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Thomas Gray: Clouds of carnage blot the sun; weave the crimson web of war

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

From The Fatal Sisters. An Ode

Now the storm begins to lower,
(Haste, the loom of Hell prepare.)
Iron-sleet of arrowy shower
Hurtles in the darken’d air.

Glitt’ring lances are the loom,
Where the dusky warp we strain,
Weaving many a soldier’s doom,
Orkney’s woe, and Randver’s bane.

See the grisly texture grow,
(‘Tis of human entrails made,)
And the weights, that play below,
Each a gasping warrior’s head.

Shafts for shuttles, dipt in gore,
Shoot the trembling cords along.
Sword, that once a monarch bore,
Keep the tissue close and strong.

Ere the ruddy sun be set,
Pikes must shiver, javelins sing,
Blade with clatt’ring buckler meet,
Hauberk crash, and helmet ring.

We the reins to slaughter give,
Ours to kill, and ours to spare:
Spite of danger he shall live.
(Weave the crimson web of war.)

Low the dauntless earl is laid
Gor’d with many a gaping wound:
Fate demands a nobler head;
Soon a king shall bite the ground.

Horror covers all the heath,
Clouds of carnage blot the sun.
Sisters, weave the web of death;
Sisters, cease, the work is done.

*****

From The Descent of Odin. An Ode

Uprose the King of Men with speed,
And saddled straight his coal-black steed;
Down the yawning steep he rode,
That leads to Hela’s drear abode.
Him the dog of darkness spied,
His shaggy throat he opened wide,
While from his jaws, with carnage filled,
Foam and human gore distilled:
Hoarse he bays with hideous din,
Eyes that glow and fangs that grin;
And long pursues with fruitless yell
The father of the powerful spell.
Onward still his way he takes,
(The groaning earth beneath him shakes,)
Till full before his fearless eyes
The portals nine of hell arise.

*****

From The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

“Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!
Confusion on thy banners wait,
Tho’ fanned by Conquest’s crimson wing
They mock the air with idle state.
Helm, nor Hauberk’s twisted mail,
Nor even thy virtues, Tyrant, shall avail
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears,
From Cambria’s curse, from Cambria’s tears!”
Such were the sounds, that o’er the crested pride
Of the first Edward scatter’d wild dismay,
As down the steep of Snowdon’s shaggy side
He wound with toilsome march his long array.

Mighty Victor, mighty Lord,
Low on his funeral couch he lies!
No pitying heart, no eye, afford
A tear to grace his obsequies.

Heard ye the din of battle bray,
Lance to lance, and horse to horse?
Long Years of havock urge their destined course,
And thro’ the kindred squadrons mow their way.

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