'My Foe' by Robert W. Service

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A Belgian Priest-Soldier Speaks;

GURR! You cochon! Stand and fight!
Show your mettle! Snarl and bite!
Spawn of an accursed race,
Turn and meet me face to face!
Here amid the wreck and rout
Let us grip and have it out!
Here where ruins rock and reel
Let us settle, steel to steel!
Look! Our houses, how they spit
Sparks from brands your friends have lit.
See! Our gutters running red,
Bright with blood your friends have shed.
Hark! Amid your drunken brawl
How our maidens shriek and call.
Why have you come here alone,
To this hearth's blood-spattered stone?
Come to ravish, come to loot,
Come to play the ghoulish brute.
Ah, indeed! We well are met,
Bayonet to bayonet.
God! I never killed a man:
Now I'll do the best I can.
Rip you to the evil heart,
Laugh to see the life-blood start.
Bah! You swine! I hate you so.
Show you mercy? No! . . . and no! . . .

There! I've done it. See! He lies
Death a-staring from his eyes;
Glazing eyeballs, panting breath,
How it's horrible, is Death!
Plucking at his bloody lips
With his trembling finger-tips;
Choking in a dreadful way
As if he would something say
In that uncouth tongue of his. . . .
Oh, how horrible Death is!

How I wish that he would die!
So unnerved, unmanned am I.
See! His twitching face is white!
See! His bubbling blood is bright.
Why do I not shout with glee?
What strange spell is over me?
There he lies; the fight was fair;
Let me toss my cap in air.
Why am I so silent? Why
Do I pray for him to die?
Where is all my vengeful joy?
Ugh! My foe is but a boy.

I'd a brother of his age
Perished in the war's red rage;
Perished in the Ypres hell:
Oh, I loved my brother well.
And though I be hard and grim,
How it makes me think of him!
He had just such flaxen hair
As the lad that's lying there.
Just such frank blue eyes were his. . . .
God! How horrible war is!

I have reason to be gay:
There is one less foe to slay.
I have reason to be glad:
Yet -- my foe is such a lad.
So I watch in dull amaze,
See his dying eyes a-glaze,
See his face grow glorified,
See his hands outstretched and wide
To that bit of ruined wall
Where the flames have ceased to crawl,
Where amid the crumbling bricks
Hangs a blackebed crucifix.

Now, oh now I understand.
Quick I press it in his hand,
Close his feeble finger-tips,
Hold it to his faltering lips.
As I watch his welling blood
I would stem it if I could.
God of Pity, let him live!
God of Love, forgive, forgive.

His face looked strangely, as he died,
Like that of One they crucified.
And in the pocket of his coat
I found a letter; thus he wrote:
The things I've seen! Oh, mother dear,
I'm wondering can God be here?
To-night amid the drunken brawl
I saw a Cross hung on a wall;
I'll seek it now, and there alone
Perhaps I may atone, atone. . . .

Ah no! 'Tis I who must atone.
No other saw but God alone;
Yet how can I forget the sight
Of that face so woeful white!
Dead I kissed him as he lay,
Knelt by him and tried to pray;
Left him lying there at rest,
Crucifix upon his breast.

Not for him the pity be.
Ye who pity, pity me,
Crawling now the ways I trod,
Blood-guilty in sight of God.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, My Foe: A Masterpiece by Robert W. Service

Have you ever read a poem that made you feel like the poet was talking about you? A poem that stirred up emotions you didn't even know you had? That's what Robert W. Service's "Poetry, My Foe" does to me every time I read it. This poem is a masterpiece that explores the complex relationship between a poet and their craft.

The Theme of the Poem

At its core, "Poetry, My Foe" is about the struggle between a poet's desire to create and their fear of failure. The speaker personifies poetry as their foe, an adversary that they must conquer in order to achieve greatness. The poem begins with the speaker stating that they are "not a poet born," suggesting that they have had to work hard to hone their craft.

The speaker goes on to describe how they are plagued by doubts and uncertainties about their ability to write good poetry. They compare poetry to a "changeling," a creature that is not what it appears to be. The metaphor suggests that poetry is deceptive, that it can be difficult to understand and to master.

Despite their fears, the speaker is determined to write poetry. They describe how they "fought with [their] pen," battling against the blank page and the doubts in their mind. They also acknowledge that writing poetry is a solitary pursuit, one that can be isolating and lonely.

The Use of Imagery

One of the things that makes "Poetry, My Foe" such a powerful poem is its use of imagery. The speaker uses vivid, often violent imagery to describe their struggles with poetry. They talk about "stabbing" their pen into the page, "wrestling" with the words, and "beating" their head against the wall.

The use of violent imagery suggests that writing poetry is not an easy, peaceful pursuit. It requires struggle and hard work. At the same time, the imagery also suggests that the speaker is passionate about poetry, that they are willing to fight for their craft.

