Thomas McGrath: All the Dead Soldiers

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Thomas McGrath
All the Dead Soldiers

In the chill rains of the early winter I hear something –
A puling anger, a cold wind stiffened by flying bone –
Out of the north….
and remember, then, what’s up there:
That ghost-bank: home: Amchitka: boot hill….

They must be very tired, those ghosts; no flesh sustains them
And the bones rust in the rain.
Reluctant to go into the earth
The skulls gleam: wet; the dog-tag forgets the name;
The statistics (wherein they were young) like their crosses, are weathering out,

They must be very tired.
But I see them riding home,
Nightly: crying weak lust and rage: to stand in the dark,
Forlorn in known rooms, unheard near familiar beds:
Where lie the aging women: who were so lovely: once.

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Edmund Blunden: War tableaux

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

[We] gained another artist of quality, who drew the best portrait of Francis Thompson. This was Neville Lytton. Tall, of a fine carriage, his outward and physical appearance expressing an intellect rather than a body, he at once attracted me. He was outspoken in his loathing of war, he did not rely on his rank to cover all points of argument or action, and his gallantry in going through the dirtiness, the abnegations of service, the attack upon all his refinement, was great. It naturally remained unrecognized by the crasser part of the officers and men.

****

The cause, of which I remained innocent, was that the Colonel had been ordered to make a raid at once on that point. The word “raid” may be defined as the one in the whole vocabulary which most instantly caused a sinking feeling in the stomach of ordinary mortals. Colonel Grisewood was confronted with the command to attack some part of the enemy’s line, here fortified with the keenest intelligence, the thickest wire and emplacements, in the dark and without any preparation. Not unnaturally, he was worried. What came of this is told by Neville Lytton in his war memoirs: Grisewood demurred, was disposed of, and another battalion was forced to lose the lives which ignorance and arrogance cost.

****

Brothers should not join the same battalion. When I was at the place where some of the wounded had been collected under the best shelter to be found, I was struck deep by the misery of a boy, whom I knew and liked well; he was half crying, half exhorting over a stretcher whence came the brave but weakened voice of his brother, wounded almost to death, waiting his turn to be carried down. What I could say was little; but a known voice perhaps conveyed some comfort in the inhuman night which covered us. In this battalion, brothers had frequently enlisted together; the effect was too surely a culmination of suffering….

****

Who that had been there for but a few hours could ever forget the strange spirit and mad lineaments of Cuinchy? A mining sector, as this was, never wholly lost the sense of hovering horror. That day I arrived in it the shimmering arising heat blurred the scene, but a trouble was at once discernible, if indescribable, also rising from the ground. Over Coldstream Lane, the chief communication trench, deep red poppies, blue and white cornflowers, and darnel thronged the way to destruction; the yellow cabbage flowers thickened here and there in sickening brilliance. Giant thistles made a thicket beyond. Then the ground became torn and vile, the poisonous breath of fresh explosions skulked all about, and the mud which choked the narrow passages stank as one pulled through it, and through the twisted, disused wires running mysteriously onward. Much lime was wanted at Cuinchy, and that had its ill savour and often its horrible meaning.

****

I went along three firebays; one shell burst behind me;Isawits smoke faint out, and thought all was as lucky as it should be. Soon a cry from that place recalled me; the shell had burst all wrong. Its butting impression was black and stinking in the parados where three minutes ago the lance-corporal’s mess tin was bubbling over a little flame. For him, how could the gobbets of blackening flesh, the earth wall sotted with blood, with flesh, the eye under the duckboard, the pulpy bone be the only answer?

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James Russell Lowell: A war supporter’s credo

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

American writers on peace and against war

James Russell Lowell: Dante and universal peace

James Russell Lowell on Lamartine: Highest duty of man, to summon peace when vulture of war smells blood

James Russell Lowell: The military qualifications of a prospective president

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James Russell Lowell
From The Biglow Papers

I du believe wutever trash
‘ll keep the people in blindness, –
Thet we the Mexicuns can thrash
Right inter brotherly kindness,
Thet bombshells, grape, an’ powder ‘n’ ball
Air good-will’s strongest magnets,
Thet peace, to make it stick at all,
Must be druv in with bagnets.

****

Ez fer the war, I go agin it, –
I mean to say I kind o’ du, –
Thet is, I mean thet, bein’ in it,
The best way wuz to fight it thru;
Not but wut abstract war is horrid, –
I sign to thet with all my heart, –
But civlyzation doos git forrid
Sometimes upon a powder-cart.

****

We git the licks, – we ‘re jest the grist thet ‘s put into War’s hoppers;
Leftenants is the lowest grade thet helps pick up the coppers.
It may suit folks thet go agin a body with a soul in’t,
An’ aint contented with a hide without a bagnet hole in’t;
But glory is a kin’ o’ thing I shan’t pursue no furder,
Coz thet ‘s the off’cers parquisite, – yourn ‘s on’y jest the murder.

 

****

I made one of the crowd at the last Mechanics’ Fair, and, with the rest, stood gazing in wonder at a perfect machine, with its soul of fire, its boiler-heart that sent the hot blood pulsing along the iron arteries, and its thews of steel. And while I was admiring the adaptation of means to end, the harmonious involutions of contrivance, and the never-bewildered complexity, I saw a grimed and greasy fellow, the imperious engine’s lackey and drudge, whose sole office was to let fall, at intervals, a drop or two of oil upon a certain joint. Then my soul said within me, See there a piece of mechanism to which that other you marvel at is but as the rude first effort of a child, – a force which not merely suffices to set a few wheels in motion, but which can send an impulse all through the infinite future, – a contrivance, not for turning out pins, or stitching button-holes, but for making Hamlets and Lears. And yet this thing of iron shall be housed, waited on, guarded from rust and dust, and it shall be a crime but so much as to scratch it with a pin; while the other, with its fire of God in it, shall be buffeted hither and thither, and finally sent carefully a thousand miles to be the target for a Mexican cannon-ball. Unthrifty Mother State!

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Margaret Sackville: We are the mothers, and each has lost a son

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Victory

Who are ye that come with eyes red and weeping
In a long, long line and silent every one?
See overhead the flag of triumph sweeping –
“We are the mothers, and each has lost a son.”

Cries of the crowd who greet their god of glory!
What of these who crouch there silent in the street? –
“We are outraged women, ’tis a common story,
Quietly we lie beneath your armies’ feet.”

Red flags of conquest, banners great and golden!
Who are these silent ones upon our track?
“We in our thousands, perished unbeholden,
We are the women: pray you, look not back.”

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Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The God of War

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Max Plowman
From the preface to A Lap Full of Seed

If you find a single line that is really interesting I beg that you will do me the kindness of shouting your discovery at the top of your voice; for you and I know we live in loud times, when brazen voices vie with the crash of machine-made warfare in the making of bedlam: times when we can ill afford to lose an interesting line.

Impassioned truth is always poetry; and no man ever yet attempted to tell the truth sincerely without achieving something of the nature of poetry.

I feel sure you will forgive me even my lack of Good Form when you remember that at least I never wrote a line in praise of
All the little emptiness of war.
[A parody of Rupert Brooke’s And all the little emptiness of love!]

****

The Goddess of War

‘I am drunk with unsatiated love;
I must rush again to War.’ [William Blake]

Glad in all regal splendour forth she rides
Upon a jet-black horse champing the curb,
While loud huzzas the pendant air disturb,
Since in her breast a nation’s hope abides.
Behold, the King and God she claims for guides!
And Justice too come thou and hate the Serb!
And men and angels, laud ye the superb
Majesty which in her peerless form resides!

Yet look again. Her eyes are balls of fire.
Her scarlet robe is bright with human gore.
Where’er she moves, ashes spring from the dust.
Truth saith: She taketh souls of men for hire
And burneth them in fires of their own lust:
That she is Self’s own self-appointed whore.

July, 1914

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John Middleton Murry: For England, peace or destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From England’s Debt to the World

I sometimes think that what the great and growing Peace Movement in this country now chiefly needs is some new perspectives on itself. I believe that absolute pacifism is something more than a horror-stricken reaction from the barbarity of modern war. It is rather, for me, a simple and revolutionary moral decision in which is consummated the history of past centuries. It is the immense simplicity which descends upon the mind which has patiently tried to understand human history as a process from which the living individual derives, in which he is inextricably involved, and to which he owes the dedication of himself.

****

That population of England depends upon peace. The last war showed how precarious our situation was: we “won” the last war by a miracle. Had America not come in we should surely have lost it. But nobody remembered that in making peace. Still less did anybody think about what the new development of the aeroplane really meant for England. Basil Zaharoff’s submarines, Bleriot’s aeroplanes – they meant the end of England: the end of an England that could exist and prosper in defiance of the world. England, henceforward, could live only by the world’s consent. If our politicians – statesmen I cannot call them – had had an inkling of this truth, they would have moved earth, and heaven, to secure a just peace-settlement, knowing that England was henceforward vulnerable as no other country in the world. Whatever war may mean for the continent, it means destruction for England. We may arm ourselves to the teeth, make the whole island one single gas- and bomb-proof shelter, none the less we shall be destroyed: our teeming populations will be wiped out, reduced from forty millions to ten.

****

If England is to survive, peace is necessary. No matter what it may be for the rest of the world it is a life-and-death affair for us. But we cannot have peace by asking for it, not even by praying for it (unless prayer has a new meaning for us). The condition of achieving peace in the modern world is to be prepared to give up everything for peace. It is no use making conditions; it is no use gulling yourself that you can offer the world “Peace – or War,” like the Roman ambassador in the old story. No one can tell how long it will take this nation to reach the knowledge that it must be prepared to sacrifice anything for peace; but with every individual who comes to the decision that he is prepared to sacrifice everything, himself, for peace, the time grows less. In them England is preparing to pay her debt to the world.

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Georges Bernanos: War, the penalty of rendering unto Caesar what is no longer his

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

French writers on war and peace

Georges Bernanos: Wars like epidemics, with neither beginning nor end

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Georges Bernanos
From The Diary of a Country Priest
Translated by Pamela Morris

‘What is your grudge against the Church?’ I said at last, foolishly.

‘Mine? Oh, nothing much. You’ve secularized us. The first real secularization was that of the soldier. And it’s some time ago now. When you go snivelling over the excesses of nationalism, you should remember it was you who first pandered to the law-makers of the Renaissance, whilst they made short work of Christian right, and patiently constructed, under your very noses, right in your very faces, the Pagan State: the state which knows no law but that of its own well-being – the merciless countries full of greed and pride.’

‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I don’t know much about history, but it seems to me that feudal anarchy had its own risks.’

