Home > Uncategorized > William Cowper on war and man’s inhumanity to man: Homo homini lupus

William Cowper on war and man’s inhumanity to man: Homo homini lupus

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

William Cowper: Selections on peace and war

 

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William Cowper
From The Task (1782)

But war’s a game, which, were their subjects wise,
Kings would not play at.

*****

War and the chase engross the savage whole;
War followed for revenge, or to supplant
The envied tenants of some happier spot,
The chase for sustenance, precarious trust!

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Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
Some boundless contiguity of shade,
Where rumour of oppression and deceit,
Of unsuccessful or successful war
Might never reach me more! My ear is pained,
My soul is sick with every day’s report
Of wrong and outrage with which earth is filled.
There is no flesh in man’s obdurate heart,
It does not feel for man. The natural bond
Of brotherhood is severed as the flax
That falls asunder at the touch of fire.
He finds his fellow guilty of a skin
Not coloured like his own, and having power
To enforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause
Dooms and devotes him as his lawful prey.
Lands intersected by a narrow frith
Abhor each other. Mountains interposed,
Make enemies of nations who had else
Like kindred drops been mingled into one.
Thus man devotes his brother, and destroys;
And worse than all, and most to be deplored
As human nature’s broadest, foulest blot,
Chains him, and tasks him, and exacts his sweat
With stripes, that mercy with a bleeding heart
Weeps when she sees inflicted on a beast.
Then what is man? And what man seeing this,
And having human feelings, does not blush
And hang his head, to think himself a man?

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