I've had a soft spot in my heart for Eve Merriam's poem "The Coward" ever since I watched, when I was ten or eleven, the 1949 film Home of the Brave on the old Million Dollar Movie on TV (where they played the same movie back to back to back, and the theme from Gone with the Wind played before and after). The movie, which was directed by Mark Robson, dealt with racism in the army, centering on a platoon entrusted with a dangerous mission on an island in the Pacific that the Japanese tenaciously held.
Home of the Brave was based on a play of the same title by Arthur Laurents (1945), only there it was a Jewish GI subjected to anti-Semitic abuse. The substitution of a black man (played stirringly by James Edwards) was a shrewd stroke for more reasons than one, but what interests me in particular is the idea that an African-American man may, and sometimes is, an allegorical representation of a Jewish-American man -- especially in plays, movies, and musicals of the 1920s and '30s.
Lovejoy, playing a tough-as-nails sergeant, quotes the last six lines of "The Coward," saying that his wife wrote them. It was very many years later that I discovered that the lines came from this poem in Eve Merriam's first book, Family Circle (1946), which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize.
You, weeping wide at war, weep with me now.
Cheating a little at peace, come near
And let us cheat together here.
Look at my guilt, mirror of my shame.
Deserter, I will not turn you in;
I am your trembling twin!
Afraid, our double knees lock in knocking fear;
Running from the guns we stumble upon each other.
Hide in my lap of terror: I am your mother.
-- Only we two, and yet our howling can
Encircle the world's end.
Frightened, you are my only friend.
And frightened, we are everyone.
Someone must make a stand.
Coward, take my coward's hand.
-- Eve Merriam (1916-1992)