‘No doubt….You wouldn’t take them. You left Christianity high and dry, it took too long, it cost a
lot and brought in very little. You gave us the “state” instead. The state to arm us and clothe us and feed us, and take charge of our conscience into the bargain. Mustn’t judge, mustn’t even try to understand! And your theologians approve it all, naturally. With a simper, they grant us permission to kill, kill anywhere, anyhow, to kill by order, like executioners. We are supposed to defend our land, but we can also be used to keep down revolution, and if the revolution should win we serve it instead. No loyalty required. That’s how you put us “in the army,” and now we’re so thoroughly “in the army” that in a democracy inured to all servility, the lawyers themselves are really astonished at the servile ways of Ministers of War. “The army” is so entirely debased that even a fine soldier like Lyautey hated the very name of his profession. And besides, soon there won’t be any army. We shall all be in it, from the age of seven to sixty – in what, come to think of it? The word “army”’ means nothing when entire nations are hurling themselves against each other like African tribes – tribes of a hundred thousand men! And your theologians, more and more disgusted, will still “approve” of it, still print “dispensations,” or so I imagine, drawn up by the Secretary of the Board of National Conscience. But between you and me, when do your theologians intend to stop? The cleverest killers of to-morrow will kill without any risk. Thirty thousand feet above the earth, any dirty little engineer, sitting cosily in his slippers with a special bodyguard of technicians, will merely have to press a button to wipe out a town, and scurry home in fear – his only fear – of being late for dinner. Nobody could call an employee of that description a soldier. Can he even deserve to be called “an army man”? And you people, who refused Christian burial to poor mummers in the seventeenth century, how do you mean to bury a guy like that? Has our trade become so debased that we are no longer responsible for any one of our actions, that we share in the horrible innocence of our steel machines? Don’t tell me! A poor lad who puts his girl in the family way one spring night, is considered by you to be in mortal sin, but the killer of a whole town, whilst the kids he’s just poisoned’ll be vomiting up their lungs on their mothers’ lap, need only go off and change pants to “distribute holy bread”! Frauds you all are! What’s the use of pretending to “render unto Caesar”? The ancient world is dead, as dead as its gods. And the tutelary gods of the modern world -we know ’em; they dine out, they’re called bankers. Draw up as many agreements as you like. Outside Christianity there is no place in the West for soldiers or fatherland, and your shifty compromises will soon have permitted the final shame of both.’

He had risen and was still enfolding me in his strange gaze, always the same pale blue, but which looked golden in the shadow. He threw his cigarette furiously into the cinders.

‘I don’t give a damn,’ he said. ‘I’ll be killed before then.’

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Edmund Blunden: Initiation into war

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

Here, said the transport man, turning a corner, a night or two before the Germans had dropped several very large shells, almost on top of the quartermaster and his horse. Blew his horse onesided. This information sat heavily on me. The roar of a heavy battery, soon following, also troubled me, for as yet I did not know that sound from the crash of arriving shells. “‘Tis only some ‘eavies our party brought up yesterday.” The heavy battery was firing at the German area over the farmhouse, chickens, children and all, which ended this stage of our progress.

****

In the shallow ditch outside that Le Touret farm, among the black mud now nearly dry, were to be seen a variety of old grenades brown with rust. I looked at them with suspicion; and later on, returning on some errand, I saw them again. Why did no one see to it that these relics were duly destroyed? For that same summer they brought death to some idle Tommy whose curiosity led him to disturb the heap, seeming safe because of its antiquity. This was a characteristic of the war – its long arm reaching for its victim at its pleasure.

****

At some points in the trench bones pierced through their shallow burial and skulls appeared like mushrooms.

****

One of the first things that I was asked in C Company dugout was, “Got any peace talk?” It was a
rhetorical question. One of the first ideas that established themselves in my inquiring mind was the prevailing sense of the endlessness of the war. No one appeared to conceive any end to it. I soon knew that Day succeeded unto day, Night to pensive night.

Such as it was, the Old British Line at Festubert had the appearance of great age and perpetuity; its weather-beaten sandbag wall was already venerable. It shared the past with the defences of Troy. The skulls which spades disturbed about it were in a manner coeval with those of the most distant wars; there is little but remoteness about a skull. And, as for the future, one of the first hints that came home to me was implied in a machine-gun emplacement stubbornly built in brick and cement, as one might build a house.

****

The old trench lay silent and formidable, a broad gully, like a rough sunk lane rather than a firing trench. It was strewn with remains and pitiful evidences. The whole region of Festubert, being marshy and undrainable, smelled ill enough, but this trench was peculiar in that way. I cared little to stop in the soft drying mud at the bottom of it; I saw old uniforms and a great many bones. One uniform identified a German officer; the skeleton seemed less coherent than most, and an unexploded shell lay on the edge of the fragments. What an age since 1914!

****

The shortened, diminished cough of anti-aircraft shells often came down from the blue morning sky, and it was fashionable to stand watching and counting up the waste of public money on the part of our “Archies” shell by shell, the rumoured cost of these shells being then half a guinea. Sometimes this cynical accountancy was brought to an end as the air round us began to buzz and drone with falling fragments; large and jagged shards of steel would plunge murderously into the sandbags, and one discreetly got into the dugout.

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Margaret Sackville: Reconciliation over our mutual dead

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Reconciliation

When all the stress and all the toil is over,
And my lover lies sleeping by your lover,
With alien earth on hands and brows and feet,
Then we may meet.

Moving sorrowfully with uneven paces,
The bright sun shining on our ravaged faces,
There, very quietly, without sound or speech,
Each shall greet each.

We who are bound by the same grief for ever,
When all our sons are dead may talk together,
Each asking pardon from the other one
For her dead son.

With such low, tender words the heart may fashion,
Broken and few, of pity and compassion,
Knowing that we disturb at every tread
Our mutual dead.

****

Home Again

They give us sweets and picture-books and cigarettes and things,
And they speaks to us respectful – like as though we all was kings;
And they asks us silly questions – but they means well in their way,
So we tells them how we fought and fell on such and such a day,
And we talks a bit to please them when the ladies come to call:
But the things that we have done and seen they ‘aven’t seen at all.

An’ the blessed daily papers, why we’d like to take the lot
Right out of safe old England and let them see us shot.
There’s ‘eaps to tell them if we could, but it doesn’t seem worth while –
So we ‘olds our tongues and tempers, and when we can we smile.

They’re just like kiddies at their play – but we, we’ve felt and seen,
And ‘tween the likes o’ them an’ us the’re days and nights between:
Such days, such nights ! – there ain’t no words, not human, to express –
But we often wish they’d think a bit and chatter rather less;
But it takes a deal o’ pluck for that and quite a lot o’ brain,
And since they haven’t got them, well we simply can’t explain.

****

On the Pope’s Manifesto

One voice only through the reek and roar
Sounds with a simple and august appeal:
“Oh! little ones of God, will ye not heal
These wounds, and cease from strife and hate no more?”
Vain words! since violently as before
The nations heave, like a great sea up-tossed;
Even such a sea as Christ’s calm feet once crossed,
When the waves hushed their tumult to adore .

And now as then, the Outcast, the Despised
Christ, to us fighting in the name of Christ
Bids “Peace, be still” – but we have drawn the sword ,
And each secure his cause at least is good,
Sheds to approve that faith his brother’s blood;
Being by so much wiser than the Lord.

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John Middleton Murry: The pacifism of luxury and the pacifism of sacrifice

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From Beyond the Nation

Up to the last war our nationalism did not require conscription. It left the individual all kinds of luxury freedoms – and pacifism was one of them. In England it was possible to be a pacifist and a nationalist at once…..But slowly and inevitably, the mists of the old illusion are moving away, and the naked reality of the landscape begins to emerge….Our nationalism reveals itself as precisely the same as everyone else’s: it’s compelling us to do precisely the same things as everybody else. It is beginning to dawn upon us, generally, that the whole nation will be mobilized for war, and that it follows inexorably that a man will not be able to be a pacifist and a law-abiding citizen as well. Out of the war-machine today means out of the national machine.

It is best to have no illusions about it: not simply because it is always, in the long run, a good thing to have no illusions, but because (in my personal opinion) it enables the pacifist to understand what he is really after. He is out, whether he knows it or not, to break up the machine that has usurped the place of the natural society. That is the negative. The positive is that he is out to create a new international society. And that new international society does not have to wait for existence upon vast and impossible surrenders by the nations themselves. It exists already: it has existed from the moment that individual pacifists in every nation have decided that, in the matter of modern nationalist warfare, they must obey a higher authority than the nation. They may call this authority by different names. Some will call it Conscience; others will call it Reason; yet others will call it Humanity. I myself call it God. But it seems to me that there can be no doubt that under whatever name it may be concealed or revealed, it is always the same Authority. I also think that those who elect to obey this Authority are citizens of the same City.

****

From This England

And how shall this country – this freedom that is my country – be defended today? By compelling its members to bear their part in raining high explosives and the rest of the abominations upon defenceless populations, to teach them not to rain them on our own?

****

We lift up our hands in horror at what Japanese patriotism is doing in China. We refuse to admit to our consciousness that English patriotism will do exactly the same thing. It is time for a new patriotism: a patriotism that will die for its country, but will not kill for it – a patriotism that will bring the City of Man a little nearer to the City of God, instead of degrading it to the City of the Beast.

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Max Plowman: The God of War

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

British writers on peace and war

Max Plowman: The Goddess of War

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Max Plowman
The God of War

‘Let all Indefinites be thrown into Demonstrations.’

Pass, unknown monster, pass; the dawn of mind
Reveals thy lineaments. Ere break of day
Men saw thee as a cloud for the display
Of Heaven’s lightning, Heaven’s rushing wind;
They worshipped thee in fear and reverence blind,
Hanging about thine altars banners gay,
Beating loud drums, wreathing thy priests with bay,
And dancing at the murder of mankind.

No more we watch thy great foreboding shape
Sprawled on the darkened heavens. Instead we see
One soldier disembowelled by butchery,
One girl-wife, now a living shroud of crape;
And in the thinking sight of these we cry,
‘Spawn of our lust and hatred, thou shalt die.’

August, 1914

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Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Cecil Day-Lewis: Newsreel

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

British writers on peace and war

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Cecil Day-Lewis
Newsreel (1938)

Enter the dream-house, brothers and sisters, leaving
Your debts asleep, your history at the door:
This is the home for heroes, and this loving
Darkness a fur you can afford.

Fish in their tank electrically heated
Nose without envy the glass wall: for them
Clerk, spy, nurse, killer, prince, the great and the defeated,
Move in a mute day-dream.

Bathed in this common source, you gape incurious
At what your active hours have willed –
Sleep-walking on that silver wall, the furious
Sick shapes and pregnant fancies of your world.

There is the mayor opening the oyster season:
A society wedding: the autumn hats look swell:
An old crocks’ race, and a politician
In fishing-waders to prove that all is well.

