Archive for October, 2011

Thomas Campbell: The snow shall be their winding-sheet, every turf a soldier’s sepulchre

October 29, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Thomas Campbell: Selections on peace and war


Thomas Campbell
The Soldier’s Dream (1804)

Our bugles had sung, for the night-cloud had lower’d,
And the centinal stars set them watch in the sky,
And thousands had sunk on the ground overpower’d,
The weary to sleep and the wounded to die!

When reposing that night on my pallet of straw,
By the wolf-scaring faggot that guarded the slain,
At the dead of the night, a sweet vision I saw,
And twice ere the cock crew, I dreamt it again.

Methought, from the battle field’s dreadful array,
Far, far I had roam’d on a desolate track,
Till nature and sunshine disclos’d the sweet way
To the house of my Father that welcom’d me back.

I flew to the pleasant fields travell’d so oft,
In life’s morning’s march when my bosom was young,
I heard my own mountain-goats bleating aloft,
And well knew the strain that the corn-reapers sung.

Then pledg’d we the cup, and fondly we swore,
From my home, and my weeping friends never to part;
My little ones miss’d me a thousand times o’er,
And my wife sobb’d aloud in the fulness of heart!

Stay! stay with us! rest! thou art weary and worn;
And fain was the war-broken soldier to stay;
But sorrow return’d with the dawning of morn,
And the voice in my dreaming ear melted away.

Battle of Austerlitz


On Linden when the sun was low,
All bloodless lay the untrodden snow,
And dark as winter was the flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

But Linden saw another sight
When the drum beat, at dead of night,
Commanding fires of death to light
The darkness of her scenery.

By torch and trumpet fast arrayed
Each horseman drew his battle blade,
And furious every charger neighed,
To join the dreadful revelry.

Then shook the hills with thunder riven,
Then rushed the steed to battle driven,
And louder than the bolts of heaven
Far flashed the red artillery.

And redder yet those fires shall glow
On Linden’s hills of blood-stained snow,
And darker yet shall be the flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

‘Tis morn, but scarce yon lurid sun
Can pierce the war-clouds, rolling dun,
Where furious Frank and fiery Hun
Shout in their sulphurous canopy.

The combat deepens. On, ye brave,
Who rush to glory, or the grave!
Wave, Munich, all thy banners wave!
And charge with all thy chivalry!

Ah! few shall part where many meet!
The snow shall be their winding-sheet,
And every turf beneath their feet
Shall be a soldier’s sepulchre.

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Louis Aragon: The peace that forces murder down to its knees for confession

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Louis Aragon: Selections on war


Louis Aragon
Song of Peace (1954)
Translation by Sylvia Manning

I say the peace pale and sudden
Like a happiness long dreamt of
Like a happiness you barely
Believe you’ve found

I say the peace like a woman
I’d open the door then all at once
Her two arms around my soul and
Around my neck

I say the peace an old window
That rattles on a fine morning
When the whole world has only the
Fragrance of thyme

I say the peace so it can light
Your steps during this new season
But like an ordinary thing
In any home

For the birds and for the brushes
Green and black above the waters
And for the busy little fish
In the rushes

I say the peace for all the stars
For every hour of the day
Every roof tile and for you
Shadow and love

I say the peace for childhood games
Where you run and jump, laugh and cry
Where you lose your train of thought on
The wide prairie

I say the peace but this is strange
This feeling of fear that I have
Because my heart itself changes
Lightly lightly

I say the peace howsoever
Precarious fragile voiceless
Because it’s like a bee who works
Though it’s unseen

Just a sudden breeze through the leaves
Just a simple hesitation
Ray of sunlight on the threshold
Of our passions

Peace falters as though uncertain
Like steps of a convalescent
Still attuned to disabling wounds
And how they bled

The war lets its tight reins go slack
The war has even lost its fight
What’s left is a dull silence
Poorly cushioned

Wagons that go to the barracks
Are still making a little noise
We will dance in the alfalfa
Until night falls

You will see tomorrow you will
The school children on the playgrounds
And lovely weather though not what
Was predicted

Now we will fight for a new youth
Of houses and some happy days
And for lovers who want to have
Lots of children

We will pull it back together
Through the burnt marvels of our world
Life will come around without your
Having to beg

Soon now you will want me to name
The new palaces we will make
The tunes in the people’s minds
And our pipedreams

And the immense laboratory
Where the miracles are human
And the pillars of history
Are in our hands

I know I know it’s all to do
In this century where Death made camp
And to look for Peace at all
Is so far out

Brief scattered fires die dully down
One can easily see how it is
Someone always offers the wolf
A place to live

Someone somewhere always dreams of
Being the fist on the table
And thus beneath the cloth of truce
Nothing happens

I know I know what one can say
And the risk of falling asleep
How man at his best and his worst
Is the problem

I know but it’s the Peace even so
The monster retreats before us
This that I defend that I love
Lives forever

It’s the Peace people know about
Vaguely everything more or less
Against the master for the slave
To be witness

It’s the Peace of the people
Deaf from roar of deepest liberty
It’s a silence of drumbeats
When May’s begun

It’s the Peace hued by evidence
Where the murderer left his name
To whom the veil of the widow
Cries out her No!

It’s the Peace that forces murder
Down to its knees for confession
And that cries out with the victims
Stop the killing!

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Milton: Men levy cruel wars, wasting the earth, each other to destroy

October 27, 2011 1 comment


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

John Milton: What can war but endless war still breed?

Milton: Without ambition, war, or violence


John Milton
From Paradise Lost

Oh shame to men! Devil with Devil damn’d
Firm concord holds, men only disagree
Of creatures rational, though under hope
Of Heavenly Grace: and God proclaiming peace,
Yet live in hatred, enmity, and strife
Among themselves, and levy cruel wars,
Wasting the earth, each other to destroy:
As if (which might induce us to accord)
Man had not hellish foes enow besides,
That day and night for his destruction wait.

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Aesop: The lies of lupine liberators

October 26, 2011 4 comments


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace




Translated by Ben Edwin Perry

Peace by Surrender

Envoys from the wolves once came to a flock of sheep offering to make a solemn treaty of guaranteed peace, on condition that the dogs be given to them for punishment; it was only because of them that the wolves and the sheep were hostile to each other and ever at war.

The sheep, being silly creatures given to bleating helplessly on all occasions, were about to hand over the dogs. But an old ram among them, whose wool began to bristle from the roots up, exclaimed: “What a strange deal this is! How am I to live with you unguarded? It’s on their account, the wolves’, that even now I can’t graze in your company without danger, though the dogs are guarding me.”


From The Aesop Romance
Translated by Lloyd W. Daly

The wolves said to the dogs: “Why, since you are like us in every way, don’t you show a brotherly spirit toward us? The only difference between us is one of principle. We live a life of freedom together, but though you skulk and slave for men, all you get from them is beatings; you get collars put around your necks, and have to guard their sheep. But when they eat, all they throw you is the bones. Why don’t you listen to us. Turn the flocks over to us; we’ll share everything and have all we want to eat.” So the dogs did as they said but as soon as they got into the shelters where the sheep were kept, the dogs were the wolves’ first victims.


Ivan Krylov
Translated by Bernard Pares

The Wolves and the Sheep

The wolves so plagued the sheep, that life was not worth living;
It got so bad, that in the end,
The rulers of the beasts, their best attentions giving
Sought how the sheep they might defend.
So High Commissioners were summoned to attend;
Now, some of these were wolves, the truth to tell;
But wolves there are of whom report speaks well;
Such honorable wolves – and oft the story’s told,
With proofs that cannot be rebutted –
Were seen to walk right past the fold
In perfect peace – when they were fairly glutted;
Then why refuse a vote to wolves of good repute?
The sheep may claim a hearing for their suit: –
No reason there, the wolves to persecute!

Deep in the forest’s wilds the Council opens session,
To every plea gives due expression,
And drafts a law quite perfect and complete;
And word for word this law I here repeat: –
“So soon as wolf on fold shall make aggression,
And sheep thereby suffer from oppression,
Then straightway shall that sheep be free,
No matter who that wolf may be,
To seize him by the throat, and drag to judgment-seat
In nearest copse or wood.”
There’s nothing left to add, and nothing to delete;
Only the way it works is not so good.
For though the court, they say, is scrupulously fair,
The sheep may plaintiff or defendant be –
The dragging’s never done by him, and he
Has yet to make his first appearance there.


Jean de La Fontaine
The Wolves and the Sheep

By-gone a thousand years of war,
The wearers of the fleece
And wolves at last made peace;
Which both appear’d the better for;
For if the wolves had now and then
Eat up a straggling ewe or wether,
As often had the shepherd men
Turn’d wolf-skins into leather.
Fear always spoil’d the verdant herbage,
And so it did the bloody carnage.
Hence peace was sweet; and, lest it should be riven,
On both sides hostages were given.
The sheep, as by the terms arranged,
For pups of wolves their dogs exchanged;
Which being done above suspicion,
Confirm’d and seal’d by high commission,
What time the pups were fully grown,
And felt an appetite for prey,
And saw the sheepfold left alone,
The shepherds all away,
They seized the fattest lambs they could,
And, choking, dragg’d them to the wood;
Of which, by secret means apprised,
Their sires, as is surmised,
Fell on the hostage guardians of the sheep,
And slew them all asleep.
So quick the deed of perfidy was done,
There fled to tell the tale not one!

From which we may conclude
That peace with villains will be rued.
Peace in itself, ’tis true,
May be a good for you;
But ’tis an evil, nathless,
When enemies are faithless.

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Taras Shevchenko: The civilizing mission…at sword’s point

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Ukrainian writers on war


Taras Shevchenko
From The Caucasus (1845)
Translated by John Weir

You love your brother as is writ
Within the Golden Rule?!
O damned by God, O hypocrites,
O sacrilegious ghouls!
Not for your brother’s soul you care,
But for your brother’s hide!
And off your brother’s back you tear:
Rich furs for daughter’s pride,
A dowry for your bastard child,
And slippers for your spouse.
And for yourself, things that your wife
Won’t even know about!

For whom, O Jesus, Son of God,
Then wert Thou crucified?
For us good folks, or for the word
Of truth…Or to provide
A spectacle at which to laugh?
That’s what has come to pass.
Temples and chapels, icons and shrines,
And candlesticks, and myrrh incense,
And genuflexion, countless times
Before thy image, giving thanks
For war and loot and rape and blood, –
To bless the fratricide they beg Thee,
Then gifts of stolen goods they bring Thee,
From gutted homes part of the loot!…

“We’re civilized! And we set forth
To enlighten others,
To make them see the sun of truth…
Our blind, simple brothers!!!
We’ll show you everything! If but
Yourselves to us you’ll yield.
The grimmest prisons how to build,
How shackles forge of steel,
And how to wear them!…How to pleat
The cruelest knouts! – Oh yes, we’ll teach
You everything! If but to us
Your mountains blue you’ll cede.
The last…because your seas and fields
We have already seized.”

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Yehuda Amichai: Knowledge of peace passes from country to country, like children’s games

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)
Translated by the author and Ted Hughes

Even my loves are measured by wars:
I am saying this happened after the Second
World War. We met a day before the
Six-Day War. I’ll never say
before the peace ’45-’48 or during
the peace ’56-’67.

But knowledge of peace
Passes from country to country,
like children’s games,
which are much alike, everywhere.


Memorial Day for the War Dead

Memorial day for the war dead. Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you. Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day. Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist’s mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying
all through the night under the jasmine
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

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Boethius: Provoking death’s destined day by waging unjust and cruel wars

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace


From The Consolation of Philosophy
Translated by H.R. James

The Unreasonableness of Hatred

Why all this furious strife? Oh, why
With rash and wilful hand provoke death’s destined day?
If death ye seek – lo! Death is nigh,
Not of their master’s will those coursers swift delay!

The wild beasts vent on man their rage,
Yet ‘gainst their brothers’ lives men point the murderous steel;
Unjust and cruel wars they wage,
And haste with flying darts the death to meet or deal.

No right nor reason can they show;
‘Tis but because their lands and laws are not the same.
Wouldst thou give each his due; then know
Thy love the good must have, the bad thy pity claim.


The Former Age

Too blest the former age, their life
Who in the fields contented led,
And still, by luxury unspoiled,
On frugal acorns sparely fed.

No skill was theirs the luscious grape
With honey’s sweetness to confuse;
Nor China’s soft and sheeny silks
T’ empurple with brave Tyrian hues.

The grass their wholesome couch, their drink
The stream, their roof the pine’s tall shade;
Not theirs to cleave the deep, nor seek
In strange far lands the spoils of trade.

The trump of war was heard not yet,
Nor soiled the fields by bloodshed’s stain;
For why should war’s fierce madness arm
When strife brought wound, but brought not gain?

Ah! would our hearts might still return
To following in those ancient ways.
Alas! the greed of getting glows
More fierce than Etna’s fiery blaze.

Woe, woe for him, whoe’er it was,
Who first gold’s hidden store revealed,
And – perilous treasure-trove – dug out
The gems that fain would be concealed!

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Libya: A Brutal, Gratuitous Slaying, the New World Order in All Its Transparent Barbarism

October 22, 2011 10 comments

Voice of Russia
October 22, 2011

“A brutal, gratuitous slaying”
John Robles

Interview with Rick Rozoff, the manager of the Stop NATO website and mailing list and contributing writer to

How are you today, Mr. Rozoff?

Rather distressed by the news of this morning. Or yesterday morning in your case.

Ok, what is your first impression?

It was a brutal, gratuitous slaying of an almost 70-year-old man, killed after being captured. And if the intent of 216 days of NATO bombing was to kill him in the first place, which is clearly the case, with the multiple bombings of his compound in Tripoli, which in one case killed one of his sons and three grandchildren, it is clearly targeted killing and I suppose NATO can now claim success. It has got what it wanted.

President Barack Obama said that there is going to be a pull-out from Libya very soon, so in your mind does that mean the objective has been met?

Yes, it has entirely. Regime change, take-over of Africa’s largest oil reserves, the incorporation of Libya, which hitherto had been the only North African country that was not a member of NATO’s so-called Mediterranean Dialogue, into what is now according to Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen a military partnership with the North Atlantic Alliance…So in every sense their objective has been accomplished. It’s certainly nothing that is going to benefit the Libyan people.

You don’t see this as being justice for the oppressed Libyan people? I mean there are people saying that Gaddafi was a terrible guy. He killed thousands so he deserved to die.

There is just so much – what term do I want to use? – low taste, gratuitous reveling in the murder of this man, who was born 70 years ago in the very city he was murdered in on the 216th day of NATO’s bombing of his country. He was born under Italian Fascist occupation and he died under NATO occupation. I think the parallel there can’t be missed, including the fact that Italy supplied some of the warplanes that have devastated his country since the middle of March, since March 19th. If he was the monster they’ve portrayed him as being – and I invite your listeners to go to the NATO website and see some of the crude caricatures of Gaddafi they’ve posted over the last few days – wall graffiti and so forth – portraying him in a demeaning and belittling way, to further dehumanize him preparatory to murdering him.

Alright, I saw some television coverage of his naked body being thrown around like a piece of meat. I am sorry for the expression.

Yes, after they brought him to Misrata. This is sickening, barbaric and worse than barbaric treatment and it’s in a long line of similar travesties. This is true with Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, with any leader of a country that doesn’t kowtow entirely. I am not putting all these people in the same basket. Let’s rephrase that. Any leader whose time has come according to the United States and NATO can expect death. Hussein was hanged, Gaddafi was shot. Whereas Gaddafi was considered to be – he was only nominally so, but he was considered to be – the head of state and even the head of the military, and the bombing of his private residences under the guise of their being command and control centers suggests that he was considered by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to be in charge of the Libyan military, when he was captured on Thursday his treatment was governed by the Geneva Conventions, but instead he was shot through the head and murdered. This is the new regime that is being implanted in Libya, and for all the West’s talk of the rule of law and humanitarian concerns and so forth this is a graphic image of its true intentions, just like the death of Slobodan Milosevic in a veritable dungeon in the Netherlands because he was denied proper medical treatment in Russia, and the grotesque hanging of Saddam Hussein. This is the image of the new world order, a world order in all its transparent barbarism.

What do you mean he was denied medical treatment in Russia?

Russia offered to make a deal with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to bring Slobodan Milosevic to Moscow for medical treatment, but he was denied that opportunity and he died shortly thereafter. Even more foul play may have been involved but the message is very clear.

Do you see a pattern, I am sorry to interrupt you there. Do you see a pattern here, I am sure you do, between Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and now Gaddafi? I mean, we have countries, for example, Hussein and Gaddafi, they pretty much stopped their weapons’ programs. They cooperated with the CIA, in this case from what I’ve heard, and it’s pretty much a given, Gaddafi was assisting the war on terror fight by the United States by allowing rendition flights to Libya. He stopped his weapons programs. Do you see a pattern here?

Yes, there’s a very clear pattern. That the United States and the North Atlantic allance use somebody for whatever purpose they want to and then get rid of them and kill them afterwards. Slobodan Milosevic, at political risk to himself inside at that time the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, played a role in negotiating an end to the armed hostilities in Bosnia, in gratitude for which his country was bombed for 78 days in 1999 by the United States and its NATO allies and subsequently he was left to die in prison.

He had a deal with the CIA, I think, it came out, and I think that it’s pretty much a part of the public record that he believed that he was going to be protected.

