World War One–the Friends Reconstruction Unit

This poem was read during Sunday’s celebration of life. It accompanies the sermon “Military Service and the Alternatives” posted elsewhere on this blog.


by L. Griswold Williams, in France, 1918

I’ve been making windows—

Oak windows in our shop along the river—

Thinking of where they’ll go and what they’ll maybe do:

Windows to overlook the crumpled roofs of clattering towns,

To open out across the silent wastedness of trampled farms,

On white-scarred vineyard slopes,

Or shattered woodlands healing at the touch of Spring.

Some may be gates of magic liberation,

Giving on living worlds of leaf and sky,

Where those whose feet can never tread dear earth

Shall send their spirits wandering far;

At these will children climb to greet the infant moon,

Or press their noses tight, watching the first snow feathers fall;

Through here may little breaths of morning murmur;

This humble shrine day’s glowing altar fires . . .

And I’ve been making doors—

Doors that shall open as a sheltering hand to harassed hearts

Praying a solace in some broken place;

Doors guarding at last those helpless ones

Guns could not guard nor armies make secure.

Here homing age may fumble at a lock,

Or venturing youth push wide with eager hand;

This door may usher Birth with hopefulness,
Close quietly when Death has passed with friendly eyes,
Or part relentlessly two lovers, lingering with reluctant lips at dusk;
Here may a woman lean with shadowed face, Waiting a lad who lies in an untilled field . . .

I’ve not made doors and windows for chateaux or palaces—
Only for little wooden démontables*
To shelter mostly simple folk
Dripped from the grinding jaws of War.
Red tiles will be for roof, the walls be brown,
and green the white-knobbed doors.

The sections bolt together easily,
As barren as a shed for animals almost, Until my doors and windows make it—

Home . . .

O patient Master Workman of the world,
Shaper of all this home of humankind,
Teach me the truer trade of making doors and windows for men’s souls:
Windows for letting in Love’s widening dawn,
Doors swinging outward freely on Truth’s pleasant ways.

*“Démontable”–adjective describing something that may be disassembled. The “pre-fab” houses Friends constructed for French villages were called “les démontables.”

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