Oh, look at the warplanes! Screaming hysteric treble
In the low power-dive, like gannets they fall steep.
But what are they to trouble –
These silver shadows – to trouble your watery, womb-deep sleep?

See the big guns, rising, groping, erected
To plant death in your world’s soft womb.
Fire-bud, smoke-blossom, iron seed projected –
Are these exotics? They will grow nearer home!

Grow nearer home – and out of the dream-house stumbling
One night into a strangling air and the flung
Rags of children and thunder of stone niagaras tumbling,
You’ll know you slept too long.

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John Middleton Murry: Non-intervention versus the universal peace of universal destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Middleton Murry
From The Basis of Internationalism

As the medieval clerics in assenting to the edicts of the temporal powers interposed a saving clause – salvo ordine meo: “without prejudice to the rights of my order,” or some equivalent phrase – so the nations, ever since they became nations, have always explicitly or implicitly made a reservation of their “vital interests” from the domination of International Law. Since each nation was the judge of its own vital interests, the reign of International Law was a decorous facade, concealing a condition of international anarchy.

The principle of “non-intervention,” for example, of which we hear so much today, never was a principle which governed the actions of the British Government. We intervened to the tune of 100 millions, and a few thousand lives, in Soviet Russia as late as 1921; not long before that we intervened, in company with France, most tyrannically in the internal affairs of Greece. We forget these little episodes. The simple truth is that the moment we feel that our “vital interests” are involved, the principle of non-intervention goes into the lumber-room as a prejudice, only to be hauled out and re-varnished as a principle when we feel that it is against our “vital interests” to allow other nations to intervene.

****

The point I am trying to make will be clearer if we try to imagine a real and effective super-national authority, engaged in promulgating and enforcing the Law….It was possible to conceive, possible almost to realize, such a super-national authority in the far-off days of the Hildebrandine Popes. They could compel the subjects of a temporal prince to abandon their allegiance; they had the power to make plain to the simplest man, by excommunication and interdict, that if he obeyed his prince he was putting his immortal soul in peril.

****

From Fascism and Nationalism

It follows, unfortunately, that fascism is happening in England too.. The difference is that our own is a negative Fascism, whereas the German and Italian kinds are positive: ours is unconscious, theirs is conscious: ours is the Fascism of “defence against Fascism.” To the average man, and to the politician, the difference seems great. In fact it is very small. Of the Fascist countries there is one thing, and one thing only, for the Englishman to say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he had better hurry up finding the grace of God.

Take the name away and look at the reality of Fascism. It is only Nationalism: the nationalism of the countries that were the last to become nationalist. The real difference between English Nationalism and German Nationalism is that English Nationalism is satisfied with what is has got, and German Nationalism is not. And if German Nationalism or Italian Nationalism were to get enough to satisfy themselves, English Nationalism would at once cease to be satisfied. And the final equilibrium would be reached in the universal peace of universal destruction.

****

From Material or Spiritual?

It is a noteworthy fact that of all European peoples the German and the Italians are probably, as individuals, the most pacific, the least nationalistic. That is, at least in part, because they submitted longest to the anti-national authority of the Holy Roman Empire. It is only during the last century that Germany and Italy have become conscious of themselves as “nations”: that they are seeking feverishly to make up for their backwardness in the general evolution towards national consciousness. As belated “nations” they suffer from a deep-rooted sense of inferiority: hence their extravagant aggressiveness.

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Margaret Sackville: Quo Vaditis?

July 24, 2020 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Quo Vaditis?

“Where do ye go
Pale line of broken men?” –
We only know to die. Could we die twice, we’d die again.

“Wherefore?” – The call
Of a strange voice – was it of death or birth? –
Came to us all,
To all of us, the men of all the earth.

“And to what end?”
We ask not, but we see
The self-same light which kindles in our friend
Shine from the faces of our enemy.

“Same light, same doom!
And to what purpose?” – Deep
We lie in the same womb,
The slain, the slain together in one sleep.

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Edmund Blunden: The bondservice of destruction

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
From Undertones of War

I began to love these convalescent soldiers, and their distinguishing demeanour sank into me. They hid what daily grew plain enough – the knowledge that the war had released them but for a few moments, that the war would claim them, that the war was a jealous war and a long-lasting. 1914, 1915, 1916….Occasionally I would ask the silly questions of nonrealization; they in their tolerance pardoned, smiled, and hinted, knowing that I was learning, and should not escape the full lesson.

****

That evening, a lugubriously merry Highlander and a sturdy Engineer, to whom I had democratically appealed for help on some matter, who were themselves returning to the British Expeditionary Force next morning, asked me my age. I replied; and, discipline failing, the Scotchman murmured to himself, “Only a boy – only a boy,” and shed tears, while his mate grunted an angry sympathy.

****

The Base! dismal tents, glum roadways, prisoning wire! I took my share of a tent, trying to remember the way to freedom, and laid on my valise the ebony walking stick which had been my grandfather’s, and was to be my pilgrim’s staff. It went. I was away from it but a few minutes- it went. But this was before the war was officially making the world safe for democracy.

****

Was it on this visit to Étaples that some of us explored the church – a fishing village church – and
took tea comfortably in an inn? Those tendernesses ought not to come, however dimly, in my notions of Etaples. I associate it, as millions do, with “The Bull Ring,” that thirsty, savage, interminable training ground. Marching up to it, in the tail of a long column, I was surprised by shouts from another long column dustily marching the other way: and there, sad-smiling, waving hands and welcoming, were two or three of the convalescent squad who had been so briefly mine on the sunny slopes opposite Lancing. I never saw them again; they were hurried once more, fast as corks on a millstream, without complaint into the bondservice of destruction. Thinking of them, and the pleasant chance of their calling to me, and the evil quickness with which their wounds had been made no defence against a new immolation, I found myself on the sandy training ground. The machine guns there thudded at their targets, for the benefit of those who had advanced against such furies, equally with beginners like me. And then the sunny morning was darkly interrupted. Rifle-grenade instruction began. A Highland sergeant major stood magnificently before us, with the brass brutality called a Hales rifle grenade in his hand. He explained the piece, fingering the wind vane with easy assurance; then stooping to the fixed rifle, he prepared to shoot the grenade by way of demonstration. According to my unsoldierlike habit, I had let the other students press near the instructor, and was listlessly standing on the skirts of the meeting, thinking of something else, when the sergeant major having just said, “I’ve been down here since 1914, and never had an accident,” there was a strange hideous clang. Several voices cried out; I found myself stretched on the floor, looking upward in the delusion that the grenade had been fired straight above and was about to fall among us. It had indeed been fired, but had burst by some error at the muzzle of the rifle: the instructor was lying with mangled head, dead, and others lay near him, also bloodmasked, dead and alive. So ended that morning’s work on the Bull Ring.

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John Middleton Murry: The morality of bombing civilians is not arithmetic

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Pacifist movement to bear witness against total dehumanization of humanity necessitated by modern war

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John Middleton Murry
From The Pharisee and the Publican (1937)

Is it the mere size of the murder that we protest against? As though to bomb 5,000 innocent civilians were a hundred times worse than bombing 50, and five thousand times worse than bombing one! If that is the casuistry of modern morality, then I vastly prefer the more civilized casuistry of old. I can understand the essential difference between a venial and a mortal sin; I can see no essential difference between deliberately blowing one civilian to pieces and blowing up a million.

There is a story in the gospel of St. Luke which is pretty familiar, so familiar, I suppose, that it has long ceased to mean anything. It tells how two men went into the Temple to pray: The one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are – extortioners, unjust, adulterers. I fast twice a week, and pay my taxes.” But the publican, standing afar off, would not even lift his eyes toward heaven, but beat his breast and said: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said that the publican went home accepted by God, while the Pharisee was rejected.

I cannot help thinking that those who would protest against the outrages of Japan in China are like the Pharisee. Men who live in an England made rich as a result of the same type of outrages, men who are, and must be, members of a country which is prepared, under stress of “necessity,” to commit precisely the same outrages as Japan, and for the same ends – surely, they cannot do otherwise than as the publican: humiliate themselves and repent. They cannot protest – at least against anyone other than themselves.

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John Middleton Murry: Pacifist movement to bear witness against total dehumanization of humanity necessitated by modern war

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

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: The morality of bombing civilians is not arithmetic

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John Middleton Murry
From The Pledge of Peace

It is, I believe, gradually coming to be understood, in experience (which is better than understanding) that the cause of absolute Pacifism must be finally grounded in religion. No doubt the rational mind is capable of appreciating the insensate folly of modern warfare, and even of demonstrating, as Mr. Bertrand Russell has done with the utmost cogency, that a great modern war is almost certain to involve the loss of all those liberties which we shall be supposed to be defending; but when it comes to the decision to take, as an individual, the path of absolute war-resistance, and to accept the consequences, purely rational considerations are not enough. To hold that a condition of affairs is insensate is one thing; to decide that one will risk everything, even one’s life, to put a stop to the madness is quite another.

****

I am passionately convinced that if a Pacifist movement judges itself only by results, it will fall to pieces. A Pacifist movement, unless it is to disintegrate, must look beyond success or failure in the matter of actually achieving international peace. The real business of a Pacifist movement is to bear witness against the total dehumanization of humanity necessitated by modern war. If once Pacifists succumb to the view that the validity and value of its movement depends upon its success in preventing war, they have surrendered everything, and their movement is bound to fail. It is manifest that there is not going to be, as facile optimists imagine, a vast upsurge of national opinion against war. If this is what the “practical” pacifist counts on, he is not going to get it; and if he does not get what he counts on, he is bound to be lukewarm and indifferent. The man who wants to be on the winning side has no place in the Pacifist movement.

The Pacifist cause will be won, if it is won, only by those who have come to see that winning is a secondary affair. What matters is that men and women should bear their witness – and bear it, if need be, to the end. For they are the men and women who will win the cause of Pacifism, if it is to be won at all. I believe it can be won.

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Margaret Sackville: How is it that men slaughter men even here upon the earth?