I don’t know the details about that but at the end of the day what we see is there are a lot of corpses and we see the killings of heads of state. We have to recall that, again, even though he was a titular, a nominal, head of state, Muammar Gaddafi was the longest reigning leader in the world. He was the last personal link – since Fidel Castro retired as president of Cuba – between the post-World War II national liberation struggles and the emergence of new nations during the Cold War era and the post-Cold War era that issued in NATO as an international military strike force that can topple governments at will around the world. NATO boasts on its website as of today of flying over 26,000 air missions over a country of six million people, with well over 9,000 of those being combat sorties. So this monster has been unleashed over the last 20 years and Libya will not be the last country so targeted. That you can be assured of.

What do you think is going to happen next?

I don’t know if Libya is able to be put back together again. The Western powers incited regional and tribal differences in order to topple the former Gaddafi government, and believing you can put that genie back in the bottle is overly optimistic – and disingenuous. With the military commander of the National Transitional Council [Abdel Hakim Belhaj] being somebody the United States incarcerated and interrogated as part of its “extraordinary rendition” program and a former fighter in Afghanistan, past leader of the so-called Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, you have al-Qaeda elements and tribal separatists – they’ve created real pandemonium here and now they claim that they want to stabilize Libya. I don’t see it happening. At the end of the day, with the alleged no-fly zone and humanitarian intervention, NATO has transparently waged a war against a government on behalf of insurgents, period. This was clearly the intent from the beginning and now it’s proven successful.

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Miguel Hernández: Wretched Wars

October 22, 2011 2 comments

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

Miguel Hernández
Translated by A. S. Kline

Wretched Wars (1941)

Wretched wars
when love is not our aim.
Wretched, wretched.

Wretched weapons
those that are not words.
Wretched, wretched.

Wretched men
that die not out of love.
Wretched, wretched.


Elegy for Federico García Lorca (1937)

Death traverses, with rusty lances,
bearing its cannon, the barren plains
where men cultivate roots and hopes,
raining salt, and scattering skulls.

Green of the gardens,
what skies let happiness thrive?
Sunlight rots the blood, sets it with snares,
and renders the shadows more sombre.

Grief and its cloak
come to meet us once more.
And once more into an alley of tears
rain-soaked I enter.

Ever I see myself within
the shadow of withdrawn bitterness
formed by eyes and staves,
that a candle of agony posts at the entrance
and a furious necklace of hearts.

To weep into a well,
into the one disconsolate source
of water, of sobbing,
of the heart’s longing;
where none would see my voice or image,
or would witness the rest of my tears.

I enter slowly, I bow my head
slowly, my heart is torn
slowly, and slowly and blackly
I weep again at the foot of a guitar.

Amidst all the dead of the elegies,
without forgetting the echo of any,
my tear-stained hand chooses one,
who resonates most in my soul.

Federico Garcia
he was once called: dust is his name.
Once he had his place in the sun
today he lies in a hole in the grass.

So much! So much, and now nothing!
Your joyful energy
that energised columns and rows,
you shake and uproot with your teeth,
and now you are sad, and only wish
for the paradise of the grave.

Formed as a skeleton,
dreaming of lead,
armed with indifference and respect
between your eyebrows, you I see, if I gaze.

It has blown away your dovelike life,
that circled the sky and the windows
with foam and cooing
in a torrent of feathers,
that wind, that blows the months away.

Cousin to the apples,
the worm cannot quench your sap,
the maggot cannot consume your death,
and to add fierce health to its fruit
the apple tree will elect your bones.

Though they choke the source of your saliva,
son of the dove,
grandson, of the nightingale and the olive:
you will still be, while the earth turns,
husband of the immortelle
rich soil at the root of the honeysuckle.

How simple death is: how simple,
but how unfairly won!
It can’t move slowly, and inflicts
when you least expect it, its turbid wound.

You, the strongest building, ruined,
you, the highest hawk, despoiled,
you, the loudest roar,
hushed, hushed, ever hushed.

May your joyful illustrious blood fall
like a cascade of furious hammers
on those who fatally detained you.
May saliva and sickles
fall on the stains on their brows.

A poet dies and creation feels
the hurt and the dying inside.
A cosmic tremor of icy sweats
shakes the mountains in terror,
and splendour of death the wombs of the rivers.

I hear villages moan and valleys lament,
I see a forest of eyes never dry,
avenues of mourning and veils:
in gusts of wind and leaves,
sorrows on sorrows on sorrows,
tears on tears on tears.

They will not scatter, or blow away, your bones,
volcano of sweetness, thunder of honeycombs,
poet entwined with the bitter and sweet,
who felt the warmth of kisses
between two long files of daggers,
vast love, vast death, vast fire.

To accompany your death,
peopling the corners of sky
and earth, come harmonious flocks,
bolts of blue lightening.

Rattlesnakes hail in abundance,
battalions of gypsies, flutes, tambourines,
showers of bees and violins,
storms of guitars and pianos,
irruptions of trumpets and brass.

But silence exceeds any instrument.
Silent, abandoned, caked with the dust
in the desert of death,
it seems your tongue, it seems your breath,
have shot home the bolt of a door.

As if I walked with your shade,
I walk with mine,
on earth that silence has clothed,
that the cypress would see ever darker.

Your agony grips my throat
like the iron of a gallows,
and I taste a funeral libation.
You know, Federico García Lorca,
I am of those who suffer death each day.

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Sergei Prokofiev: Dove of peace, sounds of war

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment


Musical selections

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


Sergei Prokofiev

From Some Reflections on Prokofiev’s Music
By Bruce Turlish

On Guard for Peace: This oratorio, based upon a text glorifying the ideal of peace in the world, is another example of first-rate Prokofiev. Again, the music sounds sincere, as if Prokofiev did genuinely believe in the ideals embodied in the work. In musical terms, this work is rich in melodic invention and compositional skill. Prokofiev’s use of a children’s chorus and boy soprano lends a great charm and poignancy, as in the sections “To Those Who are Ten Years Old,” “A Lesson in the Mother Tongue,” and “Dove of Peace.” The writing for adult chorus is extremely powerful, surpassing even “Alexander Nevsky” in terms of vigor and fertility of invention…It is possible that some listeners may be offended by the cheerful, perhaps fulsomely joyful tone of this work’s concluding sections, but I think Prokofiev can be forgiven for going overboard in this respect, given the positive intentions that the composition so obviously has. This work definitely deserves to be better known; be advised, however, that like much of Prokofiev’s output, it requires repeated hearings in order to gain a full appreciation of it.


Symphony No. 2
End of Second Movement


Symphony No. 3
Fourth Movement


Symphony No. 5 (1944)
First Movement

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Émile Zola on war mania: A blind and deaf beast let loose amid death and destruction, laden with cannon-fodder

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Émile Zola: Selections on war


Emile Zola

From the last chapter of Nana (1880)
Translated by George Holden

[Paris 1870]

The darkness was deepening, and in the distance gas-lamps were lighting up one by one. Meanwhile curious faces could be seen at the windows, while under the trees, the human flood swelled from one minute to the next, till it ran in one enormous stream from the Madeleine to the Bastille. The carriages in its midst rolled along slowly. A dull murmuring came from this dense mass of people, silent as yet, who had left their homes out of a desire to form a crowd, and were now shuffling along, their blood stirred by the same fever. But suddenly a strong movement divided the throng. Among the jostling, scattering groups, a band of men in workman’s caps and white smocks had appeared, uttering a regular cry which had the rhythmical beat of hammers on an anvil.

“To Berlin! To Berlin! To Berlin!”

Nana dead! It was a blow for them all. Without a word Muffat had gone back to the bench, his face buried in his handkerchief. The others burst into exclamations, but they were cut short by another group that passed by howling:

“To Berlin! To Berlin! To Berlin!”

These shadowy masses rolling by in a dizzying human flood exhaled a sense of terror, a pitiful premonition of future massacres. Broken cries came from their throats as they rushed in a fever of excitement towards the unknown, out of sight beyond the dark wall of the horizon.

“To Berlin! To Berlin! To Berlin!”

The room was empty. A great breath of despair came up from the boulevard and filled out the curtains.

“To Berlin! To Berlin! To Berlin!”


From the end of La Bête Humaine (1890)
Translated by Leonard Tancock

Now out of control, the engine tore on and on. At last the restive, temperamental creature could give full rein to her youthful high spirits, like a still untamed steed that had escaped from its trainer’s hands and was galloping off across country. The boiler was full of water, the newly stoked furnace was white-hot, and for the first half-hour pressure went up wildly and the speed became terrifying. The front guard had presumably succumbed to exhaustion and gone to sleep. The soldiers, whose drunkenness was getting worse through their being so tightly packed, suddenly saw the funny side of this mad race and sang louder than ever. They went through Maromme like a rocket. No more whistling before signals or through stations, just the all-out gallop of an animal charging head down and silent between obstacles. The engine ran on and on as though lashed to madness by the strident sound of her own breath.

They should have taken water at Rouen, and the station was transfixed with horror when this mad train rushed past in a whirlwind of smoke and flame, the engine without driver or fireman and cattle-trucks full of troops yelling patriotic songs. They were off to war and this was to get them sooner to the banks of the Rhine. Railwaymen gasped and waved their arms. Suddenly there was one general cry: that driverless train would never get clear through Sotteville station, which was always blocked by shunting operations and cluttered up with vehicles and engines like all large depots. They rushed to send a warning by telegraph. A goods train standing on the line could, as it happened, be backed into a shed just in time, for the roar of the escaping monster could already be heard in the distance. It had charged through the two tunnels on either side of Rouen and was approaching at a furious pace, like some prodigious, irresistible force that nothing could now stop. It scorched through the station at Sotteville, finding its way unscathed through the obstacles, and plunged into the night again, where the roar gradually died away.

By now all the telegraph bells along the line were ringing and hearts were beating fast as the news came through about the ghost train seen going through Rouen and Sotteville. It made you shake with fright; an express running ahead was bound to be caught up with. But the train, like a wild boar in the forest, held to its course, heedless of the red lights and detonators. At Oissel it almost smashed into a light engine, it terrified Pont de-l’Arche, for its speed showed no sign of slackening. Yet again it vanished, on and on into the darkness, whither no one knew.

What did the victims matter that the machine destroyed on its way? Wasn’t it bound for the future, heedless of spilt blood? With no human hand to guide it through the night, it roared on and on, a blind and deaf beast let loose amid death and destruction, laden with cannon-fodder, these soldiers already silly with fatigue, drunk and bawling.


Auguste Andre Lancon:
After the Battle of Sedan


From the final chapter of The Debacle (1892)
Translated by E. P. Robins

When at about nine o’clock the train from Sedan, after innumerable delays along the way, rolled into the Saint-Denis station, the sky to the south was lit up by a fiery glow as if all Paris was burning. The light had increased with the growing darkness, and now it filled the horizon, climbing constantly higher up the heavens and tingeing with blood-red hues some clouds, that lay off to the eastward in the gloom which the contrast rendered more opaque than ever.

The travelers alighted, Henriette among the first, alarmed by the glare they had beheld from the windows of the cars as they rushed onward across the darkling fields. The soldiers of a Prussian detachment, moreover, that had been sent to occupy the station, went through the train and compelled the passengers to leave it, while two of their number, stationed on the platform, shouted in guttural French:

“Paris is burning. All out here! this train goes no further. Paris is burning, Paris is burning!”

Henriette experienced a terrible shock. Mon Dieu! was she too late, then? Receiving no reply from Maurice to her two last letters, the alarming news from Paris had filled her with such mortal terror that she determined to leave Remilly and come and try to find her brother in the great city. For months past her life at Uncle Fouchard’s had been a melancholy one; the troops occupying the village and the surrounding country had become harsher and more exacting as the resistance of Paris was protracted, and now that peace was declared and the regiments were stringing along the roads, one by one, on their way home to Germany, the country and the cities through which they passed were taxed to their utmost to feed the hungry soldiers. The morning when she arose at daybreak to go and take the train at Sedan, looking out into the courtyard of the farmhouse she had seen a body of cavalry who had slept there all night, scattered promiscuously on the bare ground, wrapped in their long cloaks. They were so numerous that the earth was hidden by them. Then, at the shrill summons of a trumpet call, all had risen to their feet, silent, draped in the folds of those long mantles, and in such serried, close array that she involuntarily thought of the graves of a battlefield opening and giving up their dead at the call of the last trump. And here again at Saint-Denis she encountered the Prussians, and it was from Prussian lips that came that cry which caused her such distress:

“All out here! this train goes no further. Paris is burning!”

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Wordsworth: We felt as men should feel at vast carnage

October 20, 2011 1 comment


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

British writers on peace and war

William Wordsworth: Selections on peace and war


William Wordsworth
After Visiting the Field of Waterloo (1820)

A winged Goddess – clothed in vesture wrought
Of rainbow colours; One whose port was bold,
Whose overburthened hand could scarcely hold
The glittering crowns and garlands which it brought,
Hover’d in air above the far-famed Spot.
She vanished – All was joyless, blank and cold;
But if from wind-swept fields of corn that roll’d
In dreary billows from the meagre cot,
And monuments that may soon disappear,
Meanings we craved which could not there be found;
If the wide prospect seemed an envious seal
Of great exploits; we felt as Men should feel,
With such vast hoards of hidden carnage near,
And horror breathing from the silent ground!

Alternate version:

A winged Goddess – clothed in vesture wrought
Of rainbow colours; One whose port was bold,
Whose overburthened hand could scarcely hold
The glittering crowns and garlands which it brought –
Hovered in air above the far-famed Spot.
She vanished; leaving prospect blank and cold
Of wind-swept corn that wide around us rolled
In dreary billows; wood, and meagre cot,
And monuments that soon must disappear:
Yet a dread local recompence we found;
While glory seemed betrayed, while patriot-zeal
Sank in our hearts, we felt as men should feel
With such vast hoards of hidden carnage near,
And horror breathing from the silent ground!

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Robert Herrick: The olive branch, the arch of peace

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Robert Herrick: The Olive Branch


Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

The Olive Branch

Sadly I walk’d within the field,
To see what comfort it would yield;
And as I went my private way,
An olive-branch before me lay;
And seeing it, I made a stay,
And took it up, and view’d it; then
Kissing the omen, said Amen;
Be, be it so, and let this be
A divination unto me;
That in short time my woes shall cease,
And love shall crown my end with peace.


The Rainbow

Look how the rainbow doth appear
But in one only hemisphere;
So likewise after our decease
No more is seen the arch of peace.
That conv’nant’s here, the under-bow,
That nothing shoots but war and woe.


The White Island; Or Peace of the Blest

In this world, the Isle of Dreams,
While we sit by sorrow’s streams,
Tears and terrors are our themes,

But when once from hence we fly,
More and more approaching nigh
Unto young eternity,

In that whiter Island, where
Things are evermore sincere:
Candour here, and lustre there,
Delighting: –

There no monstrous fancies shall
Out of hell an horror call,
To create, or cause at all

There, in calm and cooling sleep,
We our eyes shall never steep,
But eternal watch shall keep,

Pleasures such as shall pursue
Me immortalized, and you;
And fresh joys, as never too
Have ending.

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Paul Verlaine: The joy of sweet peace without victory

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Paul Verlaine
Hear The Sweetest Song (1880)
Translated by A. S. Kline

Hear the sweetest song pass
That weeps for your sole delight.
It is discreet and so light:
A water-drop trembling on glass!

A voice known to you (and dear?)
But at present misted and veiled
Like a widow desolate, assailed,
Yet like her still proud, it appears,

And in the long folds of a veil
Stirred by the autumn breeze,
Hidden, to startled heart reveals
The truth like the star so pale.

It says, that voice you know,
That our life is goodness at last,
That hatred and envy pass,
Nothing’s left, death lays all low.

It speaks to us also of glory
Of humility, of asking no more,
And the marriage of golden ore
To sweet joy of peace without victory.

Welcome the voice that persists
In its naïve epithalamium,
Nothing more for the soul, now, come,
Than to render soul-sadness less.

It is hard-pressed, and passing by,
The suffering soul without anger,
And the moral is all too clear!
Listen to the song that is wise.

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Gabriel García Márquez: Five wars and seventeen military coups

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Gabriel García Márquez
From Nobel Prize in Literature lecture (1982)

Eleven years ago, the Chilean Pablo Neruda, one of the outstanding poets of our time, enlightened this audience with his word. Since then, the Europeans of good will – and sometimes those of bad, as well – have been struck, with ever greater force, by the unearthly tidings of Latin America, that boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend. We have not had a moment’s rest. A promethean president, entrenched in his burning palace, died fighting an entire army, alone; and two suspicious airplane accidents, yet to be explained, cut short the life of another great-hearted president and that of a democratic soldier who had revived the dignity of his people. There have been five wars and seventeen military coups; there emerged a diabolic dictator who is carrying out, in God’s name, the first Latin American ethnocide of our time. In the meantime, twenty million Latin American children died before the age of one – more than have been born in Europe since 1970. Those missing because of repression number nearly one hundred and twenty thousand, which is as if no one could account for all the inhabitants of Uppsala. Numerous women arrested while pregnant have given birth in Argentine prisons, yet nobody knows the whereabouts and identity of their children who were furtively adopted or sent to an orphanage by order of the military authorities. Because they tried to change this state of things, nearly two hundred thousand men and women have died throughout the continent, and over one hundred thousand have lost their lives in three small and ill-fated countries of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. If this had happened in the United States, the corresponding figure would be that of one million six hundred thousand violent deaths in four years.

One million people have fled Chile, a country with a tradition of hospitality – that is, ten per cent of its population. Uruguay, a tiny nation of two and a half million inhabitants which considered itself the continent’s most civilized country, has lost to exile one out of every five citizens. Since 1979, the civil war in El Salvador has produced almost one refugee every twenty minutes. The country that could be formed of all the exiles and forced emigrants of Latin America would have a population larger than that of Norway.

