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Why Washington Retreated

Written by: Ellis Parker Butler | Biography
 1775

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.”

1777

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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