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Challenge

We lead our tattered armies, the halt, the lame, the weak,
Under a ragged banner, scarce knowing what we seek.
In the face of the world’s laughter we answer with our tears,
(Laughter and tears alike the same for now two thousand years.)
Loud is the laughter of the world; our lips are dumb
Yet terrible our silence, more deadly when we come.
Oh! neither sceptres, jewels, crowns, no guerdon do we claim;
How shall we run this race of yours, we who are lame?
We do not crave for high estate, nor garments silken-lined;
How may we judge your flashing things, we who are blind?
Not for the prize ye claim from life have we endured so long,
We are the foolish ones, the weak – and ye are strong.
Yet we have dared to dream our dream, and we have dared the deed:
Mountains shall move although our faith is little as a seed.
Ye powerful ones, how is it now, ye who are free from birth,
How is it that men slaughter men even here upon the earth?
Guardians and lords and kings who hold unblamed the seas and lands,
How is there terror in your souls and blood upon your hands?
Have we not waited, held our peace, been patient till this hour,
Thinking ye surely would make whole who had the power?
But half the world is drenched in blood oh, silent ones awake,
They are murdering our children – rise for our children’s sake!
Not with more blood, with lies, with lust, or the sword’s swing shall we
Drive that thick darkness from our doors where the fresh air should be;
But silently and without noise on quiet feet
Our innumerable armies shall meet you in the street.
We bear no terror in our hands, no house of yours shall burn,
Only the thing we Will shall hold your eyes at every turn.
No hungry scaffold shall we raise within the market-place,
But woe to him who cannot read when he meets us face to face.
This clot of blood which is the world shall melt at last
Into a kindly human stream; your reign is past.
The strong may overcome the strong, ye seek in vain
To silence those your hand might crush again and yet again.
Do ye proclaim your strength supreme and have ye set
Your banners high above the world? We have not met.

****

Pax Ventura

Our Peace was but a honey-comb
Whereon we fed like glutted bees:
Not knowing that the Peace to come
Must be as dangerous as the seas.

A sword – a magnitude – a flame,
A holy passion, brave and high;
Not for this peace that was our shame
Do ye, oh our redeemers, die!

Gather us up out of our sleep,
And pray that we may be forgiven,
Who followed life like frightened sheep,
Who lived in Hell and spoke of Heaven.

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Margaret Sackville: Sacrament

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Sacrament

Before the Altar of the world in flower,
Upon whose steps thy creatures kneel in line,
We do beseech Thee in this wild Spring hour,
Grant us, O Lord, thy wine. But not this wine.

Helpless, we, praying by Thy shimmering seas,
Beside Thy fields, whence all the world is fed,
Thy little children clinging about Thy knees,
Cry: ‘Grant us, Lord, Thy bread!’ But not this bread.

This wine of awful sacrifice outpoured;
This bread of life – of human lives. The Press
Is overflowing, the Wine-Press of the Lord!
Yet doth he tread the foamings no less.

These stricken lands! The green time of the year
Has found them wasted by a purple flood,
Sodden and wasted everywhere, everywhere; –
Not all our tears may cleanse them from that blood.

****

Ora Pro Nobis

Not these bright feet
Which tread their chosen road of death, deplore;
But ours which walk the customary street,
Barren and dull and anxious as before.
These million dead
Need not your tears: but let them flow
For us to whom is given our daily bread
And are content as long as this is so.

Who sleep at ease
In a safe corner of a world in flame.
Pray for us then, but not for these
Who have no portion in our shame.

****

Who?

Not these I pity
Who in the swing and surge of battle die
With passion in their hearts – but these
The wreck and ruin of the city,
These myriad souls outcast, they know not why,
Torn, tortured, exiled, driven over-seas.

For these what price
Shall the inexorable laws demand
Upon their heads what heavy toll is set?

Theirs is the unforgotten sacrifice;
Their blood has watered the waste lands:
When God remembers, who shall pay the debt?

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: I have not a warlike nature nor warlike tastes

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

German writers on peace and war

Goethe: “O wisdom, thou speakest as a dove!”

Goethe: Withdraw hands from your swords

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cited by Georg Brandes in his Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature
Translator unidentified

The bodies of his fallen countrymen did not inspire the poet with odes….

Such instances as these give us some impression of the attitude of aloofness which Goethe as a poet maintained towards the events of his day. But we must not overlook the fine side of his refusal to write patriotic war-songs during the struggle with Napoleon. “Would it be like me to sit in my room and write war-songs? In the night bivouacs, when we could hear the horses of the enemy’s outpost neighing, then I might possibly have done it. But it was not my life, that, and not my affair; it was Theodor Körner’s. Therefore his war-songs become him well. I have not a warlike nature nor warlike tastes, and war-songs would have been a mask very unbecoming to me. I have never been artificial in my poetry.”

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Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville: The Peacemakers

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Peacemakers

We do not fight with swords,
Red iron, explosive fire,
And on no battle-field
Urge we our soul’s desire. –
Nay, but our bitter might.
Silent and shod like Peace,
Shall set your homes alight
In the fullness of your ease.
Strike us, we strike not back.
But o’er the bloodless sod
Come thundering on our track
The batteries of God.

We slay you with a thought;
We wound you with a word;
We stab you to the heart
Who have abjured the sword.
Your strength has trampled down
Our weakness underfoot;
The king has saved his crown.
The scaffold bears its fruit;
Our lips are silenced – yet
The word we spoke lives on;
The thing ye would forget
Is the thing already done.

Oh! victors have ye bound
Our bodies? This is good.
But ye seek to bind in vain
The thought not understood.
Not this year or the next
Shall we be justified;
Enough that we perplexed
Your minds before we died.
This shall suffice our need,
That one swift word once said
Shall later be your creed:
And other men lie dead.

II

Who knows but on these fields,
These sowing-grounds of death,
Whence stern and dreadful springs
Harvest of wrath and flame,
This thought some comfort yields
To the crushed dead beneath:
They for the selfsame things
Fight by some other name.

Not armed are we – we go
Naked and ill at ease,
Mocked at, derided, spurned;

Men pass us in the street.
Because the common foe
Insults the name of peace,
We noiselessly have turned
His triumph to defeat.

Ye for men’s comfort give
Your willing blood – your pain;
Daily ye strive and fall
Nor pause to count your dead.
We do not die but live
Lest ye shall die in vain;
Not yours alone the call,
To us, too, was it said: –

The dream which men forget
Shall mingle with the deed;
Strike one with sword and one
With thought – till all men see
That sword and word have met
And all the earth is freed;
But till that union
Shall none alive be free.

 

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Paul Fort: The Complaint of the Soldiers

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

French writers on war and peace

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Paul Fort
The Complaint of the Soldiers
Translated by John Strong Newberry

When they were come back from the wars their heads were seamed
with bleeding scars,
their hearts betwixt clenched teeth they gripped, in rivulets their
blood had dripped,
when they were come back from the wars, the blue, the red, the sons
of Mars,
they sought their snuff-boxes so fine, their chests, their sheets all spotless showing,
they sought their kine, their grunting swine, their wives and sweethearts at their sewing,
their roguish children, like as not crowned with a shining copper pot,
they even sought their homes, poor souls…they only found the worms and moles.

The carrion raven clamored o’er them. – They spat their broken hearts before them.

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Margaret Sackville: So quietly and evenly they walked these million gentle dead

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Return

Last night, within our little town
The Dead came marching through;
In a long line, like living men,
Just as they used to do.

Only, so long a line it seemed
You’d think the Judgment Day
Had dawned, to see them slowly pass,
With faces turned one way.

They walked no longer foe and foe
But brother bound to brother;
Poor men, common men they walked
Friendly to one another.

Just as in life they might have done
Who stabbed and slew instead….
So quietly and evenly they walked
These million gentle dead.

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Margaret Sackville: The Pageant of War

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Pageant of War

Shrilly, exultant, from afar
I heard, and rushing down,
Beheld amazed
The pageant of triumphant War
Come trampling through the town.

It was a day
In early Spring; the cold
Gaunt houses stood enhazed
In a shimmer of pure gold,
And every way
The sun’s suffused heat
Seemed the very breath of May
Filling the street.
Such soft and kindly weather
Was as a magic link – a thread
By which were earth and heaven wed
In holy bonds together.

And down the street, and down the empty street
I heard the slow, monotonous, heavy beat
Of a million and a million feet.

Also I saw how starkly white
The long road gleamed in the sun-light,
And marvelled what had made the road so white.

Then through the roar
Of trumpets, bugles, heralding his name
Came War: –
Magnificently down the white road he came.

The sun was laughing through a golden haze
And all the city
Shone; it was the first of the Spring days.

But in the warm Spring light
The white road shone too white – too white
As though in some unnatural light.

The crowd’s discordant voices shrilled his name,
Then fell, then ceased; down the white road he came.

He was like Death sitting astride
A pale and neighing horse,
Only he swayed from side to side
Like one glutted in every sense;
His lids were coarse
And overhanging eyes glassy with pride;
There was no trace
Of laughter, tears or pity
In his blue-veined, swollen face,
And so perforce
He had to wear a mask, lest seeing
That obscene countenance too near,
The heart of every human being
Should shrink in loathing and in fear,
And turn upon this thing and slay it there.

And after him with measured tread
Came sweeping on in long defile,
Marching together without word or smile,
Gesture or turn of head,
The pitiful, bright army of the dead.
The sun in which they had no share
Fell on their brows, reddened their hair,
Shone in their eyes,
In which was neither memory nor surmise.
Their even feet
Beat without wrath or heat,
As the world’s heart might beat;
Treading their solemn, calm, heroic measure
Of death – even as it were for pleasure;
Whose sight grown dim
With the great splendour of their fate,
Saw not, or saw too late,
The face of him
To whom so willingly they sacrificed,
And who had come to them disguised
In the garb sometimes of Peace, sometimes of Christ.

But sombre, darker,
I saw following after these,
A troop of shadows, silent, pale;
Each, lest her tears should mark her,
Wrapped her head close beneath her veil.
Those others
Had drunk their burning death and left the lees
For the pale lips of their mothers.
But the long line
So shadowy showed in the sunshine,
You only saw War’s panoply displayed
Brighter still against the shade.

And ever to my aching sight
The road shone whiter and more white;
I marvelled how a road might show so white.

And others still there were who followed after,
High-priests of War, crafty and keen,
With greedy hands and heavy-hanging chin,
And down-cast eyes which veiled their laughter.
These underneath
Their arms clasped bursting money-bags,
Hid from the prying eyes
Of those who would disturb their privacies,
In tawdry, many-coloured flags.
For these the sword
Was sign and symbol of a great reward.

These, having gorged their fill,
Strove yet more perfectly to serve the will
And do the business of their lord.
But their chief care
Was evermore that none might see the bare
Face of their master, and their ceaseless task
Was with the form and colour of his mask.

(Emissaries
Were here from every land,
Who whilst they made
Equal oblation
To War and kissed his hand,
Yet at the same time paid
All homage and respect to Peace,
Being betrayed,
Unwillingly to follow War – they said
Through the dissimulation
And lust of every other nation.)

Brightly on crest and banner the sun shone,
My eyes were tired.
The panoply flashed on.

I heard the crowd give voice,
They saw the flashing crests and did rejoice.
The crowd exulted with one voice.

And still the pageant trampled on,
Never done – ah! never done!
Once more my eyes, dazed by the sun,
Turned earthwards .
Marvelling at the white
Road, that a road could be so white.

I looked again at the white stones;
I saw.
The dust was trampled bones.
‘Twas they that made the road so white.