I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune…


I do not mean to embody the illusions of Tonio Kröger, whose dreams of uniting a chaste north to a passionate south were exalted here, fifty-three years ago, by Thomas Mann. But I do believe that those clear-sighted Europeans who struggle, here as well, for a more just and humane homeland, could help us far better if they reconsidered their way of seeing us. Solidarity with our dreams will not make us feel less alone, as long as it is not translated into concrete acts of legitimate support for all the peoples that assume the illusion of having a life of their own in the distribution of the world.


On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man”. I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.

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Euripides: The crown of War, the crown of Woe

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace


From The Trojan Women
Translated by Gilbert Murray

The groves are empty and the sanctuaries
Run red with blood. Unburied Priam lies
By his own hearth, on God’s high altar-stair,
And Phrygian gold goes forth and raiment rare
To the Argive ships; and weary soldiers roam
Waiting the wind that blows at last for home,
For wives and children, left long years away,
Beyond the seed’s tenth fullness and decay,
To work this land’s undoing.


O Fire, Fire, where men make marriages
Surely thou hast thy lot; but what are these
Thou bringest flashing? Torches savage-wild
And far from mine old dreams. – Alas, my child,
How little dreamed I then of wars or red
Spears of the Greek to lay thy bridal bed!


And they whom Ares took,
Had never seen their children: no wife came
With gentle arms to shroud the limbs of them
For burial, in a strange and angry earth
Laid dead. And there at home, the same long dearth:
Women that lonely died, and aged men
Waiting for sons that ne’er should turn again,
Nor know their graves, nor pour drink-offerings,
To still the unslaked dust. These be the things
The conquering Greek hath won!

Would ye be wise, ye Cities, fly from war!
Yet if war come, there is a crown in death
For her that striveth well and perisheth
Unstained: to die in evil were the stain!


I was among the dancers there
To Artemis, and glorying sang
Her of the Hills, the Maid most fair,
Daughter of Zeus: and, lo, there rang
A shout out of the dark, and fell
Deathlike from street to street, and made
A silence in the citadel:
And a child cried, as if afraid,
And hid him in his mother’s veil.
Then stalked the Slayer from his den,
The hand of Pallas served her well!
O blood, blood of Troy was deep
About the streets and altars then:
And in the wedded rooms of sleep,
Lo, the desolate dark alone,
And headless things, men stumbled on.

And forth, lo, the women go,
The crown of War, the crown of Woe,
To bear the children of the foe
And weep, weep, for Ilion!


O Helen, Helen, thou ill tree
That Tyndareus planted, who shall deem of thee
As child of Zeus? O, thou hast drawn thy breath
From many fathers, Madness, Hate, red Death,
And every rotting poison of the sky!
Zeus knows thee not, thou vampire, draining dry
Greece and the world! God hate thee and destroy,
That with those beautiful eyes hast blasted Troy,
And made the far-famed plains a waste withal.

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Video: 10th Anniversary Afghanistan War Rally and March – Chicago, October 8, 2011

October 14, 2011 Leave a comment

10th Anniversary Afghanistan War Rally and March – Chicago, October 8, 2011

Chicago Independent Television

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John Donne: War and misery are one thing

October 14, 2011 Leave a comment


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

John Donne: The horror and ghastliness of war


John Donne
From Sermon XII (1621)

1 Cor. xv. 26.

The last Enemy that shall be destroyed, is Death.

[E]nemy is the metaphor which the Holy Ghost hath taken here to express a want, a kind of imperfectness even in heaven itself. As peace is of all goodness, so war is an emblem, a hieroglyphic, of all misery…

If the feet of them that preach peace be beautiful, (and, 0 how beautiful are the feet of them that preach peace? The prophet Isaiah asks the question, Lii. 7.; and the prophet Nahum asks it, i. 15. and the apostle St. Paul asks it, Rom. x. 15. they all ask it, but none answers it) who shall answer us, if we ask, How beautiful is his face, who is the author of this peace, when we shall see that in the glory of heaven, the centre of all true peace? It was the inheritance of Christ Jesus upon the earth, he had it at his birth, he brought it with him, Glory be to God on high, peace upon earth. It was his purchase upon earth, He made peace (indeed he bought peace) through the blood of his cross. It was his testament, when he went from earth: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Divide with him in that blessed inheritance, partake with him in that blessed purchase, enrich thyself with that blessed legacy, his peace.

Let the whole world be in thy consideration as one house; and then consider in that, in the peaceful harmony of creatures, in the peaceful succession, and connexion of causes, and effects, the peace of nature.

[T]he Holy Ghost, to intimate to us that happy perfectness, which we shall have at last…chooses the metaphor of an enemy, an enmity, to avert us from looking for true peace from anything that presents itself in the way. Neither truly could the Holy Ghost imprint more horror by any word, than that which intimates war, as the word enemy does. It is but a little way that the poet hath got in the description of war, Jam seges est, that now that place is ploughed, where the great city stood…[W]hen the prophet Isaiah comes to the devastation, to the extermination of a war, he expresses it first thus; Where there were a thousand vineyards at a cheap rate, all the land become briars and thorns: that is much; but there is more, the earth shall be removed out of her place; that land, that nation, shall no more be called that nation, nor that land: but, yet more than that too; not only, not that people, but no other shall ever inhabit it. It shall never be inhabited from generation to generation, neither shall shepherds be there; not only no merchant, nor husbandmen

In a word, the horror of war is best discerned in the company he keeps, in his associates. And when the prophet Gad brought war into the presence of David, there came with him famine and pestilence. And when famine entered, we see the effects; it brought mothers to eat their children of a span long; that is, as some expositors take it, to take medicines to procure abortions, to cast their children, that they might have children to eat. And when war’s other companion, the pestilence entered, we see the effects of that too: In less than half the time that it was threatened for, it devoured three score and ten thousand of David’s men; and yet for all the vehemence, the violence, the impetuousness of this pestilence, David chose this pestilence rather than a war. Militia and malitia, are words of so near a sound, as that the vulgate edition takes them as one. For where the prophet speaking of the miseries that Jerusalem had suffered, says, Finita militia ejus, Let her warfare be an end, they read, Finita malitia ejus, Let her misery be at an end; war and misery is all one thing…

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Henry Fielding: On the condign fate of Great Men and conquerors

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Henry Fielding
From The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (1743)

Chapter One

Shewing the wholesome uses drawn from recording the achievements of those wonderful productions of nature called GREAT MEN

…But before we enter on this great work we must endeavour to remove some errors of opinion which mankind have, by the disingenuity of writers, contracted: for these, from their fear of contradicting the obsolete and absurd doctrines of a set of simple fellows, called, in derision, sages or philosophers, have endeavoured, as much as possible, to confound the ideas of greatness and goodness; whereas no two things can possibly be more distinct from each other, for greatness consists in bringing all manner of mischief on mankind, and goodness in removing it from them. It seems therefore very unlikely that the same person should possess them both; and yet nothing is more usual with writers, who find many instances of greatness in their favourite hero, than to make him a compliment of goodness into the bargain; and this, without considering that by such means they destroy the great perfection called uniformity of character. In the histories of Alexander and Caesar we are frequently, and indeed impertinently, reminded of their benevolence and generosity, of their clemency and kindness. When the former had with fire and sword overrun a vast empire, had destroyed the lives of an immense number of innocent wretches, had scattered ruin and desolation like a whirlwind, we are told, as an example of his clemency, that he did not cut the throat of an old woman, and ravish her daughters, but was content with only undoing them. And when the mighty Caesar, with wonderful greatness of mind, had destroyed the liberties of his country, and with all the means of fraud and force had placed himself at the head of his equals, had corrupted and enslaved the greatest people whom the sun ever saw, we are reminded, as an evidence of his generosity, of his largesses to his followers and tools, by whose means he had accomplished his purpose, and by whose assistance he was to establish it.

Now, who doth not see that such sneaking qualities as these are rather to be bewailed as imperfections than admired as ornaments in these great men; rather obscuring their glory, and holding them back in their race to greatness, indeed unworthy the end for which they seem to have come into the world, viz. of perpetrating vast and mighty mischief?

We hope our reader will have reason justly to acquit us of any such confounding ideas in the following pages; in which, as we are to record the actions of a great man, so we have nowhere mentioned any spark of goodness which had discovered itself either faintly in him, or more glaringly in any other person, but as a meanness and imperfection, disqualifying them for undertakings which lead to honour and esteem among men.

As our hero had as little as perhaps is to be found of that meanness, indeed only enough to make him partaker of the imperfection of humanity, instead of the perfection of diabolism, we have ventured to call him THE GREAT; nor do we doubt but our reader, when he hath perused his story, will concur with us in allowing him that title.


Chapter Fourteen

Wild proceeds to the highest consummation of human greatness

The day now drew nigh when our great man was to exemplify the last and noblest act of greatness by which any hero can signalise himself. This was the day of execution, or consummation, or apotheosis (for it is called by different names), which was to give our hero an opportunity of facing death and damnation, without any fear in his heart, or, at least, without betraying any symptoms of it in his countenance. A completion of greatness which is heartily to be wished to every great man; nothing being more worthy of lamentation than when Fortune, like a lazy poet, winds up her catastrophe awkwardly, and, bestowing too little care on her fifth act, dismisses the hero with a sneaking and private exit, who had in the former part of the drama performed such notable exploits as must promise to every good judge among the spectators a noble, public, and exalted end.

But she was resolved to commit no such error in this instance. Our hero was too much and too deservedly her favourite to be neglected by her in his last moments; accordingly all efforts for a reprieve were vain, and the name of Wild stood at the head of those who were ordered for execution.

At length the morning came which Fortune at his birth had resolutely ordained for the consummation of our hero’s GREATNESS: he had himself indeed modestly declined the public honour she intended him, and had taken a quantity of laudanum, in order to retire quietly off the stage; but we have already observed, in the course of our wonderful history, that to struggle against this lady’s decrees is vain and impotent; and whether she hath determined you shall be hanged or be a prime minister, it is in either case lost labour to resist. Laudanum, therefore, being unable to stop the breath of our hero, which the fruit of hemp-seed, and not the spirit of poppy-seed, was to overcome, he was at the usual hour attended by the proper gentleman appointed for that purpose, and acquainted that the cart was ready. On this occasion he exerted that greatness of courage which hath been so much celebrated in other heroes; and, knowing it was impossible to resist, he gravely declared he would attend them. He then descended to that room where the fetters of great men are knocked off in a most solemn and ceremonious manner. Then shaking hands with his friends (to wit, those who were conducting him to the tree), and drinking their healths in a bumper of brandy, he ascended the cart, where he was no sooner seated than he received the acclamations of the multitude, who were highly ravished with his GREATNESS.

The cart now moved slowly on, being preceded by a troop of horse-guards bearing javelins in their hands, through streets lined with crowds all admiring the great behaviour of our hero, who rode on, sometimes sighing, sometimes swearing, sometimes singing or whistling, as his humour varied.

When he came to the tree of glory, he was welcomed with an universal shout of the people, who were there assembled in prodigious numbers to behold a sight much more rare in populous cities than one would reasonably imagine it should be, viz., the proper catastrophe of a great man.

But though envy was, through fear, obliged to join the general voice in applause on this occasion, there were not wanting some who maligned this completion of glory, which was now about to be fulfilled to our hero, and endeavoured to prevent it by knocking him on the head as he stood under the tree, while the ordinary was performing his last office. They therefore began to batter the cart with stones, brick-bats, dirt, and all manner of mischievous weapons, some of which, erroneously playing on the robes of the ecclesiastic, made him so expeditious in his repetition, that with wonderful alacrity he had ended almost in an instant, and conveyed himself into a place of safety in a hackney-coach, where he waited the compulsion with a temper of mind described in these verses:

Suave mari magno, turbantibus aequora ventis,
E terra alterius magnum spectare laborem.

We must not, however, omit one circumstance, as it serves to shew the most admirable conservation of character in our hero to his last moment, which was, that, whilst the ordinary was busy in his ejaculations, Wild, in the midst of the shower of stones, &c., which played upon him, applied his hands to the parson’s pocket, and emptied it of his bottle-screw, which he carried out of the world in his hand.

The ordinary being now descended from the cart, Wild had just opportunity to cast his eyes around the crowd, and to give them a hearty curse, when immediately the horses moved on, and with universal applause our hero swung out of this world.

Thus fell Jonathan Wild the GREAT, by a death as glorious as his life had been, and which was so truly agreeable to it, that the latter must have been deplorably maimed and imperfect without the former; a death which hath been alone wanting to complete the characters of several ancient and modern heroes, whose histories would then have been read with much greater pleasure by the wisest in all ages. Indeed we could almost wish that whenever Fortune seems wantonly to deviate from her purpose, and leaves her work imperfect in this particular, the historian would indulge himself in the license of poetry and romance, and even do a violence to truth, to oblige his reader with a page which must be the most delightful in all his history, and which could never fail of producing an instructive moral.


Chapter Fifteen

The character of our hero, and the conclusion of this history.

…Jonathan Wild had every qualification necessary to form a great man. As his most powerful and predominant passion was ambition, so nature had, with consummate propriety, adapted all his faculties to the attaining those glorious ends to which this passion directed him. He was extremely ingenious in inventing designs, artful in contriving the means to accomplish his purposes, and resolute in executing them: for as the most exquisite cunning and most undaunted boldness qualified him for any undertaking, so was he not restrained by any of those weaknesses which disappoint the views of mean and vulgar souls, and which are comprehended in one general term of honesty, which is a corruption of HONOSTY, a word derived from what the Greeks call an ass. He was entirely free from those low vices of modesty and good-nature, which, as he said, implied a total negation of human greatness, and were the only qualities which absolutely rendered a man incapable of making a considerable figure in the world. His lust was inferior only to his ambition; but, as for what simple people call love, he knew not what it was. His avarice was immense, but it was of the rapacious, not of the tenacious kind; his rapaciousness was indeed so violent, that nothing ever contented him but the whole; for, however considerable the share was which his coadjutors allowed him of a booty, he was restless in inventing means to make himself master of the smallest pittance reserved by them.

[O]ur hero, by a constant and steady adherence to his rules in conforming everything he did to them, acquired at length a settled habit of walking by them, till at last he was in no danger of inadvertently going out of the way; and by these means he arrived at that degree of greatness, which few have equalled; none, we may say, have exceeded: for, though it must be allowed that there have been some few heroes, who have done greater mischiefs to mankind, such as those who have betrayed the liberty of their country to others, or have undermined and overpowered it themselves; or conquerors who have impoverished, pillaged, sacked, burnt, and destroyed the countries and cities of their fellow-creatures, from no other provocation than that of glory, i. e., as the tragic poet calls it,

a privilege to kill,
A strong temptation to do bravely ill;

yet, if we consider it in the light wherein actions are placed in this line,

Laetius est, quoties magno tibi constat honestum;

when we see our hero, without the least assistance or pretence, setting himself at the head of a gang, which he had not any shadow of right to govern; if we view him maintaining absolute power, and exercising tyranny over a lawless crew, contrary to all law but that of his own will; if we consider him setting up an open trade publickly, in defiance not only of the laws of his country but of the common sense of his countrymen; if we see him first contriving the robbery of others, and again the defrauding the very robbers of that booty, which they had ventured their necks to acquire, and which without any hazard, they might have retained; here sure he must appear admirable, and we may challenge not only the truth of history, but almost the latitude of fiction, to equal his glory.

Nor had he any of those flaws in his character which, though they have been commended by weak writers, have (as I hinted in the beginning of this history) by the judicious reader been censured and despised. Such was the clemency of Alexander and Caesar, which nature had so grossly erred in giving them, as a painter would who should dress a peasant in robes of state or give the nose or any other feature of a Venus to a satyr. What had the destroyers of mankind, that glorious pair, one of whom came into the world to usurp the dominion and abolish the constitution of his own country; the other to conquer, enslave, and rule over the whole world, at least as much as was well known to him, and the shortness of his life would give him leave to visit; what had, I say, such as these to do with clemency? Who cannot see the absurdity and contradiction of mixing such an ingredient with those noble and great qualities I have before mentioned? Now, in Wild everything was truly great, almost without alloy, as his imperfections (for surely some small ones he had) were only such as served to denominate him a human creature, of which kind none ever arrived at consummate excellence. But surely his whole behaviour to his friend Heartfree is a convincing proof that the true iron or steel greatness of his heart was not debased by any softer metal. Indeed, while greatness consists in power, pride, insolence, and doing mischief to mankind — to speak out — while a great man and a great rogue are synonymous terms, so long shall Wild stand unrivalled on the pinnacle of GREATNESS. Nor must we omit here, as the finishing of his character, what indeed ought to be remembered on his tomb or his statue, the conformity above mentioned of his death to his life; and that Jonathan Wild the Great, after all his mighty exploits, was, what so few GREAT men can accomplish — hanged by the neck till he was dead.

As to all the other persons mentioned in this history in the light of greatness, they had all the fate adapted to it, being every one hanged by the neck, save two, viz., Miss Theodosia Snap, who was transported to America, where she was pretty well married, reformed, and made a good wife; and the count, who recovered of the wound he had received from the hermit and made his escape into France, where he committed a robbery, was taken, and broke on the wheel.

Indeed, whoever considers the common fate of great men must allow they well deserve and hardly earn that applause which is given them by the world; for, when we reflect on the labours and pains, the cares, disquietudes, and dangers which attend their road to greatness, we may say with the divine that a man may go to heaven with half the pains which it costs him to purchase hell. To say the truth, the world have this reason at least to honour such characters as that of Wild: that, while it is in the power of every man to be perfectly honest, not one in a thousand is capable of being a complete rogue; and few indeed there are who, if they were inspired with the vanity of imitating our hero, would not after much fruitless pains be obliged to own themselves inferior to MR. JONATHAN WILD THE GREAT.

