"I Was in Prison" (poem)




"I Was in Prison" (poem)




poem written by WWI C.O.


WWI conscientious objection / objectors


Whitaker, Robert


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


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"I Was In Prison" by Robert Whitaker

Here's is Love's judgment of the great and small;

Here is Love's last indictment of us all.

Mark well the form of the indictment here,

And how the merit and the guilt appear.

Here is no formula of Court or State:

No talk of violence, or wilful hate.

Here is no word of Statues or of Laws;

No precedents to give pretext or pause.

Here are no horrid accusations hurled;

No talk of over or of under-world.

"You are accused of saying so and so!

"Or doing this or that vile thing!k"? ah, no!

"I was in want!" this is the sum of all;

"You heard -- or did not hear -- compassion's call."

Or is there something more the text affirms?

The want is stated in such lowly terms!

In terms of bread and butter, meat and drink,

Shelter and clothing; not what people think.

No misdemeanors, no high crimes are told:

But one was hungry, homeless, thirsty, cold.

One, any human being it would seem,

Had missed his portion in our sorry scheme.

And he, the meanest of the dispossessed,

By what he lacks is judge of all the rest.

He blesses those who bless him, knowing not:

And he condemns the highest who forgot.

Though their's were crusts, or their's were diadems.

Condemned alike, if they were self-sufficed.

Or, one with him, then were they one with Christ.

And this the utmost test, not want of bread,

Or want of clothing, or a roof o'er-head;

Nor even sickness with its quick appeal

To all who minister and all who heal;

But this the test, for every time and place,

How we were one with crime and with disgrace.

"I was in prison;" under bar and thong;

Nothing is said of whether right or wrong.

But he who was not with his brother jailed,

However wrong or wronged that brother, failed.

And he who bowed with him beneath the rod,

One with the criminal was one with God.

"He giveth best who gives himself;" we sing:

But Love asks yet a deeper, higher thing:

That we should get beyond all thought of gift;

All thought how fine it is to lend and lift;

And own ourselves for what we are indeed,

The selfish makers of our brother's need:

And our own want of honesty and sense,

At bottom part of every man's offense.

When God Himself admits that He is there,

Who then are we, to quibble of our share?

It to be one with all of us is sign

Of that which makes the Utmost Love divine;

What wonder that to us this word is given;

Who misses prison also misses heaven.

March 10, 1920.


Whitaker, Robert, “"I Was in Prison" (poem),” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed February 27, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/893.

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