There were bones of children, bones of men,
Trampled in since the world began,
Road of triumph – road of glory!
This road conceived by men and then
Built from the ruins of man.

Road which every land has trod
Since the beginning of its story,
And called in turn the road of God;
Road of myriads vowed to rape,
Destruction, mutilation, wrath,
Since there was no escape
And this road their only path!

Behold! since the world began,
This shining road – man’s gift to man.

The bones which make it are so light
(Children’s bones weigh very little)
You would think the surface of this white
Shining road must be too brittle
To bear the heavy loads which go
Trampling upon it to and fro;
But no –

These bones are ground to such fine dust,
So fine, so firm they form a crust
As firm, as thick as the earth’s crust,
Which all who will may safely tread.
They have no ghosts, these dead!
They are but children, peasants of the soil,
And women – ravished, torn
And murdered at their toil.
It is for this that they were born.

Since the crowd shouts in its delight
To see along the road so white
The pageant pass in the sunlight.

I will forget the road, the stones
Are less than nothing – dust and bones:
And what has life to do with bones?

Unless they should rise up, these bones!

Meanwhile
They are silent – let them so remain,
These very humble folk, these quiet slain,
And let the living smile –
Until they too shall suffer the same pain.
Whilst the long pageant stretches mile on mile –
As though these innocents had died in vain.

Shrilly, exultant, from afar
I heard, and rushing down
Beheld amazed,
The pageant of triumphant War
Come trampling through the town.

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Tacitus: When war bursts on us, innocent and guilty alike perish

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Tacitus: The robbery, slaughter and plunder that empire calls peace

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Tacitus
From Annals
Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

“In peace,” he [Caecina] said, “the merits of a man’s case are carefully weighed; when war bursts on us, innocent and guilty alike perish.”

****

Mankind in the earliest age lived for a time without a single vicious impulse, without shame or guilt, and, consequently, without punishment and restraints. Rewards were not needed when everything right was pursued on its own merits; and as men desired nothing against morality, they were debarred from nothing by fear. When however they began to throw off equality, and ambition and violence usurped the place of self-control and modesty, despotisms grew up and became perpetual among many nations.

…laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.

****

With profound meaning was it often affirmed by the greatest teacher of philosophy that, could the minds of tyrants be laid bare, there would be seen gashes and wounds; for, as the body is lacerated by scourging, so is the spirit by brutality, by lust and by evil thoughts.

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Victor Hugo: The history of war and the history of peace

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

In this old method of history, – the only authorized method up to 1789, and classic in every acceptation of the word, – the best narrators, even the honest ones (there are few of them), even those who think themselves free, place themselves mechanically in drill, stitch tradition to tradition, submit to accepted custom, receive the pass-word from the antechamber, accept, pell-mell with the crowd, the stupid divinity of coarse personages in the foreground, – kings, “potentates,” “pontiffs,” soldiers, – and, all the time thinking themselves historians, end by donning the livery of historiographers, and are lackeys without knowing it….Nothing can be insignificant that relates to war, the warrior, the prince, the throne, the court. He who is not endowed with grave puerility cannot be a historian….

Knowing so many things, it is quite natural that it should be ignorant of others. If you are so curious as to ask the name of the English merchant who in 1612 first entered China by the north; of the worker in glass who in 1663 first established in France a manufactory of crystal; of the citizen who carried out in the States General at Tours, under Charles VIII.: the sound principle of elective magistracy (a principle which has since been adroitly obliterated); of the pilot who in 1405 discovered the Canary Islands; of the Byzantine lutemaker who in the eighth century invented the organ and gave to music its grandest voice; of the Campanian mason who invented the clock by establishing at Rome on the temple of Quirinus the first sundial; of the Roman lighterman who invented the paving of towns by the construction of the Appian Way in the year 312 B.C.; of the Egyptian carpenter who devised the dove-tail, one of the keys of architecture, which may be found under the obelisk of Luxor; of the Chaldean keeper of flocks who founded astronomy by his observation of the signs of the zodiac, the starting-point taken by Anaximenes; of the Corinthian calker who, nine years before the first Olympiad, calculated the power of the triple lever, devised the trireme, and created a tow-boat anterior by two thousand six hundred years to the steamboat; of the Macedonian ploughman who discovered the first gold mine in Mount Pangæus, – history, does not know what to say to you: those fellows are unknown to history. Who is that, – a ploughman, a calker, a shepherd, a carpenter, a lighterman, a mason, a lutemaker, a sailor, and a merchant? History does not lower itself to such rabble.

Let a man have “cut to pieces” other men; let him have “put them to the sword;” let him have made them “bite the dust,” – horrible expressions, which have become hideously familiar, – and if you search history for the name of that man, whoever he may be, you will find it. But search for the name of the man who invented the compass, and you will not find it.

****

Therefore, every one to his right place. Right about face! and let us now regard the centuries in their true light. In the first rank, minds; in the second, in the third, in the twentieth, soldiers and princes. To the warrior the darkness, to the thinker the pedestal. Take away Alexander, and put in his place Aristotle. Strange thing, that up to this day humanity should have read the Iliad in such a manner as to annihilate Homer under Achilles!

****

There is in Moses three glories, – the captain, the legislator, the poet. Of these three men contained in Moses, where is the captain to-day? In the shadow, with brigands and murderers. Where is the legislator? Amidst the waste of dead religions. Where is the poet? By the side of Æschylus.

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Joris-Karl Huysmans: An Apocalypse of wars

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

French writers on war and peace

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Joris-Karl Huysmans
From St. Lydwine of Schiedam
Translated by Agnes Hastings

It is none the less true that the miserable faithful who lived during all the horror of those unspeakable years, believed that all righteousness was crumbling away; and indeed battlefields surrounded them whichever way they turned.

In the South, in the Christian Orient, the Greeks, the Mongols, and the Turks were exterminating each other; in the North, Russians and Tartars, Swedes and Danes, were springing at each other’s throats; and if looking further afield, across the ravaged territories of Europe, their gaze travelled as far as the line of her frontiers, the faithful seemed to see the end of the world drawing near and the menaces of the Apocalypse about to be realized.

The boundaries of the Christian world are marked out in fire upon a lurid sky; villages on the borders of the heathen countries are in flames, and the zone of the demons is lighted up. Attila is alive again, and the invasion of the barbarians renewed. Like a whirlwind the janissaries of Bajazet, the Amir of the Ottomans, pass along, sweeping the countryside like a cyclone and laying waste the towns. He throws himself on Nicopolis, against the allied Catholic forces, and annihilates them; the chair of St. Peter is in peril, and all seems to be over for the Christians of the East, when another victor, the Mongol Tamarlane, celebrated for the pyramid of 90,000 skulls which he erected on the ruins of Babylon, arrives with lightning rapidity from the steppes of Asia, falls upon Bajazet, and carries him off after having defeated his hordes in a sanguinary battle.

Europe, aghast, looked on at the meeting of two waterspouts, whose breaking inundated the onlookers as in a rain of blood.

****

The proverb, ‘happiness leads to egoism,’ is only too true; you do not begin to experience compassion for others till you have been yourself in want; well-being and strength sterilize you, and you only perform acts which are vaguely correct, till you are lamed or reduced to poverty.”

****

Besides, if GOD always loaded the good with rewards and the evil with ills, there would no longer be either merit or profit in faith, for, from the moment Providence became visible, virtue would become nothing but an affair of commerce, and the conversion which resulted in it, nothing but a servile fear. This would be the very negation of virtue, since it would make it neither generous, nor disinterested, nor gratuitous, but a sort of whitened cowardice, a chapel of ease for vice.

****

“Help me to love you! You are miserable when you do not feel love already flowing in you, but indeed, to weep because you do not love is to love already!”

****

To other visitors who’ were not touched in their bodies or in their means of subsistence, but came to her, mad with grief, because they had seen the death of a husband, child, or other being whom they had adored; to those men who, after the obsequies of their wives, confessed to her their temptation to throw themselves into the Meuse, she would, after some consoling words, put this question:

“Will you affirm that she for whom you weep is with the elect in Paradise? Your answer is ‘No,’ is it not?

“For, without denying her virtues, you must believe that, according to the ordinary rule, she has to pass through a probationary state of waiting, that she must sojourn for a space, the duration of which is known to God alone, in Purgatory.

“Do you not understand that your prayers and your grief can draw souls from thence? What they have not had the chance to suffer themselves, so as to purge themselves here below, you will suffer in their stead; you will substitute yourself for them and finish what they could not end. You will pay your grief in ransom, and the more sharp your pain, the sooner will the debt of her you loved be paid.

“Who knows, indeed, if the Lord, touched by the goodwill and supplications of a husband, will not give credit to the wife on the capital of his mourning and yield her deliverance at once?

“You will then be paid in return for your pain; your wife will make herself the accomplice of time: she will soothe the acuteness of your wounds; she will deaden the regret of her loss, and will only leave you a gentle memory, distant and sweet. Do not talk then of suicide, for, besides the loss of your soul, it would be the negation, entire and absolute, of your love; it would be abandoning her whom you pretend to love at the moment when she finds herself in peril, plunging her back into the abyss of Purgatory, when she had already mounted to the top; and depriving yourself of the hope of ever seeing her again.”

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Pierre Nicole: Scripture obliges us to seek and desire the peace of the whole world

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

French writers on war and peace

Pierre Nicole: Peacemakers warrant highest title men are capable of

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Pierre Nicole
From Concerning the Way of Preserving Peace With Men
Translated by John Locke

The Scripture, that requires us to seek the peace of that city where God hath placed us, means equally all these several sorts of cities: i. e. it obliges us to seek and desire the peace of the whole world; of our own country; of the place of our dwelling; of our society; and of ourselves. But since we have more power to procure it in some, than in others of these, we ought to apply ourselves to it in a different manner.

****

‘Tis not enough for the preservation of peace, to avoid giving offence to others: but we must also avoid taking offence ourselves, when they fail, on their side, in anything towards us.

****

‘Tis a dangerous thing to be in credit with others; to have an influence upon their minds; and to be able to give them what impressions one pleases. For this tempts us to communicate the mistakes we are possessed with; and the rash opinions we have taken up of others. Whereas, those who are not in such esteem, stand clear of that danger.

****

There are a thousand little conveniences of life, which are not the commodities of trade; are never bought, nor sold; but are always given: They are the peculiar traffic of kindness; and love alone can purchase them. Besides, communities are made up of particular persons, who are all full of love and esteem of themselves; and if others endeavour not a little to satisfy and sooth those inclinations, societies will prove but herds of malcontents, and hardly hold together. There is need therefore of mutual kindness and respect. Which being of themselves invisible, men have by consent established certain duties, to pass as the marks and pledges of them.