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Stephen Leacock: The war mania of middle age and embonpoint

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Stephen Leacock: In The Good Time After The War

It is easy to pay with the blood of others: Simone de Beauvoir


Stephen Leacock
The War Mania of Mr. Jinks and Mr. Blinks (1915)


What I noticed chiefly about the war mania of Jinks and Blinks was their splendid indifference to slaughter. They had gone into the war with a grim resolution to fight it out to a finish. If Blinks thought to terrify Jinks by threatening to burn London, he little knew his man. “All right,” said Jinks, taking a fresh light for his cigar, “burn it! By doing so, you destroy, let us say, two million of my women and children? Very good. Am I injured by that? No. You merely stimulate me to recruiting.”


They were sitting face to face at a lunch table at the club so near to me that I couldn’t avoid hearing what they said. In any case they are both stout men with gurgling voices which carry.

“What Kitchener ought to do,” – Jinks was saying in a loud voice.

So I knew at once that he had the prevailing hallucination. He thought he was commanding armies in Europe.

After which I watched him show with three bits of bread and two olives and a dessert knife the way in which the German army could be destroyed.

Blinks looked at Jinks’ diagram with a stern impassive face, modelled on the Sunday supplement photogravures of Lord Kitchener.

“Your flank would be too much exposed,” he said, pointing to Jinks’ bread. He spoke with the hard taciturnity of a Joffre.

“My reserves cover it,” said Jinks, moving two pepper pots to the support of the bread.

“Mind you,” Jinks went on, “I don’t say Kitchener will do this: I say this is what he ought to do: it’s exactly the tactics of Kuropatkin outside of Mukden and it’s precisely the same turning movement that Grant used before Richmond.”

Blinks nodded gravely. Anybody who has seen the Grand Duke Nicholoevitch quietly accepting the advice of General Ruski under heavy artillery fire, will realize Blinks’ manner to a nicety.

And, oddly enough, neither of them, I am certain, has ever had any larger ideas about the history of the Civil War than what can be got from reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and seeing Gillette play Secret Service. But this is part of the mania. Jinks and Blinks had suddenly developed the hallucination that they knew the history of all wars by a sort of instinct.

They rose soon after that, dusted off their waistcoats with their napkins and waddled heavily towards the door. I could hear them as they went talking eagerly of the need of keeping the troops in hard training. They were almost brutal in their severity. As they passed out of the door, – one at a time to avoid crowding, – they were still talking about it. Jinks was saying that our whole generation is overfed and soft. If he had his way he would take every man in the United States up to forty-seven years of age (Jinks is forty-eight) and train him to a shadow. Blinks went further. He said they should be trained hard up to fifty. He is fifty-one.

After that I used to notice Jinks and Blinks always together in the club, and always carrying on the European War.

I never knew which side they were on. They seemed to be on both. One day they commanded huge armies of Russians, and there was one week when Blinks and Jinks at the head of vast levies of Cossacks threatened to overrun the whole of Western Europe. It was dreadful to watch them burning churches and monasteries and to see Jinks throw whole convents full of white robed nuns into the flames like so much waste paper.

For a time I feared they would obliterate civilization itself. Then suddenly Blinks decided that Jinks’ Cossacks were no good, not properly trained. He converted himself on the spot into a Prussian Field Marshal, declared himself organised to a pitch of organisation of which Jinks could form no idea, and swept Jinks’ army off the earth, without using any men at all, by sheer organisation.

In this way they moved to and fro all winter over the map of Europe, carrying death and destruction everywhere and revelling in it.

But I think I liked best the wild excitement of their naval battles.

Jinks generally fancied himself a submarine and Blinks acted the part of a first-class battleship. Jinks would pop his periscope out of the water, take a look at Blinks merely for the fraction of a second, and then, like a flash, would dive under water again and start firing his torpedoes. He explained that he carried six.

But he was never quick enough for Blinks. One glimpse of his periscope miles and miles away was enough. Blinks landed him a contact shell in the side, sunk him with all hands, and then lined his yards with men and cheered. I have known Blinks sink Jinks at two miles, six miles – and once – in the club billiard room just after the battle of the Falkland Islands, – he got him fair and square at ten nautical miles.

Jinks of course claimed that he was not sunk. He had dived. He was two hundred feet under water quietly smiling at Blinks through his periscope. In fact the number of things that Jinks has learned to do through his periscope passes imagination.

Whenever I see him looking across at Blinks with his eyes half closed and with a baffling, quizzical expression in them, I know that he is looking at him through his periscope. Now is the time for Blinks to watch out. If he relaxes his vigilance for a moment he’ll be torpedoed as he sits, and sent flying, whiskey and soda and all, through the roof of the club, while Jinks dives into the basement.

Indeed it has come about of late, I don’t know just how, that Jinks has more or less got command of the sea. A sort of tacit understanding has been reached that Blinks, whichever army he happens at the moment to command, is invincible on land. But Jinks, whether as a submarine or a battleship, controls the sea. No doubt this grew up in the natural evolution of their conversation. It makes things easier for both. Jinks even asks Blinks how many men there are in an army division, and what a sotnia of Cossacks is and what the Army Service Corps means. And Jinks in return has become a recognized expert in torpedoes and has taken to wearing a blue serge suit and referring to Lord Beresford as Charley.

But what I noticed chiefly about the war mania of Jinks and Blinks was their splendid indifference to slaughter. They had gone into the war with a grim resolution to fight it out to a finish. If Blinks thought to terrify Jinks by threatening to burn London, he little knew his man. “All right,” said Jinks, taking a fresh light for his cigar, “burn it! By doing so, you destroy, let us say, two million of my women and children? Very good. Am I injured by that? No. You merely stimulate me to recruiting.”

There was something awful in the grimness of the struggle as carried on by Blinks and Jinks.

The rights of neutrals and non-combatants, Red Cross nurses, and regimental clergymen they laughed to scorn. As for moving-picture men and newspaper correspondents, Jinks and Blinks hanged them on every tree in Belgium and Poland.

With combatants in this frame of mind the war I suppose might have lasted forever.

But it came to an end accidentally, – fortuitously, as all great wars are apt to. And by accident also, I happened to see the end of it.

It was late one evening. Jinks and Blinks were coming down the steps of the club, and as they came they were speaking with some vehemence on their favourite topic.

“I tell you,” Jinks was saying, “war is a great thing. We needed it, Blinks. We were all getting too soft, too scared of suffering and pain. We wilt at a bayonet charge, we shudder at the thought of wounds. Bah!” he continued, “what does it matter if a few hundred thousands of human beings are cut to pieces. We need to get back again to the old Viking standard, the old pagan ideas of suffering – ”

And as he spoke he got it.

The steps of the club were slippery with the evening’s rain, – not so slippery as the frozen lakes of East Prussia or the hills where Jinks and Blinks had been campaigning all winter, but slippery enough for a stout man whose nation has neglected his training. As Jinks waved his stick in the air to illustrate the glory of a bayonet charge, he slipped and fell sideways on the stone steps. His shin bone smacked against the edge of the stone in a way that was pretty well up to the old Viking standard of such things. Blinks with the shock of the collision fell also, – backwards on the top step, his head striking first. He lay, to all appearance, as dead as the most insignificant casualty in Servia.

I watched the waiters carrying them into the club, with that new field ambulance attitude towards pain which is getting so popular. They had evidently acquired precisely the old pagan attitude that Blinks and Jinks desired.

And the evening after that I saw Blinks and Jinks, both more or less bandaged, sitting in a corner of the club beneath a rubber tree, making peace.

Jinks was moving out of Montenegro and Blinks was foregoing all claims to Polish Prussia; Jinks was offering Alsace-Lorraine to Blinks, and Blinks in a fit of chivalrous enthusiasm was refusing to take it. They were disbanding troops, blowing up fortresses, sinking their warships and offering indemnities which they both refused to take. Then as they talked, Jinks leaned forward and said something to Blinks in a low voice, – a final proposal of terms evidently.

Blinks nodded, and Jinks turned and beckoned to a waiter, with the words, –

“One Scotch whiskey and soda, and one stein of Wurtemburger Bier -”

And when I heard this, I knew that the war was over.

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Stefan Zweig: The fear of opposing military hysteria

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment


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


Stefan Zweig: Romain Rolland and the campaign against hatred


Stefan Zweig
From Beware of Pity (1938)
Translated by Anthea Bell

I listened in astonishment, my interest particularly aroused by the vehemence with which he now went on: ‘Don’t let us deceive ourselves. If in any country whatever a recruiting campaign were to be launched today for some utterly preposterous war, a war in Polynesia or in some corner of Africa, thousands and hundreds of thousands would rush to the colours without really knowing why, perhaps merely out of a desire to run away from themselves or from disagreeable circumstances. But as for any effective opposition to a war – I wouldn’t care to put it above zero. It always demands a far greater degree of courage for an individual to oppose an organized movement than to let himself be carried along with the stream – individual courage, that is, a variety of courage that is dying out in these times of progressive organization and mechanization. During the war practically the only courage I came across was mass courage, the courage that comes of being one of a herd, and anyone who examines this phenomenon more closely will find it to be compounded of some very strange elements: a great deal of vanity, a great deal of recklessness and even boredom, but, above all, a great deal of fear – yes, fear of staying behind, fear of being sneered at, fear of independent action, and fear, above all, of taking a stand against the mass enthusiasm of one’s fellows. It was not until later on in civil life that I personally realized that most of those reputed to be the bravest at the front were very questionable heroes – oh, please don’t misunderstand me!’ he said, turning politely to our host, who was pulling a wry face. ‘I do not by any means except myself.‘

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Li Bai: Nefarious War

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Li Bai/Li Po (701-762)
Nefarious War
Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata

Last year we fought by the head-stream of the So-Kan,
This year we are fighting on the Tsung-ho road.
We have washed our armor in the waves of the Chiao-chi lake,
We have pastured our horses on Tien-shan’s snowy slopes.
The long, long war goes on ten thousand miles from home.
Our three armies are worn and grown old.

The barbarian does man-slaughter for plowing;
On his yellow sand-plains nothing has been seen but blanched skulls and bones.
Where the Chin emperor built the walls against the Tartars,
There the defenders of Han are burning beacon fires.
The beacon fires burn and never go out.
There is no end to war! –

In the battlefield men grapple each other and die;
The horses of the vanquished utter lamentable cries to heaven,
While ravens and kites peck at human entrails,
Carry them up in their flight, and hang them on the branches of dead trees.
So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.

Oh, nefarious war! I see why arms
Were so seldom used by the benign sovereigns.

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Nicolás Guillén: Come, dove, come tell me the tale of your woe

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Nicolás Guillén
From Tengo (1964)
Translated by Robert Márquez

Come, dove, oh dove, come
tell me the tale of your woe.

I’ve seen two men passing
with guns and with flags;
the one rode a pinto,
the other a black mare.
For remote lands they left
their houses and wives,
with hate as their escort,
bearing death in their hands.
I asked “Where are you going?”
and both spoke at once:
“Dove, we go riding,
go riding to war,”
so they say, then
on eight hooves they fly,
dressed in dust and in sun,
with guns and with flags,
one rides a pinto
the other a black mare.

Come, dove, oh dove, come
tell me the tale of your woe.

I’ve seen widows passing
like no two I’ve seen;
they are like two statues
formed of one single tear.
“Where are you going,
my ladies?” I asked.
“We go for our husbands,
oh dove,” they replied.
“Of their going and coming
bitter tidings we have;
they are laid out and dead now,
both dead on the grass,
maggots feast on their stomachs,
buzzards perch on their heads,
their silent guns fireless
and their flags without air;
the pinto horse panicked,
the black mare she fled.”

Come, dove, oh dove, come
tell me the tale of your woe.

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Jorge Guillén: The monsters have passed over

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Jorge Guillén
Ruins With Fear
Translated by Cola Franzen

No, it’s not possible to collect all the rubble. There’s too much. And so
they are caught between the horror light brings and ordinary daily life.

The city survives by sheer effort before silent stones, knocked out
of kilter, half-cocked, leveled, on an even keel with the great human

Skeletal structures yet retain living fibrils. The emissaries of Reason,
will they fly again on their wings of Providential Archangel?

And among some intact forms, saved by chance (someone not
human), so many cracks still throb from the passage of the monsters.

The monsters have passed over. Passed! Around the suffering mutilated
walls the air becomes cloudy. Will the monsters come back?

Horrible ruins with no beauty. Ruins with the dread of not even
existing as anguish, side by side with the diabolical blade set in place
by the Archangel.

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Audio interview: Tenth anniversary of Afghan war and emergence of global NATO

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

The Corbett Report
October 6, 2011

Rick Rozoff of Stop Nato International joins us to discuss the significance of the 10th anniversary of the NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

Audio interview

The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in early 1989.
Operation Desert Storm was conducted against Iraq.
Regarding NATO’s Contact Countries, for South Africa read South Korea.
Pardon the plethora of you knows. Don’t know how so many were used.

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Pablo Neruda: Bandits with planes, jackals that the jackals would despise

October 7, 2011 1 comment

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

Pablo Neruda
I’m Explaining a Few Things (1936)
Translated by Robert Bly

Emphasis added

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?

I’ll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel?
Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings –
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets

without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

see my dead house,
look at broken Spain:
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!


Explico Algunas Cosas

Preguntaréis: Y dónde están las lilas?
Y la metafísica cubierta de amapolas?
Y la lluvia que a menudo golpeaba
sus palabras llenándolas
de agujeros y pájaros?

Os voy a contar todo lo que me pasa.

Yo vivía en un barrio
de Madrid, con campanas,
con relojes, con árboles.

Desde allí se veía
el rostro seco de Castilla
como un océano de cuero.
Mi casa era llamada
la casa de las flores, porque por todas partes
estallaban geranios: era
una bella casa
con perros y chiquillos.
Raúl, te acuerdas?
Te acuerdas, Rafael?
Federico, te acuerdas
debajo de la tierra,
te acuerdas de mi casa con balcones en donde
la luz de junio ahogaba flores en tu boca?
Hermano, hermano!
eran grandes voces, sal de mercaderías,
aglomeraciones de pan palpitante,
mercados de mi barrio de Argüelles con su estatua
como un tintero pálido entre las merluzas:
el aceite llegaba a las cucharas,
un profundo latido
de pies y manos llenaba las calles,
metros, litros, esencia
aguda de la vida,
pescados hacinados,
contextura de techos con sol frío en el cual
la flecha se fatiga,
delirante marfil fino de las patatas,
tomates repetidos hasta el mar.

Y una mañana todo estaba ardiendo
y una mañana las hogueras
salían de la tierra
devorando seres,
y desde entonces fuego,
pólvora desde entonces,
y desde entonces sangre.
Bandidos con aviones y con moros,
bandidos con sortijas y duquesas,
bandidos con frailes negros bendiciendo
venían por el cielo a matar niños,
y por las calles la sangre de los niños
corría simplemente, como sangre de niños.

Chacales que el chacal rechazaría,
piedras que el cardo seco mordería escupiendo,
víboras que las víboras odiaran!

Frente a vosotros he visto la sangre
de España levantarse
para ahogaros en una sola ola
de orgullo y de cuchillos!

mirad mi casa muerta,
mirad España rota:
pero de cada casa muerta sale metal ardiendo
en vez de flores,
pero de cada hueco de España
sale España,
pero de cada niño muerto sale un fusil con ojos,
pero de cada crimen nacen balas
que os hallarán un día el sitio
del corazón.

Preguntaréis por qué su poesía
no nos habla del sueño, de las hojas,
de los grandes volcanes de su país natal?

Venid a ver la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver
la sangre por las calles,
venid a ver la sangre
por las calles!


Keeping Quiet
Translated by Alastair Reid

And now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about,
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve,
and you keep quiet and I will go.

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Leigh Hunt: Some Remarks On War And Military Statesmen

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Leigh Hunt: Captain Sword and Captain Pen

Leigh Hunt: The devilish drouth of the cannon’s ever-gaping mouth


Leigh Hunt
Containing Some Remarks On War And Military Statesmen (1835)


Is a murder in the streets worth attending to, – a single wounded man worth carrying to the hospital, – and are all the murders, and massacres, and fields of wounded, and the madness, the conflagrations, the famines, the miseries of families, and the rickety frames and melancholy bloods of posterity, only fit to have an embroidered handkerchief thrown over them?

It is high time for the world to show that it has come to man’s estate, and can put down what is wrong without violence. Should the wrong still return, we should have a right to say with the Apostle, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” for meanwhile we should “not have done evil that good may come.” That “good” may come! nay, that evil may be perpetuated; for what good, superior to the alternatives denounced, is achieved by this eternal round of war and its causes?

I firmly believe, that war, or the sending thousands of our fellow-creatures to cut one another to bits, often for what they have no concern in, nor understand, will one day be reckoned far more absurd than if people were to settle an argument over the dinner-table with their knives, – a logic indeed, which was once fashionable in some places during the “good old times.” The world has seen the absurdity of that practice: why should it not come to years of discretion, with respect to violence on a larger scale?


The object of this poem is to show the horrors of war, the false ideas of power produced in the minds of its leaders, and, by inference, the unfitness of those leaders for the government of the world.

