Sam Walter Foss: The Coming War

Read more of Sam Walter Foss's poetry (click here for information and purchase)

When you select any Amazon item to buy from the Voices Education Project web site, and then check out at, a portion of your purchase price will be paid to Voices to support our work.

Sam Walter Foss (June 19, 1858 - February 26, 1911) was a librarian and poet whose works included The House by the Side of the Road and The Coming American.

He was born in rural Candia, New Hampshire. Foss lost his mother at age four, worked on his father's farm and went to school in the winter. He graduated from Brown University in 1882, and would be considered illustrious enough to warrant having his name inscribed on the mace. Beginning in 1898, he served as librarian at the Somerville Public Library in Massachusetts. He married a minister's daughter, with whom he had a daughter and son. Foss used to write a poem a day for the newspapers, and his five volumes of collected poetry are of the frank and homely “common man” variety.

Longtime baseball announcer Ernie Harwell alluded to one of Foss's poems whenever he described a batter taking a called third strike: "He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched it go by."

"Bring me men to match my mountains, Bring me men to match my plains, Men with empires in their purpose, And new eras in their brains."

-- Sam Walter Foss, from "The Coming American", July 4, 1894

These words were inscribed on a granite wall at the United States Air Force Academy to inspire cadets and officers, but they were removed in 2003.

He is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island.


The Coming War

'There will be a war in Europe, 
Thrones will be rent and overturned,' 
('Go and fetch a pail of water,' said his wife). 
'Nations shall go down in slaughter, 
Ancient capitals be burned,' 
('Hurry up and split the kindlings,' said his wife). 
'Cities wrapped in conflagration! 
Nation decimating nation! 
Chaos crashing through creation!' 
('Go along and feed the chickens,' said his wife). 

'And the war shall reach to Asia, 
And the Orient be rent,' 
('When you going to pay the grocer?' says his wife). 
'And the myrmidons of thunder 
Shake the trembling continent,' 
('Hurry up and beat them carpets,' said his wife). 
'Million myriads invading, 
Rapine, rioting, and raiding, 
Conquest, carnage, cannonading!' 
('Wish you'd come and stir this puddin',' said his wife). 

'Oh, it breaks my heart, this onflict 
Of the Sclav and Celt and Dane,' 
('Bob has stubbed his rubber boots on,' said his wife). 
'Oh, the draggled Russian banners! 
Oh, the chivalry of Spain!' 
('We have got no more molasses,' said his wife). 
'See the marshalled millions led on 
With no bloodless sod to tread on, 
Gog and Magog! Armageddon!' 
('Hurry up and get a yeast cake,' said his wife). 

'Oh, the grapple of the nations, 
It is coming, woe is me!' 
('Did you know we're out of flour?' said his wife). 
'Oh, the many-centuried empires 
Overwhelmed in slaughter's sea!' 
('Wish you'd go and put the cat out,' said his wife). 
'Death and dreadful dissolution 
Wreak their awful execution, 
Carnage, anarchy, confusion!' 
('Let me have two cents for needles,' said his wife. 

'All my love goes out to Europe, 
And my heart is torn and sad,' 
('How can I keep house on nothing?' said his wife). 
'O, the carnival of carnage, 
O, the battle, malestrom mad!' 
('Wish you'd battle for a living,' said his wife). 
'Down in smoke and blood and thunder, 
While the stars look on in wonder, 
Must these empires all go under?' 
('Where're we going to get our dinner?' said his wife).