****

A Confidant is very little distant from a Counsellor. He that opens his mind to us, does as it were ask our advice: And we cannot afterwards talk with him, without interesting ourselves in his conduct. For our discourse must necessarily have a respect to those thoughts, those passions, he has discovered to us; and cannot choose but make impression on a mind, which by its very laying itself open, was prepared to receive it.

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Cicero: Even war’s victories should be forgotten

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Cicero: All wars, undertaken without a proper motive, are unjust

Cicero: Military commands, phantom of glory and the ruin of one’s own country and personal downfall

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Cicero
From De Inventione
Translated by H. M. Hubbell

For when I ponder the troubles in our commonwealth, and run over in my mind the ancient misfortunes of mighty cities, I see no little part of the disasters was brought about by men of eloquence. When, on the other hand, I begin to search in the records of literature for events which occurred before the period which our generation can remember, I find that many cities have been founded, that the flames of a multitude of wars have been extinguished, and that the strongest alliances and most sacred friendships have been formed not only by the use of reason but also more easily by the help of eloquence.

****

Certainly only a speech at the same time powerful and entrancing could have induced one who had great physical strength to submit to justice without violence, so that he suffered himself to be put on a par with those among whom he could excel, and abandoned voluntarily a most agreeable custom, especially since this custom had already acquired through lapse of time the force of a natural right.

****

It was a nearly universal custom among the Greeks when they fought with one another that the victors should set up a trophy in the country to commemorate the victory, but only for the time being, not that the record of the war might remain forever.

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Victor Hugo: The inkstand is to destroy the sword

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

Veracious history, real history, definitive history henceforth charged with the education of the royal infant, – namely, the people, – will reject all fiction, will fail in complaisance, will logically classify phenomena, will unravel profound causes, will study philosophically and scientifically the successive commotions of humanity, and will take less account of the great strokes of the sword than of the grand strokes of the idea. The deeds of light will pass first; Pythagoras will be a much greater event than Sesostris. We have just said it, – heroes, men of the twilight, are relatively luminous in the darkness; but what is a conqueror beside a sage? What is the invasion of kingdoms compared with the opening up of intellects? The winners of minds efface the gainers of provinces. He through whom we think, he is the true conqueror. In future history, the slave Æsop and the slave Plautus will have precedence over kings; and there are vagabonds who will weigh more than certain victors, and comedians who will weigh more than certain emperors.

****

Idiotic despots, a multitude, are the mob of the purple; but above them, beyond them, by the immeasurable distance which separates that which radiates from that which stagnates, – there are the despots of genius; there are the captains, the conquerors, the mighty men of war, the civilizers of force, the ploughmen of the sword.

These we have just named. The truly great among them are called Cyrus, Sesostris, Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Napoleon; and, with the qualifications we have laid down, we admire them.

But we admire them on the condition of their disappearance. Make room for better ones! Make room for greater ones!

Those greater, those better ones, are they new? No. Their series is as ancient as the other; more ancient, perhaps, for the idea has preceded the act, and the thinker is anterior to the warrior. But their place was taken, taken violently. This usurpation is about to cease; their hour comes at last; their predominance gleams forth. Civilization, returned to the true light, recognizes them as its only founders; their series becomes clothed in light, and eclipses the rest; like the past, the future belongs to them; and henceforth it is they whom God will perpetuate.

****

The former king of Westphalia, who was a witty man, was looking one day at an inkstand on the table of some one we know. The writer, with whom Jerome Bonaparte was at that moment, had brought home from an excursion among the Alps, made some years before in company with Charles Nodier, a piece of steatitic serpentine carved and hollowed in the form of an inkstand, and purchased of the chamois-hunters of the Mer de Glace. It was this that Jerome Bonaparte was looking at “What is this?” he asked. “It is my inkstand,” said the writer; and he added, “it is steatite. Admire how Nature with a little dirt and oxide has made this charming green stone.” Jerome Bonaparte replied, “I admire much more the men who out of this stone made an inkstand.”

That was not badly said for a brother of Napoleon, and due credit should be given for it; for the inkstand is to destroy the sword. The decrease of warriors, – men of brutal force and of prey; the undefined and superb growth of men of thought and of peace; the re-appearance on the scene of the true colossals, – in this is one of the greatest facts of our great epoch. There is no spectacle more pathetic and sublime, – humanity delivered from on high, the powerful ones put to flight by the thinkers, the prophet overwhelming the hero, force routed by ideas, the sky cleaned, a majestic expulsion.

****

Bossuet writes without hesitation, though palliating facts here and there, the frightful legend of those old thrones of antiquity covered with crimes, and, applying to the surface of things his vague theocratic declamation, satisfies himself by this formula: “God holds in his hand the hearts of kings.” That is not the case, for two reasons, – God has no hand, and kings have no heart.

We are only speaking, of course, of the kings of Assyria.

****

No; the people have not the right to throw indefinitely the fault upon governments. The acceptation of oppression by the oppressed ends in becoming complicity. Cowardice is consent whenever the duration of a bad thing, which presses on the people, and which the people could prevent if they would, goes beyond the amount of patience endurable by an honest man; there is an appreciable solidarity and a partnership in shame between the government guilty of the evil and the people allowing it to be done. To suffer is worthy of veneration; to submit is worthy of contempt.

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Victor Hugo: The poet outlives the man of war

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

The man of war is formidable while alive; he stands erect, the earth is silent, siluit; he has extermination in his gesture; millions of haggard men rush to follow him, – a fierce horde, sometimes a ruffianly one; it is no longer a human head, it is a conqueror, it is a captain, it is a king of kings, it is an emperor, it is a dazzling crown of laurels which passes, throwing out lightning flashes, and allowing to be seen in starlight beneath it a vague profile of Cæsar. All this vision is splendid and impressive; but let only a gravel come in the liver, or an excoriation to the pylorus, – six feet of ground, and all is said. This solar spectrum vanishes. This tumultuous life falls into a hole; the human race pursues its way, leaving behind this nothingness. If this man hurricane has made some lucky rupture, like Alexander in India, Charlemagne in Scandinavia, and Bonaparte in ancient Europe, that is all that remains of him. But let some passer-by, who has in him the ideal, let a poor wretch like Homer throw out a word in the darkness, and die, – that word burns up in the gloom and becomes a star.

“All ends under six feet of earth”? No; everything commences there. No; everything germinates there. No; everything flowers in it, and everything grows in it, and everything bursts forth from it, and everything proceeds from it! Good for you, men of the sword, are these maxims!

Lay yourselves down, disappear, lie in the grave, rot. So be it.

During life, gildings, caparisons, drums and trumpets, panoplies, banners to the wind, tumults, make up an illusion. The crowd gazes with admiration on these things. It imagines that it sees something grand. Who has the casque! Who has the cuirass? Who has the sword-belt? Who is spurred, morioned, plumed, armed? Hurrah for that one! At death the difference becomes striking. Juvenal takes Hannibal in the hollow of his hand.

****

When one arrives in England, the first thing that he looks for is the statue of Shakespeare. He finds the statue of Wellington.

Wellington is a general who gained a battle, having chance for his partner.

If you insist on seeing Shakespeare’s statue you are taken to a place called Westminster, where there are kings, – a crowd of kings: there is also a corner called “Poets’ Corner.” There, in the shade of four or five magnificent monuments where some royal nobodies shine in marble and bronze, is shown to you on a small pedestal a little figure, and under this little figure, the name, “WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.”

In addition to this, statues everywhere; if you wish for statues you may find as many as you can wish. Statue for Charles, statue for Edward, statue for William, statues for three or four Georges, of whom one was an idiot. Statue of the Duke of Richmond at Huntley; statue of Napier at Portsmouth; statue of Father Mathew at Cork; statue of Herbert Ingram, I don’t know where. A man has well drilled the riflemen, – he gets a statue; a man has commanded a manœuvre of the Horse Guards, – he gets a statue. Another has been a supporter of the past, has squandered all the wealth of England in paying a coalition of kings against 1789, against democracy, against light, against the ascending movement of the human race, – quick! a pedestal for that; a statue to Mr. Pitt. Another has knowingly fought against truth, in the hope that it might be vanquished, and has found out one fine morning that truth is hard-lived, that it is strong, that it might be intrusted with forming a cabinet, and has then passed abruptly over to its side, – one more pedestal; a statue for Mr. Peel. Everywhere, in every street, in every square, at every step, gigantic notes of admiration in the shape of columns, – a column to the Duke of York, which should really take the form of points of interrogation; a column to Nelson, pointed at by the ghost of Caracciolo; a column to Wellington, already named: columns for everybody. It is sufficient to have played with a sword somewhere. At Guernsey, by the seaside, on a promontory, there is a high column, similar to a lighthouse, – almost a tower; this one is struck by lightning; Æschylus would have contented himself with it. For whom is this? – for General Doyle. Who is General Doyle? – a general. What has this general done? – he has constructed roads. At his own expense? – no, at the expense of the inhabitants. He has a column. Nothing for Shakespeare, nothing for Milton, nothing for Newton; the name of Byron is obscure. That is where England is, – an illustrious and powerful nation.

****

False rights contrive very easily to put in movement true armies. There are murdered Polands looming in the future.

****

Offers of amnesty miscarry when it is the victim who alone should have the right to grant pardon.

****

This drama is stern. In it truth doubts, sincerity lies. Nothing can be more immense, more subtile. In it man is the world, and the world is zero. Hamlet, even full of life, is not sure of his existence. In this tragedy, which is at the same time a philosophy, everything floats, hesitates, delays, staggers, becomes discomposed, scatters, and is dispersed.

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Victor Hugo: Peace will supersede war, perhaps sooner than people think

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Translator unknown

Some day, sooner perhaps than some people think, the charge with the bayonet will be itself superseded by peace, at first European, by-and-by universal, and then a whole science – the military science – will vanish away. For that science, its improvement lies in its disappearance.

****

Greece did not colonize without civilizing, – an example that more than one modern nation might follow. To buy and sell is not everything.

This civilization by poetry and art had such a mighty force that sometime it subdued even war. The Sicilians – Plutarch relates it in speaking of Nicias – gave liberty to the Greek prisoners who sang the verses of Euripides.

****

That which Isaiah made a reproach of in his day – idolatry, pride, war, prostitution, ignorance – still exists. Isaiah is the eternal contemporary of vices which turn valets, and crimes which exalt themselves into kings.

****

Faith is an ignorance which professes to know, and which, in certain cases, knows perhaps more than Science.

The dread of genius is the first step toward taste.

Humanity developing itself from the interior to the exterior is, properly speaking, civilization. Human intelligence becomes radiance, and step by step, wins, conquers, and humanizes matter. Sublime domestication!

A poet must at the same time, and necessarily, be a historian and a philosopher.

Art has, like the Infinite, a Because superior to all Why’s?