The author intends no more offence to any one than can be helped: he feels due admiration for that courage and energy, the supposed misdirection of which it deplores; he heartily acknowledges the probability, that that supposed misdirection has been hitherto no misdirection, but a necessity – but he believes that the time is come when, by encouraging the disposition to question it, its services and its sufferings may be no longer required, and he would fain tear asunder the veil from the sore places of war, – would show what has been hitherto kept concealed, or not shown earnestly, and for the purpose, – would prove, at all events, that the time has come for putting an end to those phrases in the narratives of warfare, by which a suspicious delicacy is palmed upon the reader, who is told, after everything has been done to excite his admiration of war, that his feelings are “spared” a recital of its miseries – that “a veil” is drawn over them – a “truce” given to descriptions which only “harrow up the soul,” &c.

Suppose it be necessary to “harrow up the soul,” in order that the soul be no longer harrowed? Moralists and preachers do not deal after this tender fashion with moral, or even physical consequences, resulting from other evils. Why should they spare these? Why refuse to look their own effeminacy in the face, – their own gaudy and overweening encouragement of what they dare not contemplate in its results? Is a murder in the streets worth attending to, – a single wounded man worth carrying to the hospital, – and are all the murders, and massacres, and fields of wounded, and the madness, the conflagrations, the famines, the miseries of families, and the rickety frames and melancholy bloods of posterity, only fit to have an embroidered handkerchief thrown over them? Must “ladies and gentlemen” be called off, that they may not “look that way,” the “sight is so shocking”? Does it become us to let others endure, what we cannot bear even to think of?

Even if nothing else were to come of inquiries into the horrors of war, surely they would cry aloud for some better provision against their extremity after battle, – for some regulated and certain assistance to the wounded and agonized, – so that we might hear no longer of men left in cold and misery all night, writhing with torture, – of bodies stripped by prowlers, perhaps murderers, – and of frenzied men, the other day the darlings of their friends, dying, two and even several days after the battle, of famine! The field of Waterloo was not completely cleared of its dead and dying till nearly a week! Surely large companies of men should be organized for the sole purpose of assisting and clearing away the field after battle. They should be steady men, not lightly admitted, nor unpossessed of some knowledge of surgery, and they should be attached to the surgeon’s staff. Both sides would respect them for their office, and keep them sacred from violence. Their duties would be too painful and useful to get them disrespected for not joining in the fight – and possibly, before long, they would help to do away their own necessity, by detailing what they beheld. Is that the reason why there is no such establishment? The question is asked, not in bitterness, but to suggest a self-interrogation to the instincts of war.

I have not thought proper to put notes to the poem, detailing the horrors which I have touched upon; nor even to quote my authorities, which are unfortunately too numerous, and contain worse horrors still. They are furnished by almost every history of a campaign, in all quarters of the world. Circumstances so painful, in a first attempt to render them public for their own sakes, would, I thought, even meet with less attention in prose than in verse, however less fitted they may appear for it at first sight. Verse, if it has any enthusiasm, at once demands and conciliates attention; it proposes to say much in little; and it associates with it the idea of something consolatory, or otherwise sustaining. But there is one prose specimen of these details, which I will give, because it made so great an impression on me in my youth, that I never afterwards could help calling it to mind when war was spoken of; and as I had a good deal to say on that subject, having been a public journalist during one of the most interesting periods of modern history, and never having been blinded into an admiration of war by the dazzle of victory, the circumstance may help to show how salutary a record of this kind may be, and what an impression the subject might be brought to make on society. The passage is in a note to one of Mr Southey‘s poems, the “Ode to Horror,” and is introduced by another frightful record, less horrible, because there is not such agony implied in it, nor is it alive.

“I extract” (says Mr Southey) “the following picture of consummate horror from notes to a poem written in twelve-syllable verse, upon the campaign of 1794 and 1795: it was during the retreat to Deventer. ‘We could not proceed a hundred yards without perceiving the dead bodies of men, women, children, and horses, in every direction. One scene made an impression upon my memory which time will never be able to efface. Near another cart we perceived a stout-looking man and a beautiful young woman, with an infant, about seven months old, at the breast, all three frozen and dead. The mother had most certainly expired in the act of suckling her child; as with one breast exposed she lay upon the drifted snow, the milk to all appearance in a stream drawn from the nipple by the babe, and instantly congealed. The infant seemed as if its lips had but just then been disengaged, and it reposed its little head upon the mother’s bosom, with an overflow of milk, frozen as it trickled from the mouth. Their countenances were perfectly composed and fresh, resembling those of persons in a sound and tranquil slumber.'”

“The following description (he continues) of a field of battle is in the words of one who passed over the field of Jemappe, after Doumourier’s victory: ‘It was on the third day after the victory obtained by general Doumourier over the Austrians, that I rode across the field of battle. The scene lies on a waste common, rendered then more dreary by the desertion of the miserable hovels before occupied by peasants. Everything that resembled a human habitation was desolated, and for the most part they had been burnt or pulled down, to prevent their affording shelter to the posts of the contending armies. The ground was ploughed up by the wheels of the artillery and waggons; everything like herbage was trodden into mire; broken carriages, arms, accoutrements, dead horses and men, were strewed over the heath. This was the third day after the battle: it was the beginning of November, and for three days a bleak wind and heavy rain had continued incessantly. There were still remaining alive several hundreds of horses, and of the human victims of that dreadful fight. I can speak with certainty of having seen more than four hundred men still living, unsheltered, without food, and without any human assistance, most of them confined to the spot where they had fallen by broken limbs. The two armies had proceeded, and abandoned these miserable wretches to their fate. Some of the dead persons appeared to have expired in the act of embracing each other. Two young French officers, who were brothers, had crawled under the side of a dead horse, where they had contrived a kind of shelter by means of a cloak: they were both mortally wounded, and groaning for each other. One very fine young man had just strength enough to drag himself out of a hollow partly filled with water, and was laid upon a little hillock groaning with agony; A GRAPE-SHOT HAD CUT ACROSS THE UPPER PART OF HIS BELLY, AND HE WAS KEEPING IN HIS BOWELS WITH A HANDKERCHIEF AND HAT. He begged of me to end his misery! He complained of dreadful thirst. I filled him the hat of a dead soldier with water, which he nearly drank off at once, and left him to that end of his wretchedness which could not be far distant.'”

“I hope (concludes Mr Southey), I have always felt and expressed an honest and Christian abhorrence of wars, and of the systems that produce them; but my ideas of their immediate horrors fell infinitely short of this authentic picture.”

Mr Southey, in his subsequent lives of conquerors, and his other writings, will hardly be thought to have acted up to this “abhorrence of wars, and of the systems that produce them.” Nor is he to be blamed for qualifying his view of the subject, equally blameless (surely) as they are to be held who have retained their old views, especially by him who helped to impress them. His friend Mr Wordsworth, in the vivacity of his admonitions to hasty complaints of evil, has gone so far as to say that “Carnage is God’s daughter,” and thereby subjected himself to the scoffs of a late noble wit. He is addressing the Deity himself: –

“But thy most dreaded instrument,
In working out a pure intent,
Is man, array’d for mutual slaughter:
Yea, Carnage is thy daughter.”

Mr Wordsworth is a great poet and a philosophical thinker, in spite of his having here paid a tremendous compliment to a rhyme (for unquestionably the word “slaughter” provoked him into that imperative “Yea,” and its subsequent venturous affiliation); but the judgment, to say no more of it, is rash. Whatever the Divine Being intends, by his permission or use of evil, it becomes us to think the best of it; but not to affirm the appropriation of the particulars to him under their worst appellation, seeing that he has implanted in us a horror of them, and a wish to do them away. What it is right in him to do, is one thing; what it is proper in us to affirm that he actually does, is another. And, above all, it is idle to affirm what he intends to do for ever, and to have us eternally venerate and abstain from questioning an evil. All good and evil, and vice and virtue themselves, might become confounded in the human mind by a like daring; and humanity sit down under every buffet of misfortune, without attempting to resist it: which, fortunately, is impossible. Plato cut this knotty point better, by regarding evil as a thing senseless and unmalignant (indeed no philosopher regards anything as malignant, or malignant for malignity’s sake); out of which, or notwithstanding it, good is worked, and to be worked, perhaps, finally to the abolition of evil. But whether this consummation be possible or not, and even if the dark horrors of evil be necessary towards the enjoyment of the light of good, still the horror must be maintained, where the object is really horrible; otherwise, we but the more idly resist the contrast, if necessary – and, what is worse, endanger the chance of melioration, if possible.

Did war appear to me an inevitable evil, I should be one of the last men to shew it in any other than its holiday clothes. I can appeal to writings before the public, to testify whether I am in the habit of making the worst of anything, or of not making it yield its utmost amount of good. My inclinations, as well as my reason, lie all that way. I am a passionate and grateful lover of all the beauties of the universe, moral and material; and the chief business of my life is to endeavour to give others the like fortunate affection. But, on the same principle, I feel it my duty to look evil in the face, in order to discover if it be capable of amendment; and I do not see why the miseries of war are to be spared this interrogation, simply because they are frightful and enormous. Men get rid of smaller evils which lie in their way – nay, of great ones; and there appears to be no reason why they should not get rid of the greatest, if they will but have the courage. We have abolished inquisitions and the rack, burnings for religion, burnings for witchcraft, hangings for forgery (a great triumph in a commercial country), much of the punishment of death in some countries, all of it in others. Why not abolish war? Mr Wordsworth writes no odes to tell us that the Inquisition was God’s daughter; though Lope de Vega, who was one of its officers, might have done so – and Mr Wordsworth too, had he lived under its dispensation. Lope de Vega, like Mr Wordsworth and Mr Southey, was a good man, as well as a celebrated poet: and we will concede to his memory what the English poets will, perhaps, not be equally disposed to grant (for they are severe on the Romish faith) that even the Inquisition, like War, might possibly have had some utility in its evil, were it no other than a hastening of Christianity by its startling contradictions of it. Yet it has gone. The Inquisition, as War may be hereafter, is no more. Daughter if it was of the Supreme Good, it was no immortal daughter. Why should “Carnage” be, – especially as God has put it in our heads to get rid of it?

I am aware of what may be said on these occasions, to “puzzle the will;” and I concede of course, that mankind may entertain false views of their power to change anything for the better. I concede, that all change may be only in appearance, and not make any real difference in the general amount of good and evil; that evil, to a certain invariable amount, may be necessary to the amount of good (the overbalance of which, with a most hearty and loving sincerity, I ever acknowledge); and finally, that all which the wisest of men could utter on any such subject, might possibly be nothing but a jargon, – the witless and puny voice of what we take to be a mighty orb, but which, after all, is only a particle in the starry dust of the universe.

On the other hand, all this may be something very different from what we take it to be, setting aside even the opinions which consider mind as everything, and time and space themselves as only modifications of it, or breathing-room in which it exists, weaving the thoughts which it calls life, death, and materiality.

But be his metaphysical opinions what they may, who but some fantastic individual, or ultra-contemplative scholar, ever thinks of subjecting to them his practical notions of bettering his condition! And how soon is it likely that men will leave off endeavouring to secure themselves against the uneasier chances of vicissitude, even if Providence ordains them to do so for no other end than the preservation of vicissitude itself, and not in order to help them out of the husks and thorns of action into the flowers of it, and into the air of heaven? Certain it is, at all events, that the human being is incited to increase his amount of good: and that when he is endeavouring to do so, he is at least not fulfilling the worst part of his necessity. Nobody tells us, when we attempt to put out a fire and to save the lives of our neighbours, that Conflagration is God’s daughter, or Murder God’s daughter. On the contrary, these are things which Christendom is taught to think ill off, and to wish to put down; and therefore we should put down war, which is murder and conflagration by millions.

To those who tell us that nations would grow cowardly and effeminate without war, we answer, “Try a reasonable condition of peace first, and then prove it. Try a state of things which mankind have never yet attained, because they had no press, and no universal comparison of notes; and consider, in the meanwhile, whether so cheerful, and intelligent, and just a state, seeing fair play between body and mind, and educated into habits of activity, would be likely to uneducate itself into what was neither respected nor customary. Prove, in the meanwhile, that nations are cowardly and effeminate, that have been long unaccustomed to war; that the South Americans are so; or that all our robust countrymen, who do not “go for soldiers,” are timid agriculturists and manufacturers, with not a quoit to throw on the green, or a saucy word to give to an insult. Moral courage is in self-respect and the sense of duty; physical courage is a matter of health or organization. Are these predispositions likely to fail in a community of instructed freemen? Doubters of advancement are always arguing from a limited past to an unlimited future; that is to say, from a past of which they know but a point, to a future of which they know nothing. They stand on the bridge “between two eternities,” seeing a little bit of it behind them, and nothing at all of what is before; and uttering those words unfit for mortal tongue, “man ever was” and “man ever will be.” They might as well say what is beyond the stars. It appears to be a part of the necessity of things, from what we see of the improvements they make, that all human improvement should proceed by the co-operation of human means. But what blinker into the night of next week, – what luckless prophet of the impossibilities of steam-boats and steam-carriages, – shall presume to say how far those improvements are to extend? Let no man faint in the co-operation with which God has honoured him.

As to those superabundances of population which wars and other evils are supposed to be necessary in order to keep down, there are questions which have a right to be put, long before any such necessity is assumed: and till those questions be answered, and the experiments dependent upon them tried, the interrogators have a right to assume that no such necessity exists. I do not enter upon them – for I am not bound to do so; but I have touched upon them in the poem; and the “too rich,” and other disingenuous half-reasoners, know well what they are. All passionate remedies for evil are themselves evil, and tend to re-produce what they remedy. It is high time for the world to show that it has come to man’s estate, and can put down what is wrong without violence. Should the wrong still return, we should have a right to say with the Apostle, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;” for meanwhile we should “not have done evil that good may come.” That “good” may come! nay, that evil may be perpetuated; for what good, superior to the alternatives denounced, is achieved by this eternal round of war and its causes? Let us do good in a good and kind manner, and trust to the co-operation of Providence for the result. It seems the only real way of attaining to the very best of which our earth is capable; and at the very worst, necessity, like the waters, will find its level, and the equity of things be justified.

I firmly believe, that war, or the sending thousands of our fellow-creatures to cut one another to bits, often for what they have no concern in, nor understand, will one day be reckoned far more absurd than if people were to settle an argument over the dinner-table with their knives, – a logic indeed, which was once fashionable in some places during the “good old times.” The world has seen the absurdity of that practice: why should it not come to years of discretion, with respect to violence on a larger scale? The other day, our own country and the United States agreed to refer a point in dispute to the arbitration of the king of Holland; a compliment (if we are to believe the newspapers) of which his majesty was justly proud. He struck a medal on the strength of it, which history will show as a set-off against his less creditable attempts to force his opinions upon the Belgians. Why should not every national dispute be referred, in like manner, to a third party? There is reason to suppose, that the judgment would stand a good chance of being impartial; and it would benefit the character of the judge, and dispose him to receive judgments of the same kind; till at length the custom would prevail, like any other custom; and men be astonished at the customs that preceded it. In private life, none but school-boys and the vulgar settle disputes by blows; even duelling is losing its dignity.

Two nations, or most likely two governments, have a dispute; they reason the point backwards and forwards; they cannot determine it; perhaps they do not wish to determine; so, like two carmen in the street, they fight it out; first, however, dressing themselves up to look fine, and pluming themselves on their absurdity; just as if the two carmen were to go and put on their Sunday clothes, and stick a feather in their hat besides, in order to be as dignified and fantastic as possible. They then “go at it,” and cover themselves with mud, blood, and glory. Can anything be more ridiculous? Yet, apart from the habit of thinking otherwise, and being drummed into the notion by the very toys of infancy, the similitude is not one atom too ludicrous; no, nor a thousandth part enough so. I am aware that a sarcasm is but a sarcasm, and need not imply any argument; never includes all; – but it acquires a more respectable character when so much is done to keep it out of sight, – when so many questions are begged against it by “pride, pomp, and circumstance,” and allegations of necessity. Similar allegations may be, and are brought forward, by other nations of the world, in behalf of customs which we, for our parts, think very ridiculous, and do our utmost to put down; never referring them, as we refer our own, to the mysterious ordinations of Providence; or, if we do, never hesitating to suppose, that Providence, in moving us to interfere, is varying its ordinations. Now, all that I would ask of the advocates of war, is to apply the possible justice of this supposition to their own case, for the purpose of thoroughly investigating the question.

But they will exultingly say, perhaps, “Is this a time for investigating the question, when military genius, even for civil purposes, has regained its ascendancy in the person of the Duke of Wellington? When the world has shown that it cannot do without him? When whigs, radicals, liberals of all sorts, have proved to be but idle talkers, in comparison with this man of few words and many deeds?” I answer, that it remains to be proved whether the ascendancy be gained or not; that I have no belief it will be regained; and that, in the meanwhile, never was time fitter for questioning the merits of war, and, by inference, those of its leaders. The general peacefulness of the world presents a fair opportunity for laying the foundations of peaceful opinion; and the alarm of the moment renders the interrogation desirable for its immediate sake.

The re-appearance of a military administration, or of an administration barely civil, and military at heart, may not, at first sight, be thought the most promising one for hastening a just appreciation of war, and the ascendancy of moral over physical strength. But is it, or can it be, lasting? Will it not provoke – is it not now provoking – a re-action still more peremptory against the claims of Toryism, than the state of things which preceded it? Is it anything but a flash of success, still more indicative of expiring life, and caused only by its convulsive efforts?

