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An essay by Maurice Maeterlinck

For Poland

Title:     For Poland
Author: Maurice Maeterlinck [More Titles by Maeterlinck]

The Allies have entered into a solemn compact that none of them will conclude a separate peace. They undertook recently, by an equally irrevocable convention, that they would not lay down their arms until Belgium was delivered. These two acts, one of prudence, the other of elementary justice, appear at first sight superfluous. Yet they were necessary. It is well that nations, even more than men, because their conscience is less stable, should secure themselves against the mistakes and weakness and ingratitude which too often accompany strife and which even more often follow victory. To-morrow they will do for Servia what they have done in the case of Belgium; but there is a third victim, of whom too little is said, who has the same rights as the other two; and to forget her would forever attaint the honour and the justice of those who took up arms only in the name of justice and honour.

I need not recall the fate of Poland. It is in certain respects more tragic and more pitiful than that of Belgium or of Servia. She had not even the opportunity to choose between dishonour and annihilation.

Three successive acts of injustice, which were, until to-day, the most shameful recorded by history, deprived her of the glory of that heroic choice which she would have made in the same spirit, for she had already thrice made it in the past, a choice which this day sustains and consoles her two martyred sisters in their profoundest tribulations. It would be too unjust if an ancient injustice, which even yet weighs upon the memory and the conscience of Europe, should become the sole reason of yet a last iniquity, which this time would be inexpiable.

True, the Grand-duke Nicolas made noble and generous promises to Poland; and these promises were repeated at the opening of the Duma. This is good and shows the irresistible force of the awakening conscience of a great empire; but it is not enough. Such promises involve only those who make them; they do not bind a nation. We will not insult Russia by doubting her intentions; but among all the certainties which history teaches us there is one that has been acquired once and for all; and this is that in politics and international morality intentions count for nothing and that a promise, made by no matter what nations, will be kept only if those who make it also render it impossible for themselves to do otherwise than keep it. For the rest, the question at present is not one of intentions, nor confidence, nor pity, nor even of interest. Others have spoken and will speak again, better than I could, of Poland's terrible distress and of the danger, which is far more formidable and far more imminent than is generally believed, of those German intrigues which are seeking to seduce from us and, despite themselves, to turn against us twenty millions of desperate people and nearly a million soldiers, who will die, perhaps, rather than join our enemies, but who, in any case, cannot fight in our ranks as they would have done had the word for which they are waiting in their anguish been spoken before it was too late.

But, however grave the peril, we are, I repeat, far less concerned with this at the present moment than with the question of justice. Poland has an absolute and sacred right to be treated even as the other two victims of this war of justice. She is their equal, she is of the same rank and on the same level. She has suffered what they have suffered, for the same cause, in the same spirit and with the same heroism; and if she has not done what the two others have done it is because only the ingratitude of all those whom she had more than once saved, together with one of the greatest crimes in history, prevented her from doing so.

It is time for the Europe of to-day to repair the iniquity committed by the Europe of other days. We are nothing, we are no better than our enemies, we have no title to deliver millions of innocent men to death, unless we stand for justice. The idea of justice alone must rule all that we undertake, for we are united, we have risen and we exist only in its name. At this moment we occupy all the pinnacles of this justice, to which we have brought such an impulse, such sacrifices and such heroism as we shall perhaps never behold again. We shall never rise higher; let us then form at this present time resolutions which will forbid us to descend; and Europe would descend, to a depth greater than was hers in the unpardonable hour of the partition of Poland, did she not before all else repair the immense fault which she committed when she had not yet discovered her conscience and did not yet know what she knows to-day.

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Maurice Maeterlinck's essay: For Poland