the author.

Anonymous said... Bishop Fulton Sheen attributed it to Herbert Trench.