If it be, this it is easy enough to predict, that Sir Robert Peel, notwithstanding his abilities, and the better ambition which is natural to them, and which struggles in him with an inferior one, impatient of his origin, will turn out to be nothing but a servant of the aristocracy, and (more or less openly) of a barrack-master. He will be the servant, not of the King, not of the House of Commons, but of the House of Lords, and (as long as such influence lasts, which can be but a short while), of its military leader. He will do nothing whatsoever contrary to their dictation, upon peril of being treated worse than Canning; and all the reform which he is permitted to bring about will be only just as much as will serve to keep off the spirit of it as long as possible, and to continue the people in that state of comparative ignorance, which is the only safeguard of monopoly. Every unwilling step of reform will be accompanied with some retrograde or bye effort in favour of the abuses reformed: cunning occasion will be seized to convert boons, demanded by the age, into gifts of party favour, and bribes for the toleration of what is withheld; and as knowledge proceeds to extort public education (for extort it it will, and in its own way too at last), mark, and see what attempts will be made to turn knowledge against itself, and to catechise the nation back into the schoolboy acquiescence of the good people of Germany. Much good is there in that people – I would not be thought to undervalue it – much bonhommie – and in the most despotic districts, as much sensual comfort as can make any people happy who know no other happiness. But England and France, the leaders of Europe, the peregrinators of the world, cannot be confined to those lazy and prospectless paths. They have gone through the feudal reign; they must now go through the commercial (God forbid that for any body’s sake they should stop there!), and they will continue to advance, till all are instructed, and all are masters; and government, in however gorgeous a shape, be truly their servant. The problem of existing governments is how to prepare for this inevitable period, and to continue to be its masters, by converting themselves frankly and truly into its friends. For my part, as one of the people, I confess I like the colours and shows of feudalism, and would retain as much of them as would adorn nobler things. I would keep the tiger’s skin, though the beast be killed; the painted window, though the superstition be laid in the tomb. Nature likes external beauty, and man likes it. It softens the heart, enriches the imagination, and helps to show us that there are other goods in the world besides bare utility. I would fain see the splendours of royalty combined with the cheapness of a republic and the equal knowledge of all classes. Is such a combination impossible? I would exhort the lovers of feudal splendour to be the last men to think so; for a thousand times more impossible will they find its retention under any other circumstances. Their royalties, their educations, their accomplishments of all sorts, must go along with the Press and its irresistible consequences, or they will be set aside like a child in a corner, who has insisted on keeping the toys and books of his brothers to himself.

Now, there is nothing that irritates a just cause so much as a threatening of force; and all impositions of a military chief on a state, where civil directors will, at least, do as well, is a threatening of force, disguise it, or pretend to laugh at it, as its imposers may. This irritation in England will not produce violence. Public opinion is too strong, and the future too secure. But deeply and daily will increase the disgust and the ridicule; and individuals will get laughed at and catechised who cannot easily be sent out of the way as ambassadors, and who might as well preserve their self-respect a little better. To attempt, however quietly, to overawe the advance of improvement, by the aspect of physical force, is as idle as if soldiers were drawn out to suppress the rising of a flood. The flood rises quietly, irresistibly, without violence – it cannot help it – the waters of knowledge are out, and will “cover the earth.” Of what use is it to see the representative of a by-gone influence – a poor individual mortal (for he is nothing else in the comparison), fretting and fuming on the shore of this mighty sea, and playing the part of a Canute reversed, – an antic really taking his flatterers at their word?

The first thirty-five years of the nineteenth century have been rich in experiences of the sure and certain failure of all soldiership and Toryism to go heartily along in the cause of the many. There has been the sovereign instance of Napoleon Bonaparte himself – of the allies after him – of Charles the Tenth – of Louis Philippe, albeit a “schoolmaster,” – and lastly, of this strange and most involuntary Reformer the Duke of Wellington, who refused to do, under Canning, or for principle’s sake, what he consented to do when Canning died, for the sake of regaining power, and of keeping it with as few concessions as possible. Canning perished because Toryism, or the principle of power for its own sake, to which he had been a servant, could not bear to acknowledge him as its master. His intellect was just great enough (as his birth was small enough) to render it jealous of him under that aspect. There is an instinct in Toryism which renders pure intellect intolerable to it, except in some inferior or mechanical shape, or in the flattery of voluntary servitude. But, by a like instinct, it is not so jealous of military renown. It is glad of the doubtful amount of intellect in military genius, and knows it to be a good ally in the preservation of power, and in the substitution of noise and show for qualities fearless of inspection. Is it an ascendancy of this kind which the present age requires, or will permit? Do we want a soldier at the head of us, when there is nobody abroad to fight with? when international as well as national questions can manifestly settle themselves without him? and when his appearance in the seat of power can indicate nothing but a hankering after those old substitutions of force for argument, or at best of “an authority for a reason,” which every step of reform is hoping to do away? Do we want him to serve in our shops? to preside over our studies? to cultivate “peace and good will” among nations? wounding no self love – threatening no social?

There never was a soldier, purely brought up as such – and it is of such only I speak, and not of rare and even then perilous exceptions, – men educated in philosophy like Epaminondas, or in homely household virtues and citizenship like Washington – but there never was a soldier such as I speak of, who did more for the world than was compatible with his confined and arbitrary breeding. I do not speak, of course, with reference to the unprofessional part of his character. Circumstances, especially the participation of dangers and vicissitude, often conspire with naturally good qualities to render soldiers the most amiable of men; and nothing is more delightful to contemplate than an old military veteran, whose tenderness of heart has survived the shocks of the rough work it has been tried in, till twenty miserable sights of war and horror start up to the imagination as a set-off against its attractiveness. But, publicly speaking, the more a soldier succeeds, the more he looks upon soldiership as something superior to all other kinds of ascendancy, and qualified to dispense with them. He always ends in considering the flower of the art of government as consisting in issuing “orders,” and that of popular duty as comprised in “obedience.” Cities with him are barracks, and the nation a conquered country. He is at best but a pioneer of civilization. When he undertakes to be the civilizer himself, he makes mistakes that betray him to others, even supposing him self-deceived. Napoleon, though he was the accidental instrument of a popular re-action, was one of the educated tools of the system that provoked it, – an officer brought up at a Royal Military College; and in spite of his boasted legislation and his real genius, such he ever remained. He did as much for his own aggrandizement as he could, and no more for the world than he thought compatible with it. The same military genius which made him as great as he was, stopped him short of a greater greatness; because, quick and imposing as he was in acting the part of a civil ruler, he was in reality a soldier and nothing else, and by the excess of the soldier’s propensity (aggrandizement by force), he over-toppled himself, and fell to pieces. Soldiership appears to have narrowed or hardened the public spirit of every man who has spent the chief part of his life in it, who has died at an age which gives final proofs of its tendency, and whose history is thoroughly known. We all know what Cromwell did to an honest parliament. Marlborough ended in being a miser and the tool of his wife. Even good-natured, heroic Nelson condescended to become an executioner at Naples. Frederick did much for Prussia, as a power; but what became of her as a people, or power either, before the popular power of France? Even Washington seemed not to comprehend those who thought that negro-slaves ought to be freed.

In the name of common sense then, what do we want with a soldier who was born and bred in circumstances the most arbitrary; who never advocated a liberal measure as long as he could help it; and who (without meaning to speak presumptuously, or in one’s own person unauthorized by opinion) is one of the merest soldiers, though a great one, that ever existed, – without genius of any other sort, – with scarcely a civil public quality either commanding or engaging (as far as the world in general can see), – and with no more to say for himself than the most mechanical clerk in office? In what respect is the Duke of Wellington better fitted to be a parliamentary leader, than the Sir Arthur Wellesley of twenty years back? Or what has re-cast the habits and character of the Colonel Wellesley of the East Indies, to give him an unprofessional consideration for the lives and liberties of his fellow-creatures?

And yet the Duke of Wellington (it is said) may, after all, be in earnest in his professions of reform and advancement. If so, he will be the most remarkable instance that ever existed, of the triumph of reason over the habits of a life, and the experience of mankind. I have looked for some such man through a very remarkable period of the world, when an honest declaration to this effect would have set him at the top of mankind, to be worshipped for ever; and I never found the glorious opportunity seized, – not by Napoleon when he came from Elba, – not by the allies when they conquered him, – not by Louis Philippe, though he was educated in adversity. I mean that he has shown himself a prince born, of the most aristocratic kind; and evidently considers himself as nothing but the head of a new dynasty. When the Duke of Wellington had the opportunity of being a reformer, of his own free will, he resisted it as long as he could. He opposed reform up to the last moment of its freedom from his dictation; he declared that ruin would follow it; that the institutions of the country were perfect without it; and that, at the very least, the less of it the better. And for this enmity, even if no other reason existed, – even if his new light were sincere, – the Duke of Wellington ought not to have the honour of leading reform. It is just as if a man had been doing all he could to prevent another from entering his own house, and then, when he found that the by-standers would insist on his having free passage, were to turn to them, smiling, and say, “Well, since it must be so, allow me to do the honours of the mansion.” Everybody knows what this proposal would be called by the by-standers. And if the way in which greatness is brought up and spoilt gives it a right to a less homely style of rebuke (as I grant it does), still the absurdity of the Duke’s claim is not the less evident, nor the air of it less provoking.

I can imagine but two reasons for the remotest possible permission of this glaring anomaly – this government of anti-reforming reformers – this hospital of sick guides for the healthy, supported by involuntary contributions: first, sheer necessity (which is ludicrous); and second, a facilitation of church reform through the Lords and the bench of Bishops; the desirableness of which facilitation appears to be in no proportion to the compromise it is likely to make with abuses. I have read, I believe, all the utmost possible things that can be said in its favour, the articles, for instance, written by the Times newspaper (admirable, as far as a rotten cause can let them be, and when not afflicted by some portentous mystery of personal resentment); and though I trust I may lay claim to as much willingness to be convinced, as most men who have suffered and reflected, I have not seen a single argument which did not appear to me fully answered by the above objection alone (about the “honour”); setting aside the innumerable convincing ones urged by reasoners on the other side: for as to any dearth of statesmen in a country like this, it never existed, nor ever can, till education and public spirit have entirely left it. There have been the same complaints at every change in the history of administrations; and the crop has never failed.

Allow me to state here, that any appearance of personality in this book is involuntary. Public principles are sometimes incarnate in individual shapes; and, in attacking them, the individual may be seemingly attacked, where, to eyes which look a little closer, there is evidently no such intention. I have been obliged to identify, in some measure, the Power of the Sword with several successive individuals, and with the Duke of Wellington most, because he is the reigning shape, and includes all its pretensions. But as an individual who am nothing, except in connexion with what I humanly feel, I dare to affirm, that I have not only the consideration that becomes me for all human beings, but a flesh and blood regard for every body; and that I as truly respect in the Noble Duke the possession of military science, of a straight-forward sincerity, and a valour of which no circumstances or years can diminish the ready firmness, as I doubt the fitness of a man of his education, habits, and political principles, for the guidance of an intellectual age.

I dislike Toryism, because I think it an unjust, exacting, and pernicious thing, which tends to keep the interests of the many in perpetual subjection to those of the few; but far be it from me, in common modesty, to dislike those who have been brought up in its principles, and taught to think them good, – far less such of them as adorn it by intellectual or moral qualities, and who justly claim for it, under its best aspect in private life, that ease and urbanity of behaviour which implies an acknowledgment of its claims to respect, even where those claims are partly grounded in prejudice. I heartily grant to the privileged classes, that, enjoying in many respects the best educations, they have been conservators of polished manners, and of the other graces of intercourse. My quarrel with them is, that the inferior part of their education induces them to wish to keep these manners and graces to themselves, together with a superabundance, good for nobody, of all other advantages; and that thus, instead of being the preservers of a beautiful and genial flame, good for all, and in due season partakeable by all, they would hoard and make an idolatrous treasure of it, sacred to one class alone, and such as the diffusion of knowledge renders it alike useless and exasperating to endeavour to withhold.

I will conclude this Postscript with quotations from three writers of the present day, who may be fairly taken to represent the three distinct classes of the leaders of knowledge, and who will show what is thought of the feasibility of putting an end to war, – the Utilitarian, or those who are all for the tangible and material – the Metaphysical, or those who recognize, in addition, the spiritual and imaginative wants of mankind – and lastly (in no offensive sense), the Men of the World, whose opinion will have the greatest weight of all with the incredulous, and whose speaker is a soldier to boot, and a man who evidently sees fair play to all the weaknesses as well as strengths of our nature.

The first quotation is from the venerable Mr Bentham, a man who certainly lost sight of no existing or possible phase of society, such as the ordinary disputants on this subject contemplate. I venture to think him not thoroughly philosophical on the point, especially in what he says in reproach of men educated to think differently from himself. But the passage will show the growth of opinion in a practical and highly influential quarter.

“Nothing can be worse,” says Mr Bentham, “than the general feeling on the subject of war. The Church, the State, the ruling few, the subject many, all seem to have combined, in order to patronise vice and crime in their very widest sphere of evil. Dress a man in particular garments, call him by a particular name, and he shall have authority, on divers occasions, to commit every species of offence, to pillage, to murder, to destroy human felicity, and, for so doing, he shall be rewarded.

“Of all that is pernicious in admiration, the admiration of heroes is the most pernicious; and how delusion should have made us admire what virtue should teach us to hate and loathe, is among the saddest evidences of human weakness and folly. The crimes of heroes seem lost in the vastness of the field they occupy. A lively idea of the mischief they do, of the misery they create, seldom penetrates the mind through the delusions with which thoughtlessness and falsehood have surrounded their names and deeds. Is it that the magnitude of the evil is too gigantic for entrance? We read of twenty thousand men killed in a battle, with no other feeling than that ‘it was a glorious victory.’ Twenty thousand, or ten thousand, what reck we of their sufferings? The
hosts who perished are evidence of the completeness of the triumph; and the completeness of the triumph is the measure of merit, and the glory of the conqueror. Our schoolmasters, and the immoral books they so often put into our hands, have inspired us with an affection for heroes; and the hero is more heroic in proportion to the
numbers of the slain – add a cypher, not one iota is added to our disapprobation. Four or two figures give us no more sentiment of pain than one figure, while they add marvellously to the grandeur and splendour of the victor. Let us draw forth one individual from those thousands, or tens of thousands, – his leg has been shivered by one ball, his jaw broken by another – he is bathed in his own blood, and that of his fellows – yet he lives, tortured by thirst, fainting, famishing. He is but one of the twenty thousand – one of the
actors and sufferers in the scene of the hero’s glory – and of the twenty thousand there is scarcely one whose suffering or death will not be the centre of a circle of misery. Look again, admirers of that hero! Is not this wretchedness? Because it is repeated ten, ten hundred, ten thousand times, is not this wretchedness?

“The period will assuredly arrive, when better instructed generations will require all the evidence of history to credit, that, in times deeming themselves enlightened, human beings should have been honoured with public approval, in the very proportion of the misery they caused, and the mischiefs they perpetrated. They will call
upon all the testimony which incredulity can require, to persuade them that, in passed ages, men there were – men, too, deemed worthy of popular recompense – who, for some small pecuniary retribution, hired themselves out to do any deeds of pillage, devastation, and murder, which might be demanded of them. And, still more will it shock their sensibilities to learn, that such men, such men-destroyers, were marked out as the eminent and
the illustrious – as the worthy of laurels and monuments – of eloquence and poetry. In that better
and happier epoch, the wise and the good will be busied in hurling into oblivion, or dragging forth
for exposure to universal ignominy and obloquy, many of the heads we deem heroic; while the true
fame and the perdurable glories will be gathered around the creators and diffusers of happiness.” –Deontology.

Our second quotation is from one of the subtilest and most universal thinkers now living – Thomas Carlyle – chiefly known to the public as a German scholar and the friend of Goethe, but deeply respected by other leading intellects of the day, as a man who sees into the utmost recognized possibilities of knowledge. See what he thinks of war, and of the possibility of putting an end to it. We forget whether we got the extract from the Edinburgh or the Foreign Quarterly Review, having made it sometime back and mislaid the reference; and we take a liberty with him in mentioning his name as the writer, for which his zeal in the cause of mankind will assuredly pardon us.

“The better minds of all countries,” observes Mr Carlyle, “begin to understand each other, and, which follows naturally, to love each other and help each other, by whom ultimately all countries in all their proceedings are governed.

“Late in man’s history, yet clearly, at length, it becomes manifest to the dullest, that mind is stronger than matter – that mind is the creator and shaper of matter – that not brute force, but only persuasion and faith, is the King of this world. The true poet, who is but an inspired thinker, is still an Orpheus whose lyre tames the savage beasts, and evokes the dead rocks to fashion themselves into palaces and stately inhabited
cities. It has been said, and may be repeated, that literature is fast becoming all in all to us – our Church, our Senate, our whole social constitution. The true Pope of Christendom is not that feeble old man in Rome, nor is its autocrat the Napoleon, the Nicholas, with its half million even of obedient bayonets; such autocrat is
himself but a more cunningly-devised bayonet and military engine in the hands of a mightier than he. The true autocrat, or Pope, is that man, the real or seeming wisest of the last age; crowned after death; who finds his hierarchy of gifted authors, his clergy of assiduous journalists: whose decretals, written, not on parchment, but on the living souls of men, it were an inversion of the laws of nature to disobey. In these times of
ours, all intellect has fused itself into literature; literature – printed thought, is the molten sea and wonder-bearing chaos, in which mind after mind casts forth its opinion, its feeling, to be molten into the general mass, and to be worked there; interest after interest is engulfed in it, or embarked in it; higher, higher it rises round all the edifices of existence; they must all be molten into it, and anew bodied forth from it, or stand unconsumed among its fiery surges. Woe to him whose edifice is not built of true asbest, and
on the everlasting rock, but on the false sand and the drift-wood of accident, and the paper and parchment of antiquated habit! For the power or powers exist not on our earth that can say to that sea – roll back, or bid its proud waves be still.