God creates by intuition; man creates by inspiration, strengthened by observation. This second creation, which is nothing else but divine action carried out by man, is what is called genius.

Types are cases foreseen by God: genius realizes them…Types go and come firmly in art and in Nature. They are the ideals realized. The good and the evil of man are in these figures. From each of them results, in the eyes of the thinker, a humanity.

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Victor Hugo: Common-sense opposition to war

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Translator unknown

Common-sense is not a virtue; it is the eye of interest. It would have encouraged Themistocles and dissuaded Aristides. Leonidas has no common-sense; Regulus has no common-sense; but in the face of egotistical and ferocious monarchies dragging poor peoples into wars undertaken for themselves, decimating families, making mothers desolate, and driving men to kill each other with all those fine words, – military honour, warlike glory, obedience to discipline, etc., – it is an admirable personification, that common-sense coming all at once and crying to the human race, “Take care of your skin!”

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On the desecration of a bust of Miguel de Cervantes in San Francisco

Vandalizada la estatua de Cervantes en San Francisco : es

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky on Don Quixote: This saddest of all books man will not forget to take along with him to the Lord’s last judgment. He will point to the very deep and fatal mystery of man and of mankind revealed in it. He will show that the most sublime beauty of man, his loftiest purity, chastity, naïveté, gentleness, courage, and finally, the greatest are often – alas, much too often – reduced to naught….
Diary of a Writer
****
Victor Hugo: Cervantes, as poet, has the three sovereign gifts, – creation, which produces types, and clothes ideas with flesh and bone; invention, which hurls passions against events, makes man flash brightly over destiny, and brings forth the drama; imagination, sun of the brain, which throws light and shade everywhere, and, giving relievo, creates life.
William Shakespeare
****
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Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Théophile Gautier, lover of peace

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

French writers on war and peace

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Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
From Nouveaux Lundis
Théophile Gautier
Translator unknown

A lover of peace, with a shuddering horror of the barbarism and sacrilege of war, he lived through that last French reign of terror, but the shock mentally and physically was too great for him to bear. He never recovered from it. His last glance was doomed to rest upon France, the land of his love and pride and glory, conquered, humiliated, and at the mercy of a foreign foe. He died of hypertrophy of the heart. Neither himself nor his friends dreamed that his last hour was so near. The loving cares of his family smoothed his pathway to the grave. “He was all to us, – he was our entire universe,” said his sister to Ernest Feydeau. He had his faults and weaknesses, but never was man better loved by his friends.

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Dance of death

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Ragtime

A minx in khaki struts the limelit boards:
With false moustache, set smirk and ogling eyes
And straddling legs and swinging hips she tries
To swagger it like a soldier, while the chords
Of rampant ragtime jangle, clash, and clatter;
And over the brassy blare and drumming din
She strains to squirt her squeaky notes and thin
Spirtle of sniggering lascivious patter.

Then out into the jostling Strand I turn,
And down a dark lane to the quiet river,
One stream of silver under the full moon,
And think of how cold searchlights flare and burn
Over dank trenches where men crouch and shiver.
Humming, to keep their hearts up, that same tune.

****

The Dancers

All day beneath the hurtling shells
Before my burning eyes
Hover the dainty demoiselles –
The peacock dragon-flies.

Unceasingly they dart and glance
Above the stagnant stream –
And I am fighting here in France
As in a senseless dream.

A dream of shattering black shells
That hurtle overhead,
And dainty dancing demoiselles
Above the dreamless dead.

****

The Quiet

I could not understand the sudden quiet –
The sudden darkness – in the crash of fight,
The din and glare of day quenched in a twinkling
In utter starless night.

I lay an age and idly gazed at nothing,
Half-puzzled that I could not lift my head;
And then I knew somehow that I was lying
Among the other dead.

****

The Light-Ship

Stretched on the foam-white deck, taking their ease,
The crew were basking on the Summer day,
We passed the anchored light-ship on our way;
Running all out before a following breeze
When, sighting us, those men who have lived to keep
Watch over the dark treachery of the deep,
Lighting the shoals that lurk beneath the seas,
Arose and leaning on the bulwarks, hailed
Our little yawl; and as we Northward sailed
We kept on thinking of the friendly crew –
That friend crew – although we little knew
That in a few short months their living light
Would be for ever quenched when brutally
A bomber swooping out of the black night
Should sink their helpless vessel in the sea
Whose peril that had beaconed faithfully
Through fog and storm above the shifting shoals –
For ever quenched – nay, but the memory
Of that brave vessel and those friendly  souls
Basking in sunshine ‘mid the treachery
And malice of war’s tempest burns more bright,
With quenchless courage beaconing the night.

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Voltaire: Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie, therefore those cruel arms lay by

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
On Peace Concluded in 1736
Translated by Tobias Smollett

Aetna within its cavern dire,
Thunder conceals and liquid fire;
On earth the fiery torrent pours,
And its inhabitants devours,
Your steps, afflicted Dryads, turn
From dreary plains which always burn;
Those caverns where hell seems to breathe
In fire and sulphur from beneath;
Those gulfs which to Tartarus bend,
Their furious floods incessant send.

More fierce and terrible the Po
Makes its fierce stream its banks o’erflow;
Pours through the plain its furious waves,
Foams, and with dreadful uproar raves:
It spreads destruction through the plain,
Fright, terror, death, compose its train;
And through Ferrara’s fire conveys
The spoils of nations to the seas.

This war where elements contend,
Which heaven’s expanse with fury rend;
These shocks from which all nature quakes,
With which earth’s solid basis shakes:
Scourges of heaven which oft appear
To hang o’er this sad hemisphere;

Are all disasters much less dire,
Than statesmen who too high aspire;
From them less desolation springs,
Than from the dangerous feuds of kings.

From India’s verge to Gallia’s shore,
One family the sun rolls o’er:
O’er this love only still should reign,
And union amongst all maintain.
Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie,
Therefore those cruel arms lay by;
Can you advantage gain by fight?
Can you in havoc find delight?
When you’re sunk in death’s dismal gloom,
What bliss expect you in the tomb?

Those soldiers well deserve applause,
Who combat in their country’s cause;
But you for hire your lives expose,
You’re paid to combat others’ foes:
You die to prop some tyrant’s throne,
Some tyrant to your eyes unknown;
You are hired assassins to defend
Lords, who ill pay you in the end.

Such are those greedy birds of prey,
Those animals which man obey,
Who can their native fierceness tame,
And teach them to pursue their game.
The sounding horn excites their rage,
And makes them ardent to engage;
They headlong pour upon the game,
Not led by interest, choice, or fame;
The victory they strive to gain,
Although no prize they can obtain.

Italy, climate of delight,
How much you suffered by the fight!
With desolation covered o’er,
You’re Europe’s garden now no more!
An army of confederate powers,
With greediness your crops devours;
Although the cursed, destructive band,
Vowed to avenge your injured land:
Ravaged and desolate you fight
To assert a foreign master’s right.

Let kings be armed, yet discords cease,
Let them all reign like gods of peace;
Let them the thunder bear on high,
But never launch it through the sky.
The faithful shepherd, who befriends
His flock, and with due care attends;
By care and diligence obtains
The applause of all the neighboring swains:
Unpitied may that shepherd die,
Who lets his flocks neglected lie,
Who can his fleecy care expose,
To perish by the wolves, their foes.

In that king’s fame, can I take part,
Whose frenzy stabs me to the heart:
A king, at whose capricious will,
My heart’s blood I’m obliged to spill?

When I’m by indigence oppressed,
Diseased, deprived of needful rest;
Say, shall my lot more blessed appear,
When I our prince’s glories hear;
Shall my distresses all be o’er,
If German plains are drenched in gore?
Colbert, whose praises we resound,
Who planted arts on Gallic ground,
France shall revere you as a sage;
Posterity in every age
Shall own you born the land to bless.
And Louvois be applauded less,
Louvois, who with ambition dire,
Set the Palatinate on fire;
And Holland to destroy aspired,
Had with his fury fate conspired.

Let Louis, even in decline,
Still as the greatest monarch shine:
But may he wisely fame acquire,
Not to the conqueror’s wreath aspire;
Louis in peace claims just applause,
His subjects all revere his laws;
Their happiness from
Louis springs –
Louis, the greatest, best of kings.

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Frederic Manning: War poems

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Clinton Scollard: The Winds of God

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

American writers on peace and against war

Clinton Scollard: Selections on war and peace

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Clinton Scollard
The Winds Of God

Across the azure spaces,
Athwart the vasts of sky,
With winnowings of mighty wings
The winds of God go by.

Above the meres and mountains,
With unseen sandals shod,
Above the plains, with choric strains,
Sweep by the winds of God.

“Peace! in His name!” they murmur;
“Peace – in His name!” they cry –
Oh, men, give ear! do ye not hear
The winds of God go by?

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Nine O’Clock News

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Nine O’clock News

‘Only just one plane lost” – the suave announcer
broadcasts the news of the successful raid;
and the lone mother knitting by the hearthstone
Trembles, afraid,
As in her anguished sight
In flame a bomber crashes through the night.

‘Only one plane was lost” – just five words spoken
glibly – and through the quiet of the room
she hears them as an iron clangour sounding
the knell of doom,
and sees within the fire
a broken body on a blazing pyre.

****

Hit

Out of the sparkling sea
I drew my tingling body clear, and lay
On a low ledge the livelong summer day,
Basking, and watching lazily
White sails in Falmouth Bay.

My body seemed to burn
Salt in the sun that drenched it through and through,
Till every particle glowed clean and new
And slowly seemed to turn
To lucent amber in a world of blue…

I felt a sudden wrench –
A trickle of warm blood –
And found that I was sprawling in the mud
Among the dead men in the trench.

****

Fire

In each black tile a mimic fire’s aglow,
And in the hearthlight old mahogany,
Ripe with stored sunshine that in Mexico
Poured like gold wine into the living tree
Summer on summer through a century,
Burns like a crater in the heart of night:
And all familiar things in the ingle-light
Glow with a secret strange intensity.

And I remember hidden fires that burst
Suddenly from the midnight while men slept,
Long-smouldering rages in the darkness nursed
That to an instant ravening fury leapt,
And the old terror menacing evermore
A crumbling world with fiery molten core.

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Edmund Blunden: A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: Writings on war

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Edmund Blunden
A Reminiscence

Triumph! how strange, how strong had triumph come
On weary hate of foul and endless war,
When from its grey gravecloths awoke anew
The summer day. Among the tumbled wreck
Of fascined lines and mounds the light was peering,
Half-smiling upon us, and our new-found pride; –
The terror of the waiting night outlived;
The time too crowded for the heart to count
All the sharp cost in friends killed on the assault.
No sap of all the octopus had held us,
Here stood we trampling down the ancient tyrant.
So shouting dug we among the monstrous pits.

