Why Washington Retreated

A poem by Ellis Parker Butler


Said Congress to George Washington:
"To set this country free,
You'll have to whip the Britishers
And chase them o'er the sea."
"Oh, very well," said Washington,
"I'll do the best I can.
I'll slam and bang those Britishers
And whip them to a man."


Said Congress to George Washington:
"The people all complain;
Why don't you fight? You but retreat
And then retreat again."
"That can't be helped," said Washington,
"As you will quite agree
When you see how the novelists
Have mixed up things for me."

Said Congress to George Washington:
"Pray make your meaning clear."
Said Washington: "Why, certainly
But pray excuse this tear.
Of course we know," said Washington,
"The object of this war
It is to furnish novelists
With patriotic lore."

Said Congress to George Washington:
"Yes! yes! but pray proceed."
Said Washington: "My part in it
Is difficult indeed,
For every hero in the books
Must sometime meet with me,
And every sweet-faced heroine
I must kiss gallantly."

Said Congress to George Washington:
"But why must you retreat?"
Said Washington: "One moment, please,
My story to complete.
These hero-folk are scattered through
The whole United States;
At every little country town
A man or maiden waits."

To Congress said George Washington:
"At Harlem I must be
On such a day to chat with one,
And then I'll have to flee
With haste to Jersey, there to meet
Another. Here's a list
Of sixty-seven heroes, and
There may be some I've missed."

To Congress said George Washington:
"Since I must meet them all
(And if I don't you know how flat
The novels all will fall),
I cannot take much time to fight,
I must be on the run,
Or some historic novelist
Will surely be undone."

Said Congress to George Washington:
"You are a noble man.
Your thoughtfulness is notable,
And we approve your plan;
A battle won pads very well
A novel that is thin,
But it is better to retreat
Than miss one man and win."

Said Congress to George Washington:
"Kiss every pretty maid,
But do it in a courtly way
And in a manner staid
And some day when your sword is sheathed
And all our banners furled,
A crop of novels will spring up
That shall appal the world."

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