Juvenilia: Percy Bysshe Shelley on war
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Ambition, power, and avarice, now have hurled
Death, fate, and ruin, on a bleeding world.
See! on yon heath what countless victims lie,
Hark! what loud shrieks ascend through yonder sky;
Tell then the cause, ’tis sure the avenger’s rage
Has swept these myriads from life’s crowded stage:
Hark to that groan, an anguished hero dies,
He shudders in death’s latest agonies;
Yet does a fleeting hectic flush his cheek,
Yet does his parting breath essay to speak –
‘Oh God! my wife, my children – Monarch thou
For whose support this fainting frame lies low;
For whose support in distant lands I bleed,
Let his friends’ welfare be the warrior’s meed.
He hears me not — ah! no — kings cannot hear,
For passion’s voice has dulled their listless ear.
To thee, then, mighty God, I lift my moan,
Thou wilt not scorn a suppliant’s anguished groan.
Oh! now I die – but still is death’s fierce pain –
God hears my prayer – we meet, we meet again.’
He spake, reclined him on death’s bloody bed,
And with a parting groan his spirit fled.
Oppressors of mankind to YOU we owe
The baleful streams from whence these miseries flow;
For you how many a mother weeps her son,
Snatched from life’s course ere half his race was run!
For you how many a widow drops a tear,
In silent anguish, on her husband’s bier!
‘Is it then Thine, Almighty Power,’ she cries,
‘Whence tears of endless sorrow dim these eyes?
Is this the system which Thy powerful sway,
Which else in shapeless chaos sleeping lay,
Formed and approved? – it cannot be – but oh!
Forgive me, Heaven, my brain is warped by woe.’
‘Tis not – He never bade the war-note swell,
He never triumphed in the work of hell –
Monarchs of earth! thine is the baleful deed,
Thine are the crimes for which thy subjects bleed.
Ah! when will come the sacred fated time,
When man unsullied by his leaders’ crime,
Despising wealth, ambition, pomp, and pride,
Will stretch him fearless by his foe-men’s side?
Ah! when will come the time, when o’er the plain
No more shall death and desolation reign?
When will the sun smile on the bloodless field,
And the stern warrior’s arm the sickle wield?
Not whilst some King, in cold ambition’s dreams,
Plans for the field of death his plodding schemes;
Not whilst for private pique the public fall,
And one frail mortal’s mandate governs all.
Swelled with command and mad with dizzying sway;
Who sees unmoved his myriads fade away.
Careless who lives or dies – so that he gains
Some trivial point for which he took the pains.
What then are Kings? – I see the trembling crowd,
I hear their fulsome clamours echoed loud;
Their stern oppressor pleased appears awhile,
But April’s sunshine is a Monarch’s smile –
Kings are but dust–the last eventful day
Will level all and make them lose their sway;
Will dash the sceptre from the Monarch’s hand,
And from the warrior’s grasp wrest the ensanguined brand.
Oh! Peace, soft Peace, art thou for ever gone,
Is thy fair form indeed for ever flown?
And love and concord hast thou swept away,
As if incongruous with thy parted sway?
Alas, I fear thou hast, for none appear.
Now o’er the palsied earth stalks giant Fear,
With War, and Woe, and Terror, in his train; –
List’ning he pauses on the embattled plain,
Then speeding swiftly o’er the ensanguined heath,
Has left the frightful work to Hell and Death.
See! gory Ruin yokes his blood-stained car,
He scents the battle’s carnage from afar;
Hell and Destruction mark his mad career,
He tracks the rapid step of hurrying Fear;
Whilst ruined towns and smoking cities tell,
That thy work, Monarch, is the work of Hell.
‘It is thy work!’ I hear a voice repeat,
Shakes the broad basis of thy bloodstained seat;
And at the orphan’s sigh, the widow’s moan,
Totters the fabric of thy guilt-stained throne –
‘It is thy work, O Monarch;’ now the sound
Fainter and fainter, yet is borne around,
Yet to enthusiast ears the murmurs tell
That Heaven, indignant at the work of Hell,
Will soon the cause, the hated cause remove,
Which tears from earth peace, innocence, and love.