Amazing quiet fell upon the waste,
Quiet intolerable, to those who felt
The hurrying batteries beyond the masking hills
For their new parley setting themselves in array
In crafty fourms unmapped –
No, these, smiled faith,
Are dumb for the reason of their overthrow.
They move not back, they lie among the crews
Twisted and choked, they’ll never speak again.
Only the copse where once might stand a shrine
Still clacked and suddenly hissed its bullets by.

The War would end, the Line was on the move,
And at a bound the impassable was passed.
We lay and waited with extravagant joy.
Now dulls the day and chills; comes there no word
From those who swept through our new lines to flood
The lines beyond but little comes, and so
Sure as a runner time himself’s accosted.
And the slow moments shake their heavy heads,
And croak, ‘They’re done, they’ll none of them get through.”
They’re done, they’ve all died on the entanglements,
The wire stood up like an unplashed hedge, and thorned
With giant spikes – and there they’ve paid the bill.

Then comes the black assurance, then the sky’s
Mute misery lapses into trickling rain,
That wreathes and swims and soon shuts in our world.
And those distorted guns, that lay past use,
Why – miracles not over! – all a firing,
The rain’s no cloak from their sharp eyes. And you,
Poor signaller, you I passed by this emplacement,
You whom I warned, poor dare-devil, waving your flags,
Among this screeching I pass you again and shudder
At the lean green flies upon the red flesh madding.
Runner, stand by a second. Your message. – He’s gone,
Falls on a knee, and his right hand uplifted
Claws his last message from his ghostly enemy,
Turns stone-like. Well I liked him, that young runner,
But there’s no time for that. O now for the word
To order us flash from these drowning roaring traps
And even hurl upon that snarling wire
Why are our guns so impotent? The grey rain,
Steady as the sand in an hourglass on this day,
Where through the window the red lilac looks
And all’s so still, the chair’s odd click is noise,
The rain is all heaven’s answer, and with hearts
Past reckoning we are carried into night,
And even sleep is nodding here and there.

The second night steals through the shrouding rain,
We in our numb thought crouching long have lost
The mockery triumph, and in every runner
Have urged the mind’s eye see the triumph to come,
The sweet relief, the straggling out of hell
Into whatever burrows may be given
For life’s recall. Then the fierce destiny speaks.
This was the calm, we shall look back for this.
The hour is come; come, move to the relief.
Dizzy we pass the mule-strewn track where once
The ploughman whistled as he loosed his team;
And where he turned home-hungry on the road
The leaning pollard marks us hungrier turning.
We crawl to save the remnant who have torn
Back from the tentacled wire, those whom no shell
Has charred into black carcasses – Relief
They grate their teeth until we take their room,
And through the churn of moonless night and mud
And flaming burst and sour gas we are huddled
Into the ditches where they bawl sense awake
And in a frenzy that none could reason calm
(Whimpering some, and calling on the dead)
They turn away; as in a dream they find
Strength in their feet to bear back that strange whim
Their body.

At the noon of the dreadful day
Our trench and death’s is on a sudden stormed
With huge and shattering salvoes, the clay dances
In founts of clods around the concrete sties
Where still the brain devises some last armour
To live out the poor limbs. This wrath’s oncoming
Found four of us together in a pillbox,
Skirting the abyss of madness with light phrases,
White and blinking, in false smiles grimacing.
The demon grins to see the game, a moment
Passes, and – still the drum-tap dongs my brain
To a whirring void – through the great breach above
The light comes in with icy shock and the rain
Horridly drips. Doctor, talk, talk – if dead
Or stunned I know not; the stinking powdered concrete
The lyddite turns me sick – my hair’s all full
Of this smashed concrete. O I’ll drag you, friends,
Out of the sepulchre into the light of day:
For this is day, the pure and sacred day.
And while I squeak and gibber over you,
Out of the wreck a score of field-mice nimble,
And tame and curious look about them.
(These calmed me, on these depended my salvation.)

There comes my serjeant, and by all the powers
The wire is holding to the right battalion
And I can speak – but I myself first spoken
Hear a known voice now measured even to madness
Call me by name: “For God’s sake send and help us,
Here in a gunpit, all headquarters done for,
Forty or more, the nine-inch came right through.
All splashed with arms and legs, and I myself
The only one not killed, not even wounded.
You’ll send – God bless you.” The more monstrous fate
Shadows our own, the mind droops doubly burdened,
Nay all for miles our anguish groans and bleeds,
A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder,
Each moment puffed into a year with death.

Still wept the rain, roared guns,
Still swooped into the swamps of flesh and blood
All to the drabness of uncreation sunk,
And all thought dwindled to a moan, – Relieve.
But who with what command can now relieve
The dead men from that chaos, or my soul?

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Voltaire: Must Europe never cease to be in arms?

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
To The Queen Of Hungary
Translated by Tobias Smollett
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Princess, descended from that noble race
Which still in danger held the imperial throne,
Who human nature and thy sex dost grace,
Whose virtues even thy foes are forced to own.

The generous French, as fierce as they’re polite,
Who to true glory constantly aspire;
Whilst obstinately they against thee fight,
Thy virtue and great qualities admire.

The French and Germans leagued by wondrous ties,
Make Christendom one dismal scene of woe;
And from their friendship greater ills arise,
Than e’er did from their longest quarrels flow.

Thus from the equator and the frozen pole,
The impetuous winds drive on with headlong force
Two clouds, which as they on each other roll,
Forth from their sable skirts the thunder force.

Do virtuous kings such ruin then ordain?
A calm they promise, but excite a storm:
Felicity we hope for from their reign,
Whilst they with slaughter dire the earth deform.

Oh! Fleury, wise and venerable sage,
Whom good ne’er dazzles, danger ne’er alarms;
Who dost exceed the ancient Nestor’s age:
Must Europe never cease to be in arms?

Would thou couldst hold with prudent, steady hand,
Europa’s balance, shut up Janus’ shrine;
Make feuds and discords cease at thy command,
And bring from heaven Astrea, maid divine.

Would France’s treasures were dispersed no more,
But prudently within the realm applied;
Opulence to our cities to restore,
And make them flourishing on every side.

You arts from heaven, and from the muses sprung,
Whom Louis brought triumphant into France;
Too long your hands are idle, lyres unstrung,
‘Tis time to start from so profound a trance.

Your labors are of lasting glory sure,
Whilst warlike pomps, the triumphs of a day,
Blaze for a moment, never long endure,
But soon like fleeting shadows pass away.

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Robert Whitaker: Whence Cometh War?

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Robert Whitaker
Whence Cometh War?

Whence cometh war?
Bring the foul thing to bar.

Out of the hatreds of the ages long;
Out of the greed and blood-lust of the strong;
Out of the strutting swagger of the proud;
Out of the mad hysterias of the crowd;
Out of the lying honor of the State;
Out of the coward meanness of the great;
Out of the toll that profit takes from toil,
Of surplus spoil, piled up on surplus spoil,
Choking to idleness the workman’s wheel,
Or raping all the earth with ruthless steel;
Out of a devil’s smoke-screen of defense,
That turns to foolishness the things of sense,
Makes virtue’s garden a vast swamp of vice,
And sells the Son of Man at Judas’ price,
Nor has the grace to cast away the pelf
But makes of God an infidel himself.

Whence cometh war? we know the truth too well –
Out of the mouth of hell!

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Frederic Manning: Grotesque

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

British writers on peace and war

Frederic Manning: War poems

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Frederic Manning
Grotesque

These are the damned circles Dante trod,
Terrible in hopelessness,
But even skulls have their humour,
An eyeless and sardonic mockery:
And we,
Sitting with streaming eyes in the acrid smoke,
That murks our foul, damp billet,
Chant bitterly, with raucous voices
As a choir of frogs
In hideous irony, our patriotic songs.

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Victor Hugo: From fratricide to fraternity

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From Memoirs
Translated by John W. Harding

December 11 (1870). – Rostan came to see me. He has his arm in a sling. He was wounded at Creteil. It was at night. A German soldier rushed at him and pierced his arm with a bayonet. Rostan retaliated with a bayonet thrust in the German’s shoulder. Both fell and rolled into a ditch. Then they became good friends. Rostan speaks a little broken German.

“Who are you?”

“I am a Wurtembergian. I am twenty-two years old. My father is a clockmaker of Leipsic.”

They remained in the ditch for three hours, bleeding, numb with cold, helping each other. Rostan, wounded, brought the man who wounded him back as a prisoner. He goes to see him at the hospital. These two men adore each other. They wanted to kill each other, and now they would die for each other.

Eliminate kings from the dispute!

****

January 2 – Daumier and Louis Blanc lunched with us. Louis Koch gave to his aunt as a New Year gift a couple of cabbages and a brace of living partridges!

This morning we lunched on wine soup. The elephant at the Jardin des Plantes has been slaughtered. He wept. He will be eaten.

The Prussians continue to send us 6,000 bombs a day,

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Thomas Curtis Clark: Bugle Song of Peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Thomas Curtis Clark
Bugle Song of Peace
A Prophecy for Memorial Day

Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.
Blow, blow, blow!
The fearful night is past;
The prophets realize their dreams.
Lo! in the east the glory gleams.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.

Blow, bugle, blow!
The soul of man is free.
The rod and sword of king and lord
Shall no more honored be;
For God alone shall govern men,
And Love shall come to earth again.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The soul of man is free.

Blow, bugle, blow!
Though rivers run with blood,
All greed and strife, and lust for life,
Are passing with the flood.
The gory beast of war is cowed;
The world’s great heart with grief is bowed.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.

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Oles Honchar: Orchards of peace

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

Ukrainian writers on war

Oles Honchar: The ponderous, stupefying word “War”

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Oles Honchar
From Mikita Bratus
Translated V. Scheerson

I share my dream with Orishka:

“We reached the sun by the heavenly highway, walked right through it and came out on the other side…It must have been visible from down below – imagine you and I slipping into the sun just like that.”

“Was it shining on the other side?” Orishka asked earnestly.

“Certainly! And it was warm too. It’s the function of the sun to shed warmth and light on all the four winds. You should have seen the life they lead there! It’s summer all the year round, there’s eternal peace, and the orchards bear fruit from January to December.”

****

Gardening is a job that knows no let-up, but it’s an honorable profession, a peaceful profession. I would say that ours is not just a peaceful calling, it symbolizes man’s peaceful activity and his striving for beauty and abundance. Those who think in terms of blood and destruction never bother about orchards: they have no time for them. We often say: the dove of peace! And to my mind we should add to the dove and the olive branch on the peace emblem a cherry, apple or oak sapling. Without troubling anyone the sapling takes root and stretches to the sun – peaceful, calm and gentle. And yet it has great strength, capacity for growth and development; and these qualities make it formidable against the scorching winds, dust-storms, and other scourges.

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