Old Princeton: Benjamin B. Warfield the Princeton Poet

When World War I erupted in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was committed to a policy of neutrality.  However, Germany was not committed to the same policy.  German submarines had attacked several civilian European vessels killing many, including Americans.    

In the April 15, 1916 edition of the New York Tribune, it is patently clear that the United States of America was contemplating war.  One article titled, "Germany's Submarine War," pondered how long Britain and Ireland would be able to last before being starved into submission.  There is also an editorial titled, "A Culpable Government."  The author, a father, called upon the country to update its war equipment and give her troops the best training possible.  The man was willing to send his son to fight for his country but he was not willing to send him to slaughter. 

But it is the article immediately below the father's summons for the government to take responsibility that catches the eye because it is not prose but poetry.  The bold title is, "Awake, America!"  The author has an obvious message but I'll let him tell you what it is.

Awake, America!  Awake and smite!

I hear the shrieks of women o'er the sea,

The shrieks of women crying out to thee.

Their country, through the shattered aisles

of night.

The shadowed arches of the sky are bright,

With glare of burning vessels, and,

Ah me!

Thou sitst unheeding, dreaming listlessly.

Thine ears to hearing shut, thine eyes to sight.


The reptile of the sea is out, and toll,

Is taking of thy daughters. Has't thou


Upon some Gorgon's head, or is thy soul

With horror frozen?  Surely t'were not well,

In coming years this shameful tale to


E'en this! - Ah, this! - America has tamely brooked.

Surely, the author is calling America to rouse from her dreamy state of neutrality that she might come to the aid of her kith and kin across the ocean.  The same author would appear just a few days later with another call to his country in a poem titled, "The Coward Boy."

The Coward boy upon the village green,

Shrinks whining back at each repeated


One formula he thinks enough to know -

"You dare not hit again!" is his refrain.

The while the bullies jeer and hit again.

Of courage yet to come he makes some


Of courage now at hand and ready - no;

Whate'er the need, he flinches from


America! Art thou the coward boy

Among the nations!  Dost thou wincing


The bullies butt, the nations common toy,

The hustled, smitten, undefended land -

For sullied honor, foully outraged right

Always too proud, sayest thou? - too

Cowardly to fight?

Who is the author of these poems calling upon America to become a pugilist among the nations?  His name is Benjamin B. Warfield.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason