Forty years after the death of Philip Britts (1917–1949), this poem was discovered among the papers of a friend. Britts was a farmer, poet, activist, and pastor who joined an international pacifist community, the Bruderhof, in the early days of World War II. Soon he, along with the community, was forced to leave Europe for South America, where he contracted a rare fungal disease that led to his death at the age of thirty-one.
I sing of the eternal people, and the eternal city, the city of the eternal warfare which is the embassy of the ultimate peace.
When a nation sallies against another nation,
With spears or muskets, cannon or tanks,
For a year or for a generation,
That is not the true warfare,
Nor is that the eternal city.
And when one has proved itself the stronger,
And politicians ponder terms of peace,
And armies are recalled, and penalties are paid,
And the normal national life begins again
In pride or in humiliation,
That is not the true peace, the ultimate peace.
The combat ends and slowly is forgotten,
The political peace is sooner or later broken,
And sooner or later the city and the people
become only a memory.
But the eternal people, in the eternal city, they wage the eternal warfare because they are the embassy of the ultimate peace.
Is the eternal city full of gilded towers?
Are the streets broad and paved with marble?
Is she defended by gates of steel that endure?
And are her palaces of polished gold?
And the eternal people, are they strong?
Are they comely, are they stately in their walk?
Are they keener of intellect than other men,
And have they greater courage?
No, but the eternal city is other than this, and the eternal people are other than this.
At times the city is a group of plaster cottages,
At times the city is built of wood with roofs of grass,
At times the city is a circle of tents pitched by a river.
At times the city is a clearing in a forest,
with watch-fires but no houses.
And the eternal people are as other people, no taller, no braver, no stronger, no cleverer.
In the eternal people many are weak,
Many are slow-thinking, many are timid.
The eternal people are as other people,
Only their eyes are more like the eyes of children,
Shining with the freedom of the eternal city.
The war of the eternal people is a hard war, and to be one of them is a hard undertaking,
For the enemy attacks each one in his own heart,
And must be fought continually, each in his own blood.
And the hardness of the fight is that the enemy attacks in disguise,
He comes as a friend or a champion,
And is beautiful or desirable,
But he is a traitor, and his beauty turns to hideousness.
And the problem of the eternal people is to recognize the enemy,
For when he is revealed his power is broken.
The weapons of the eternal people are not carnal weapons,
The weapons of the eternal people are the will to Truth,
The will to unity and the means to unity which is Love
And above all, loyalty to the invisible King.
Part of the eternal city may be in one country,
And part may be a thousand miles away.
It is not a matter of space,
It is a matter of the unity of heart and mind
against the common enemy.
And the enemy of the eternal people is the Prince of Death.
These are the commands of the invisible King:
That they are not divided against each other,
Either in spiritual pride or in material competition,
But that each sees in the other his comrade in arms,
And has perfect love towards him and helps him in the fight,
And that they be all brothers fighting side by side the eternal warfare.
And the measure of the strength of the eternal people
Is the measure of their obedience to the invisible King.
Those who stand beneath the banner of the invisible King, they are the eternal people.
They are the people of the eternal warfare, and they are the embassy of the ultimate peace.
This poem is excerpted from Water at the Roots: Poems and Insights of a Visionary Farmer (Plough, 2018).