“What form so omnipotent an element will assume – how long it will welter to and fro as a wild democracy, a wilder anarchy – what constitution and organization it will fashion for itself, and for what depends on it in the depths of time, is a subject for prophetic conjecture, wherein brightest hope is not unmingled with
fearful apprehensions and awe at the boundless unknown. The more cheering is this one thing, which we do see and know – that its tendency is to a universal European commonweal; that the wisest in all nations will communicate and co-operate; whereby Europe will again have its true Sacred College and council of Amphictyons; wars will become rarer, less inhuman; and in the course of centuries, such delirious ferocity in nations, as
in individuals it already is, may be proscribed and become obsolete for ever.”

My last and not least conclusive extract (for it shows the actual hold which these speculations have taken of the minds of practical men – of men out in the world, and even of soldiers) is from a book popular among all classes of readers – the Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, written by Major Sir Francis Head. What he says of one country’s educating another, by the natural progress of books and opinion, and of the effect which this is likely to have upon governments even as remote and unwilling as Russia, is particularly worthy of attention.

The author is speaking of some bathers at whom he had been looking, and of a Russian Prince, who lets us into some curious information respecting the leading-strings in which grown gentlemen are kept by despotism: –

“For more than half an hour I had been indolently watching this amphibious scene, when the landlord
entering my room said, that the Russian Prince, G—-n, wished to speak to me on some business; and the information was scarcely communicated, when I perceived his Highness standing at the threshold of my door. With the attention due to his rank, I instantly begged he would do me the honour to walk in; and, after we had sufficiently bowed to each other, and that I had prevailed on my guest to sit down, I gravely requested him, as
I stood before him, to be so good as to state in what way I could have the good fortune to render him any service. The Prince very briefly replied, that he had called upon me, considering that I was the person in the hotel best capable (he politely inclined his head) of informing him by what route it would be most adviseable for him to proceed to London, it being his wish to visit my country.

“In order at once to solve this very simple problem, I silently unfolded and spread out upon the table my map of Europe; and each of us, as we leant over it, placing a forefinger on or near Wiesbaden (our eyes being fixed upon Dover), we remained in this reflecting attitude for some seconds, until the Prince’s finger first solemnly
began to trace its route. In doing this, I observed that his Highness’s hand kept swerving far into the Netherlands, so, gently pulling it by the thumb towards Paris, I used as much force as I thought decorous, to induce it to advance in a straight line; however, finding my efforts ineffectual, I ventured with respectful
astonishment, to ask, ‘Why travel by so uninteresting a route’?

“The Prince at once acknowledged that the route I had recommended would, by visiting Paris, afford him the greatest pleasure; but he frankly told me that no Russian, not even a personage of his rank, could enter that capital, without first obtaining a written permission from the Emperor.

“These words were no sooner uttered, than I felt my fluent civility suddenly begin to coagulate; the attention I paid my guest became forced and unnatural. I was no longer at my ease; and though I bowed, strained, and endeavoured to be, if possible, more respectful than ever, yet I really could hardly prevent my lips from muttering aloud, that I had sooner die a homely English peasant than live to be a Russian prince! – in short, his Highness’s words acted upon my mind like thunder upon beer. And, moreover, I could almost have sworn that I was an old lean wolf, contemptuously observing a bald ring rubbed by the collar, from the neck of a sleek, well-fed mastiff dog; however, recovering myself, I managed to give as much information as it was in my humble power to afford; and my noble guest then taking his departure, I returned to my open window, to give vent in solitude (as I gazed upon the horse bath) to my own reflection upon the subject.

“Although the petty rule of my life has been never to trouble myself about what the world calls ‘politics’- (a fine word, by the by, much easier expressed than understood) – yet, I must own, I am always happy when I see a nation enjoying itself, and melancholy when I observe any large body of people suffering pain or imprisonment. But of all sorts of imprisonment, that of the mind is, to my taste, the most cruel; and, therefore, when I
consider over what immense dominions the Emperor of Russia presides, and how he governs, I cannot help sympathizing most sincerely with those innocent sufferers, who have the misfortune to be born his subjects; for if a Russian Prince be not freely permitted to go to Paris, in what a melancholy state of slavery and debasement must exist the minds of what we call the lower classes?

“As a sovereign remedy for this lamentable political disorder, many very sensible people in England prescribe, I know, that we ought to have resource to arms. I must confess, however, it seems to me that one of the greatest political errors England could commit would be to declare, or to join in declaring, war with Russia; in
short, that an appeal to brute force would, at this moment, be at once most unscientifically to stop an immense moral engine, which, if left to its work, is quite powerful enough, without bloodshed, to gain for humanity, at no expense at all, its object. The individual who is, I conceive, to overthrow the Emperor of Russia – who
is to direct his own legions against himself – who is to do what Napoleon had at the head of his great army failed to effect, is the little child, who, lighted by the single wick of a small lamp, sits at this moment perched above the great steam press of the ‘Penny Magazine,’ feeding it, from morning till night, with blank papers, which, at almost every pulsation of the engine, comes out stamped on both sides with engravings, and with pages of plain, useful, harmless knowledge, which, by making the lower orders acquainted with foreign
lands, foreign productions, various states of society, &c., tend practically to inculcate ‘Glory
to God in the highest, and on earth peace – good will towards men.’ It has already been stated, that what proceeds from this press is now greedily devoured by the people of Europe; indeed, even at Berlin, we know it can hardly be reprinted fast enough.

“This child, then, – ‘this sweet little cherub that sits up aloft,’- is the only army that an enlightened country like ours should, I humbly think, deign to oppose to one who reigns in darkness – who trembles at day-light, and whose throne rests upon ignorance and despotism. Compare this mild, peaceful intellectual policy, with the dreadful, savage alternative of going to war, and the difference must surely be evident to everyone.
In the former case, we calmly enjoy, first of all, the pleasing reflection, that our country is generously imparting to the nations of Europe the blessing she is tranquilly deriving from the purification of civilization to her own mind; – far from wishing to exterminate, we are gradually illuminating the Russian peasant, we are mildly throwing a gleam of light upon the fetters of the Russian Prince; and surely every well-disposed person must see, that if we will only have patience, the result of this noble, temperate conduct, must produce all that reasonable beings can desire.” Bubbles from the Brunnens of Nassau, p. 164.

By the ‘Penny Magazine,’ our author means, of course, not only that excellent publication, but all cheaply-diffused knowledge – all the tranquil and enlightening deeds of “Captain Pen” in general – of whom it is pleasant to see the gallant Major so useful a servant, the more so from his sympathies with rank and the aristocracy. But “Pen” will make it a matter of necessity, by and by, for all ranks to agree with him, in vindication of their own wit and common sense; and when once this necessity is felt, and fastidiousness shall find out that it will be considered “absurd” to lag behind in the career of knowledge and the common good, the cause of the world is secure.

May princes and people alike find it out by the kindliest means, and without further violence. May they discover that no one set of human beings, perhaps no single individual, can be thoroughly secure and content, or enabled to work out his case with equal reasonableness, till all are so, – a subject for reflection, which contains, we hope, the beneficent reason why all are restless. The solution of the problem is co-operation – the means of solving it is the Press. If the Greeks had had a press, we should probably have heard nothing of the inconsiderate question, which demands, why they, with all their philosophy, did not alter the world. They had not the means. They could not command a general hearing. Neither had Christianity come up, to make men think of one another’s wants, as well as of their own accomplishments. Modern times possess those means, and inherit that divine incitement. May every man exert himself accordingly, and show himself a worthy inhabitant of this beautiful and most capable world!

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Leigh Hunt: Captain Sword and Captain Pen

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Leigh Hunt: The devilish drouth of the cannon’s ever-gaping mouth

Leigh Hunt: Some Remarks On War And Military Statesmen


Leigh Hunt
Captain Sword and Captain Pen
A Poem (1835)

If there be in glory aught of good,
It may by means far different be attained,
Without ambition, war, or violence. – Milton.

This Poem is the result of a sense of duty, which has taken the Author from quieter studies during a great public crisis. He obeyed the impulse with joy, because it took the shape of verse; but with more pain, on some accounts, than he chooses to express. However, he has done what he conceived himself bound to do; and if every zealous lover of his species were to express his feelings in like manner, to the best of his ability, individual opinions, little in themselves, would soon amount to an overwhelming authority, and hasten the day of reason and beneficence.

The measure is regular with an irregular aspect, — four accents in a verse, — like that of Christabel, or some of the poems of Sir Walter Scott:

Càptain Swòrd got ùp one dày—
And the flàg full of hònour, as thòugh it could feèl—

He mentions this, not, of course, for readers in general, but for the sake of those daily acceders to the list of the reading public, whose knowledge of books is not yet equal to their love of them.

Canto I
How Captain Sword marched to War.

Captain Sword got up one day,
Over the hills to march away,
Over the hills and through the towns,
They heard him coming across the downs,
Stepping in music and thunder sweet,
Which his drums sent before him into the street.
And lo! ’twas a beautiful sight in the sun;
For first came his foot, all marching like one,
With tranquil faces, and bristling steel,
And the flag full of honour as though it could feel,
And the officers gentle, the sword that hold
‘Gainst the shoulder heavy with trembling gold,
And the massy tread, that in passing is heard,
Though the drums and the music say never a word.

And then came his horse, a clustering sound
Of shapely potency, forward bound,
Glossy black steeds, and riders tall,
Rank after rank, each looking like all,
Midst moving repose and a threatening charm,
With mortal sharpness at each right arm,
And hues that painters and ladies love,
And ever the small flag blush’d above.

And ever and anon the kettle-drums beat
Hasty power midst order meet;
And ever and anon the drums and fifes
Came like motion’s voice, and life’s;
Or into the golden grandeurs fell
Of deeper instruments, mingling well,
Burdens of beauty for winds to bear;
And the cymbals kiss’d in the shining air,
And the trumpets their visible voices rear’d,
Each looking forth with its tapestried beard,
Bidding the heavens and earth make way
For Captain Sword and his battle-array.

He, nevertheless, rode indifferent-eyed,
As if pomp were a toy to his manly pride,
Whilst the ladies lov’d him the more for his scorn,
And thought him the noblest man ever was born,
And tears came into the bravest eyes,
And hearts swell’d after him double their size,
And all that was weak, and all that was strong,
Seem’d to think wrong’s self in him could not be wrong;
Such love, though with bosom about to be gored,
Did sympathy get for brave Captain Sword.

So, half that night, as he stopp’d in the town,
‘Twas all one dance, going merrily down,
With lights in windows and love in eyes,
And a constant feeling of sweet surprise;
But all the next morning ’twas tears and sighs;
For the sound of his drums grew less and less,
Walking like carelessness off from distress;
And Captain Sword went whistling gay,
“Over the hills and far away.”

Canto II.
How Captain Sword won a Great Victory.
Through fair and through foul went Captain Sword,
Pacer of highway and piercer of ford,
Steady of face in rain or sun,
He and his merry men, all as one;
Till they came to a place, where in battle-array
Stood thousands of faces, firm as they,
Waiting to see which could best maintain
Bloody argument, lords of pain;
And down the throats of their fellow-men
Thrust the draught never drunk again.

It was a spot of rural peace,
Ripening with the year’s increase
And singing in the sun with birds,
Like a maiden with happy words –
With happy words which she scarcely hears
In her own contented ears,
Such abundance feeleth she
Of all comfort carelessly,
Throwing round her, as she goes,
Sweet half-thoughts on lily and rose,
Nor guesseth what will soon arouse
All ears – that murder’s in the house;
And that, in some strange wrong of brain,
Her father hath her mother slain.

Steady! steady! The masses of men
Wheel, and fall in, and wheel again,
Softly as circles drawn with pen.

Then a gaze there was, and valour, and fear,
And the jest that died in the jester’s ear,
And preparation, noble to see,
Of all-accepting mortality;
Tranquil Necessity gracing Force;
And the trumpets danc’d with the stirring horse;
And lordly voices, here and there,
Call’d to war through the gentle air;
When suddenly, with its voice of doom,
Spoke the cannon ‘twixt glare and gloom,
Making wider the dreadful room:
On the faces of nations round
Fell the shadow of that sound.

Death for death! The storm begins;
Rush the drums in a torrent of dins;
Crash the muskets, gash the swords;
Shoes grow red in a thousand fords;
Now for the flint, and the cartridge bite;
Darkly gathers the breath of the fight,
Salt to the palate and stinging to sight;
Muskets are pointed they scarce know where,
No matter: Murder is cluttering there.
Reel the hollows: close up! close up!
Death feeds thick, and his food is his cup.
Down go bodies, snap burst eyes;
Trod on the ground are tender cries;
Brains are dash’d against plashing ears;
Hah! no time has battle for tears;
Cursing helps better – cursing, that goes
Slipping through friends’ blood, athirst for foes’.
What have soldiers with tears to do? –
We, who this mad-house must now go through,
This twenty-fold Bedlam, let loose with knives –
To murder, and stab, and grow liquid with lives –
Gasping, staring, treading red mud,
Till the drunkenness’ self makes us steady of blood?

[Oh! shrink not thou, reader! Thy part’s in it too;
Has not thy praise made the thing they go through
Shocking to read of, but noble to do?]

No time to be “breather of thoughtful breath”
Has the giver and taker of dreadful death.
See where comes the horse-tempest again,
Visible earthquake, bloody of mane!
Part are upon us, with edges of pain;
Part burst, riderless, over the plain,
Crashing their spurs, and twice slaying the slain.
See, by the living God! see those foot
Charging down hill – hot, hurried, and mute!
They loll their tongues out! Ah-hah! pell-mell!
Horses roll in a human hell;
Horse and man they climb one another –
Which is the beast, and which is the brother?
Mangling, stifling, stopping shrieks
With the tread of torn-out cheeks,
Drinking each other’s bloody breath –
Here’s the fleshliest feast of Death.
An odour, as of a slaughter-house,
The distant raven’s dark eye bows.

Victory! victory! Man flies man;
Cannibal patience hath done what it can –
Carv’d, and been carv’d, drunk the drinkers down,
And now there is one that hath won the crown:
One pale visage stands lord of the board –
Joy to the trumpets of Captain Sword!

His trumpets blow strength, his trumpets neigh,
They and his horse, and waft him away;
They and his foot, with a tir’d proud flow,
Tatter’d escapers and givers of woe.
Open, ye cities! Hats off! hold breath!
To see the man who has been with Death;
To see the man who determineth right
By the virtue-perplexing virtue of might.
Sudden before him have ceas’d the drums,
And lo! in the air of empire he comes!

All things present, in earth and sky,
Seem to look at his looking eye.

Canto III.
Of the Ball that was given to Captain Sword.
But Captain Sword was a man among men,
And he hath become their playmate again:
Boot, nor sword, nor stern look hath he,
But holdeth the hand of a fair ladye,
And floweth the dance a palace within,
Half the night, to a golden din,
Midst lights in windows and love in eyes,
And a constant feeling of sweet surprise;
And ever the look of Captain Sword
Is the look that’s thank’d, and the look that’s ador’d.

There was the country-dance, small of taste;
And the waltz, that loveth the lady’s waist;
And the galopade, strange agreeable tramp,
Made of a scrape, a hobble, and stamp;
And the high-stepping minuet, face to face,
Mutual worship of conscious grace;
And all the shapes in which beauty goes
Weaving motion with blithe repose.

And then a table a feast displayed,
Like a garden of light without a shade,
All of gold, and flowers, and sweets,
With wines of old church-lands, and sylvan meats,
Food that maketh the blood feel choice;
Yet all the face of the feast, and the voice,
And heart, still turn’d to the head of the board;
For ever the look of Captain Sword
Is the look that’s thank’d, and the look that’s ador’d.

Well content was Captain Sword;
At his feet all wealth was pour’d;
On his head all glory set;
For his ease all comfort met;
And around him seem’d entwin’d
All the arms of womankind.

And when he had taken his fill
Thus, of all that pampereth will,
In his down he sunk to rest,
Clasp’d in dreams of all its best.

Canto IV.
On What took place on the Field of Battle the Night after the Victory.
‘Tis a wild night out of doors;
The wind is mad upon the moors,
And comes into the rocking town,
Stabbing all things, up and down,
And then there is a weeping rain
Huddling ‘gainst the window-pane,
And good men bless themselves in bed;
The mother brings her infant’s head
Closer, with a joy like tears,
And thinks of angels in her prayers;
Then sleeps, with his small hand in hers.

Two loving women, lingering yet
Ere the fire is out, are met,
Talking sweetly, time-beguil’d,
One of her bridegroom, one her child,
The bridegroom he. They have receiv’d
Happy letters, more believ’d
For public news, and feel the bliss
The heavenlier on a night like this.
They think him hous’d, they think him blest,
Curtain’d in the core of rest,
Danger distant, all good near;
Why hath their “Good night” a tear?

Behold him! By a ditch he lies
Clutching the wet earth, his eyes
Beginning to be mad. In vain
His tongue still thirsts to lick the rain,
That mock’d but now his homeward tears;
And ever and anon he rears
His legs and knees with all their strength,
And then as strongly thrusts at length.
Rais’d, or stretch’d, he cannot bear
The wound that girds him, weltering there:
And “Water!” he cries, with moonward stare.

[“I will not read it!” with a start,
Burning cries some honest heart;
“I will not read it! Why endure
Pangs which horror cannot cure?
Why – Oh why? and rob the brave
And the bereav’d of all they crave,
A little hope to gild the grave?”