Another powerful image in the poem is the comparison of poetry to a "siege." This metaphor suggests that writing poetry is like a battle, one that requires strategy and perseverance. It also implies that the speaker sees themselves as a warrior, fighting against their own doubts and fears.

The Tone of the Poem

The tone of "Poetry, My Foe" is intense and emotional. The speaker is clearly deeply invested in their craft, and their struggles with poetry are portrayed as a matter of life and death. The poem is filled with exclamation marks and rhetorical questions, adding to the sense of urgency and desperation.

At the same time, there is also a sense of vulnerability in the poem. The speaker is honest about their fears and doubts, and they acknowledge that writing poetry can be a painful process. This vulnerability makes the poem relatable, as many readers will be able to identify with the speaker's struggles.

The Structure of the Poem

"Poetry, My Foe" is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter. This lack of structure mirrors the chaos and uncertainty that the speaker feels when writing poetry. At times, the poem feels almost stream-of-consciousness, as the speaker jumps from one idea to the next.

Despite the lack of formal structure, the poem is still highly structured in terms of its content. The speaker moves through a series of stages, from their initial doubts about their ability to write poetry to their eventual triumph over their foe. This progression gives the poem a sense of narrative momentum, making it feel like a story rather than just a collection of thoughts.


"Poetry, My Foe" is a masterpiece of modern poetry. It explores the complex relationship between a poet and their craft, using vivid imagery and intense emotion to convey the struggles and triumphs of the creative process. The poem is relatable, vulnerable, and highly structured, making it a must-read for anyone interested in poetry or the creative process in general.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry My Foe: A Masterpiece of Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service, a renowned poet and writer, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature with his exceptional works. One of his most famous poems, "Poetry My Foe," is a masterpiece that has captivated readers for generations. In this 2000-word analysis, we will delve deep into the poem and explore its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with the speaker declaring that poetry is his foe. He describes how poetry has caused him pain and suffering, and how he has tried to escape its grasp. The speaker's tone is bitter and resentful, and he seems to be at odds with the very thing that he is supposed to love.

The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker describes how poetry has "wounded" him and left him "bleeding." He goes on to say that he has tried to "flee" from poetry, but it always seems to find him. This imagery of pain and suffering is a recurring theme throughout the poem, and it is used to convey the speaker's deep-seated resentment towards poetry.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes how poetry has "haunted" him, and how he has tried to "banish" it from his mind. He compares poetry to a "ghost" that he cannot escape, and he seems to be tormented by its presence. This imagery of haunting and ghostly apparitions is a powerful metaphor for the speaker's struggle with poetry, and it adds to the overall sense of unease and discomfort that permeates the poem.

The third stanza is where the poem takes a turn, as the speaker begins to question his own feelings towards poetry. He asks himself if he really hates poetry, or if he is just afraid of it. He wonders if he is "jealous" of poetry, and if he is envious of the way that it can touch people's hearts and minds. This moment of self-reflection is a crucial turning point in the poem, as the speaker begins to confront his own emotions and motivations.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes how he has tried to "kill" poetry, but it always seems to come back to life. He compares poetry to a "phoenix," a mythical bird that rises from the ashes, and he seems to be in awe of its resilience. This imagery of rebirth and renewal is a powerful metaphor for the enduring power of poetry, and it adds to the overall sense of awe and wonder that the speaker feels towards it.

The fifth and final stanza is where the poem reaches its climax, as the speaker finally comes to terms with his feelings towards poetry. He declares that poetry is not his foe, but his "friend," and that he loves it despite all of the pain and suffering that it has caused him. He describes how poetry has "healed" him and brought him "joy," and he seems to be at peace with his relationship with it.

The structure of the poem is simple but effective, with each stanza building on the previous one to create a sense of progression and development. The use of repetition, particularly in the first and second stanzas, adds to the overall sense of unease and discomfort that the speaker feels towards poetry. The use of metaphors and imagery, such as the ghostly apparitions and the phoenix, adds depth and complexity to the poem, and it helps to convey the speaker's emotions in a powerful and evocative way.

In terms of literary devices, the poem is rich with examples of alliteration, assonance, and consonance. For example, in the first stanza, the repetition of the "w" sound in "wounded," "weary," and "woe" creates a sense of weariness and despair. Similarly, in the second stanza, the repetition of the "h" sound in "haunted" and "heart" adds to the overall sense of unease and discomfort.

In conclusion, "Poetry My Foe" is a masterpiece of poetry that explores the complex relationship between the speaker and poetry. Through its use of powerful imagery, metaphors, and literary devices, the poem conveys a sense of pain, suffering, and ultimately, redemption. It is a testament to the enduring power of poetry, and it serves as a reminder that even our greatest foes can become our closest friends.

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