Ask’st thou why, thou honest heart?
‘Tis because thou dost ask, and because thou dost start.
‘Tis because thine own praise and fond outward thought
Have aided the shews which this sorrow have wrought.]

A wound unutterable – Oh God!
Mingles his being with the sod.

[“I’ll read no more.” – Thou must, thou must:
In thine own pang doth wisdom trust.]

His nails are in earth, his eyes in air,
And “Water!” he crieth – he may not forbear.
Brave and good was he, yet now he dreams
The moon looks cruel; and he blasphemes.

[“No more! no more!” Nay, this is but one;
Were the whole tale told, it would not be done
From wonderful setting to rising sun.
But God’s good time is at hand – be calm,
Thou reader! and steep thee in all thy balm
Of tears or patience, of thought or good will,
For the field – the field awaiteth us still.]

“Water! water!” all over the field:
To nothing but Death will that wound-voice yield.
One, as he crieth, is sitting half bent;
What holds he so close? – his body is rent.
Another is mouthless, with eyes on cheek;
Unto the raven he may not speak.
One would fain kill him; and one half round
The place where he writhes, hath up beaten the ground.
Like a mad horse hath he beaten the ground,
And the feathers and music that litter it round,
The gore, and the mud, and the golden sound.
Come hither, ye cities! ye ball-rooms, take breath!
See what a floor hath the dance of death!

The floor is alive, though the lights are out;
What are those dark shapes, flitting about?
Flitting about, yet no ravens they,
Not foes, yet not friends – mute creatures of prey;
Their prey is lucre, their claws a knife,
Some say they take the beseeching life.
Horrible pity is theirs for despair,
And they the love-sacred limbs leave bare.
Love will come to-morrow, and sadness,
Patient for the fear of madness,
And shut its eyes for cruelty,
So many pale beds to see.
Turn away, thou Love, and weep
No more in covering his last sleep;
Thou hast him – blessed is thine eye!
Friendless Famine has yet to die.

Canto IV
A shriek! – Great God! what superhuman
Peal was that? Not man, nor woman,
Nor twenty madmen, crush’d, could wreak
Their soul in such a ponderous shriek.
Dumbly, for an instant, stares
The field; and creep men’s dying hairs.

O friend of man! O noble creature!
Patient and brave, and mild by nature,
Mild by nature, and mute as mild,
Why brings he to these passes wild
Thee, gentle horse, thou shape of beauty?
Could he not do his dreadful duty,
(If duty it be, which seems mad folly)
Nor link thee to his melancholy?

Two noble steeds lay side by side,
One cropp’d the meek grass ere it died;
Pang-struck it struck t’ other, already torn,
And out of its bowels that shriek was born.

Now see what crawleth, well as it may,
Out of the ditch, and looketh that way.
What horror all black, in the sick moonlight,
Kneeling, half human, a burdensome sight;
Loathly and liquid, as fly from a dish;
Speak, Horror! thou, for it withereth flesh.

“The grass caught fire; the wounded were by;
Writhing till eve did a remnant lie;
Then feebly this coal abateth his cry;
But he hopeth! he hopeth! joy lighteth his eye,
For gold he possesseth, and Murder is nigh!”

O goodness in horror! O ill not all ill!
In the worst of the worst may be fierce Hope still.
To-morrow with dawn will come many a wain,
And bear away loads of human pain,
Piles of pale beds for the ‘spitals; but some
Again will awake in home-mornings, and some,
Dull herds of the war, again follow the drum.
From others, faint blood shall in families flow,
With wonder at life, and young oldness in woe,
Yet hence may the movers of great earth grow.
Now, even now, I hear them at hand,
Though again Captain Sword is up in the land,
Marching anew for more fields like these
In the health of his flag in the morning breeze.

Sneereth the trumpet, and stampeth the drum,
And again Captain Sword in his pride doth come;
He passeth the fields where his friends lie lorn,
Feeding the flowers and the feeding corn,
Where under the sunshine cold they lie,
And he hasteth a tear from his old grey eye.
Small thinking is his but of work to be done,
And onward he marcheth, using the sun:
He slayeth, he wasteth, he spouteth his fires
On babes at the bosom, and bed-rid sires;
He bursteth pale cities, through smoke and through yell,
And bringeth behind him, hot-blooded, his hell.
Then the weak door is barr’d, and the soul all sore,
And hand-wringing helplessness paceth the floor,
And the lover is slain, and the parents are nigh –

Oh God! let me breathe, and look up at thy sky!
Good is as hundreds, evil as one;
Round about goeth the golden sun.

Canto V.
How Captain Sword, in Consequence of his Great Victories, became infirm in his Wits.
But to win at the game, whose moves are death,
It maketh a man draw too proud a breath:
And to see his force taken for reason and right,
It tendeth to unsettle his reason quite.
Never did chief of the line of Sword
Keep his wits whole at that drunken board.
He taketh the size, and the roar, and fate,
Of the field of his action, for soul as great:
He smiteth and stunneth the cheek of mankind,
And saith “Lo! I rule both body and mind.”

Captain Sword forgot his own soul,
Which of aught save itself, resented controul;
Which whatever his deeds, ordained them still,
Bodiless monarch, enthron’d in his will:
He forgot the close thought, and the burning heart,
And pray’rs, and the mild moon hanging apart,
Which lifteth the seas with her gentle looks,
And growth, and death, and immortal books,
And the Infinite Mildness, the soul of souls,
Which layeth earth soft ‘twixt her silver poles;
Which ruleth the stars, and saith not a word;
Whose speed in the hair of no comet is heard;
Which sendeth the soft sun, day by day,
Mighty, and genial, and just alway,
Owning no difference, doing no wrong,
Loving the orbs and the least bird’s song,
The great, sweet, warm angel, with golden rod,
Bright with the smile of the distance of God.

Captain Sword, like a witless thing,
Of all under heaven must needs be king,
King of kings, and lord of lords,
Swayer of souls as well as of swords,
Ruler of speech, and through speech, of thought;
And hence to his brain was a madness brought.
He madden’d in East, he madden’d in West,
Fiercer for sights of men’s unrest,
Fiercer for talk, amongst awful men,
Of their new mighty leader, Captain Pen,
A conqueror strange, who sat in his home
Like the wizard that plagued the ships of Rome,
Noiseless, show-less, dealing no death,
But victories, winged, went forth from his breath.

Three thousand miles across the waves
Did Captain Sword cry, bidding souls be slaves:
Three thousand miles did the echo return
With a laugh and a blow made his old cheeks burn.

Then he call’d to a wrong-maddened people, and swore
Their name in the map should never be more:
Dire came the laugh, and smote worse than before.
Were earthquake a giant, up-thrusting his head
And o’erlooking the nations, not worse were the dread.

Then, lo! was a wonder, and sadness to see;
For with that very people, their leader, stood he,
Incarnate afresh, like a Cæsar of old;
But because he look’d back, and his heart was cold,
Time, hope, and himself for a tale he sold.
Oh largest occasion, by man ever lost!
Oh throne of the world, to the war-dogs tost!

He vanished; and thinly there stood in his place
The new shape of Sword, with an humbler face,
Rebuking his brother, and preaching for right,
Yet aye when it came, standing proud on his might,
And squaring its claims with his old small sight;
Then struck up his drums, with ensign furl’d,
And said, “I will walk through a subject world:
Earth, just as it is, shall for ever endure,
The rich be too rich, and the poor too poor;
And for this I’ll stop knowledge. I’ll say to it, ‘Flow
Thus far; but presume no farther to flow:
For me, as I list, shall the free airs blow.'”

Laugh’d after him loudly that land so fair,
“The king thou set’st over us, by a free air
Is swept away, senseless.” And old Sword then
First knew the might of great Captain Pen.
So strangely it bow’d him, so wilder’d his brain,
That now he stood, hatless, renouncing his reign;
Now mutter’d of dust laid in blood; and now
‘Twixt wonder and patience went lifting his brow.
Then suddenly came he, with gowned men,
And said, “Now observe me – I’m Captain Pen:
I’ll lead all your changes – I’ll write all your books –
I’m every thing – all things – I’m clergymen, cooks,
Clerks, carpenters, hosiers – I’m Pitt – I’m Lord Grey.”

‘Twas painful to see his extravagant way;
But heart ne’er so bold, and hand ne’er so strong,
What are they, when truth and the wits go wrong?

Of Captain Pen, and how he fought with Captain Sword.
Now tidings of Captain Sword and his state
Were brought to the ears of Pen the Great,
Who rose and said, “His time is come.”
And he sent him, but not by sound of drum,
Nor trumpet, nor other hasty breath,
Hot with questions of life and death,
But only a letter calm and mild;
And Captain Sword he read it, and smil’d,
And said, half in scorn, and nothing in fear,
(Though his wits seem’d restor’d by a danger near,
For brave was he ever) “Let Captain Pen
Bring at his back a million men,
And I’ll talk with his wisdom, and not till then.”
Then replied to his messenger Captain Pen,
“I’ll bring at my back a world of men.”

Out laugh’d the captains of Captain Sword,
But their chief look’d vex’d, and said not a word,
For thought and trouble had touch’d his ears
Beyond the bullet-like sense of theirs,
And wherever he went, he was ‘ware of a sound
Now heard in the distance, now gathering round,
Which irk’d him to know what the issue might be;
But the soul of the cause of it well guess’d he.

Indestructible souls among men
Were the souls of the line of Captain Pen;
Sages, patriots, martyrs mild,
Going to the stake, as child
Goeth with his prayer to bed;
Dungeon-beams, from quenchless head;
Poets, making earth aware
Of its wealth in good and fair;
And the benders to their intent,
Of metal and of element;
Of flame the enlightener, beauteous,
And steam, that bursteth his iron house;
And adamantine giants blind,
That, without master, have no mind.

Heir to these, and all their store,
Was Pen, the power unknown of yore;
And as their might still created might,
And each work’d for him by day and by night,
In wealth and wondrous means he grew,
Fit to move the earth anew;
Till his fame began to speak
Pause, as when the thunders wake,
Muttering, in the beds of heaven:
Then, to set the globe more even,
Water he call’d, and Fire, and Haste,
Which hath left old Time displac’d –
And Iron, mightiest now for Pen,
Each of his steps like an army of men –
(Sword little knew what was leaving him then)
And out of the witchcraft of their skill,
A creature he call’d, to wait on his will –
Half iron, half vapour, a dread to behold –
Which evermore panted and evermore roll’d,
And uttered his words a million fold.
Forth sprang they in air, down raining like dew,
And men fed upon them, and mighty they grew.

Ears giddy with custom that sound might not hear,
But it woke up the rest, like an earthquake near;
And that same night of the letter, some strange
Compulsion of soul brought a sense of change;
And at midnight the sound grew into a roll
As the sound of all gath’rings from pole to pole,
From pole unto pole, and from clime to clime,
Like the roll of the wheels of the coming of time; –
A sound as of cities, and sound as of swords
Sharpening, and solemn and terrible words,
And laughter as solemn, and thunderous drumming,
A tread as if all the world were coming.
And then was a lull, and soft voices sweet
Call’d into music those terrible feet,
Which rising on wings, lo! the earth went round
To the burn of their speed with a golden sound;
With a golden sound, and a swift repose,
Such as the blood in the young heart knows;
Such as Love knows, when his tumults cease;
When all is quick, and yet all is at peace.

And when Captain Sword got up next morn,
Lo! a new-fac’d world was born;
For not an anger nor pride would it shew,
Nor aught of the loftiness now found low,
Nor would his own men strike a single blow:
Not a blow for their old, unconsidering lord
Would strike the good soldiers of Captain Sword;
But weaponless all, and wise they stood,
In the level dawn, and calm brotherly good;
Yet bowed to him they, and kiss’d his hands,
For such were their new lord’s commands,
Lessons rather, and brotherly plea;
Reverence the past, quoth he;
Reverence the struggle and mystery,
And faces human in their pain;
Nor his the least, that could sustain
Cares of mighty wars, and guide
Calmly where the red deaths ride.

“But how! what now?” cried Captain Sword;
“Not a blow for your gen’ral? not even a word?
What! traitors? deserters?”

“Ah no!” cried they;
“But the ‘game’s’ at an end; the ‘wise’ wont play.”

“And where’s your old spirit?”

“The same, though another;
Man may be strong without maiming his brother.”

“But enemies?”

“Enemies! Whence should they come,
When all interchange what was known but to some?”

“But famine? but plague? worse evils by far.”

“O last mighty rhet’ric to charm us to war!
Look round – what has earth, now it equably speeds,
To do with these foul and calamitous needs?
Now it equably speeds, and thoughtfully glows,
And its heart is open, never to close?

“Still I can govern,” said Captain Sword;
“Fate I respect; and I stick to my word.”
And in truth so he did; but the word was one
He had sworn to all vanities under the sun,
To do, for their conq’rors, the least could be done.
Besides, what had he with his worn-out story,
To do with the cause he had wrong’d, and the glory?

No: Captain Sword a sword was still,
He could not unteach his lordly will;
He could not attemper his single thought;
It might not be bent, nor newly wrought:
And so, like the tool of a disus’d art,
He stood at his wall, and rusted apart.

‘Twas only for many-soul’d Captain Pen
To make a world of swordless men.

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Alain: Why is there war?

October 4, 2011 Leave a comment

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

From Men of Action (1910)
Translated by Robert D. and Jane E. Cottrell

Power has no pity, not even for itself.

Why is there war? Because in war men become engulfed in action. Their thought is like those electric lights that dim as soon as the streetcar starts; I mean their rational thought. This accounts for the formidable power of action; and it is self-justifying by virtue of the fact that it extinguishes the inner light of reason…But Justice, too, is extinguished in the course of action…That is why there were torturers who turned the screws and judges who heard the confessions. That is why there were galley slaves chained to their benches, who suffered in agony and then died, while moving in rhythm with the oars; and other men, who cracked the whip. Those who cracked the whip thought of nothing but the whip. Any kind of barbarism, once established, will last. A police commissioner is the happiest of men; I would not say that he is the most useful of men. Idleness is the mother of all vices, but also of all virtues.

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Remy de Gourmont: Getting drunk at the dirty cask of militarism

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

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

Remy de Gourmont: If they wage war, in what state must the world be?

Remy de Gourmont
From Epilogues: First Series (1903)
Translated by Richard Aldington

M. Taine, who was a great intelligence, was one of the men of his age who seemed to emit the falsest ideas and the most venturesome judgments…I remember being very much scandalised at reading in one of his books that it was an immense advantage for the modern individual to belong to one of the great European nations; it seemed to me that he had forgotten that in return for the protection they offer their members the great nations impose sacrifices on them and demand services which nothing can counter-balance. For example, they impose upon them a noisy, blind and continual hatred or a disorderly love for another nation, according to the chance of battles and diplomacies; they make upon them the dreadful exaction of military service under conditions of duration and barbarity which are giving the European the soul and attitude of a beaten dog; and finally, as a consequence of a slavery, consented to with joy, with howls, they take upon themselves the pure and simple right of life and death over all the males they control…

In the time that Taine wrote there were still some continental countries, some small countries, where men could dispose freely of their lives. Tomorrow there will be not one and Taine will be right; when all the Belgians are soldiers there will be no advantage (it was the only one) in being a Belgian…For Belgium is beginning to get drunk at the dirty cask of militarism, and Holland, already intoxicated, claims almost unanimously the formula of modern slavery: “Equal military service for all!” In this ancient land of liberty only the Catholic party has protested, not without a certain disgust; it has taken as the text for its polemics these words, which are a principle: “No man should be a soldier by force.” The others have arguments, the most curious of which is that the consequence of the reform will be a raising of the intellectual and moral level of the troops; it is more probable that in Holland, as everywhere else, it will only succeed in brutalising the nation, by inculcating in all men the taste for obedience and passivity. At bottom it is the triumph of German influence and of the Prussian motto: “Serve, pay and be silent.”


Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893): French historian and literary scholar.

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Pindar: The arts versus war

October 1, 2011 Leave a comment


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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Pindar: Shall war spread unbounded ruin round?


Excerpts from The Odes
Translated by Richmond Lattimore

Pythia 1

Golden lyre, held of Apollo in common possession
with the violet-haired Muses: the dance steps, leaders of
festival, heed you;
the singers obey your measures
when, shaken with music, you cast the beat to lead choirs of

You have power to quench the speared thunderbolt
of flowing fire. Zeus’ eagle sleeps on his staff, folding his
quick wings both ways to quiet,
lord of birds; you shed a mist on his hooked head,
dark and gentle closure of eyes; dreaming, he ripples
his lithe back, bound in spell
of your waves. Violent Ares even, leaving aside the stern pride
of spears, makes gentle his heart in sleep.
Your shafts enchant the divinities by grace of the wisdom of
Lato’s son and the deep-girdled Muses.


Pythia 5

Apollo, who administers
to men and women healing of heavy sickness;
who gave the lyre and grants the Muse to whom he will,
bringing into their hearts
lawfulness without discord;
who sways the closed mantic


Pythia 10

Never on foot or ship could you find
the marvelous road to the feast of the Hyperboreans.

Never the Muse is absent
from their ways: lyres clash, and the flutes cry,
and everywhere maiden choruses whirling.
They bind their hair in golden laurel and take their holiday.
Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed
in their sacred blood; far from labor and battle
they live; they escape Nemesis,
the over just.


Pythia 8

In brief space mortals’
delight is exalted, and thus again it drops to the ground,
shaken by a backward doom.
We are things of a day. What are we? What are we not ? The
shadow of a dream
is man, no more. But when the brightness comes, and God
gives it,
there is a shining of light on men, and their life is sweet.

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