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John Greenleaf Whittier: The Peace Convention at Brussels

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

American writers on peace and against war

John Greenleaf Whittier: Selections on peace and war

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John Greenleaf Whittier
The Peace Convention at Brussels (1848)

*****

Then, o’er Earth’s war-field, till the strife shall cease,
Like Morven’s harpers, sing your song of peace;
As in old fable rang the Thracian’s lyre,
Midst howl of fiends and roar of penal fire,
Till the fierce din to pleasing murmurs fell,
And love subdued the maddened heart of hell.

Not vain the vision which the prophets saw,
Skirting with green the fiery waste of war,
Through the hot sand-gleam, looming soft and calm
On the sky’s rim, the fountain-shading palm.

*****

Still in thy streets, O Paris! doth the stain
Of blood defy the cleansing autumn rain;
Still breaks the smoke Messina’s ruins through,
And Naples mourns that new Bartholomew,
When squalid beggary, for a dole of bread,
At a crowned murderer’s beck of license, fed
The yawning trenches with her noble dead;
Still, doomed Vienna, through thy stately halls
The shell goes crashing and the red shot falls,
And, leagued to crush thee, on the Danube’s side,
The bearded Croat and Bosniak spearman ride;
Still in that vale where Himalaya’s snow
Melts round the cornfields and the vines below,
The Sikh’s hot cannon, answering ball for ball,
Flames in the breach of Moultan’s shattered wall;
On Chenab’s side the vulture seeks the slain,
And Sutlej paints with blood its banks again.

“What folly, then,” the faithless critic cries,
With sneering lip, and wise world-knowing eyes,
“While fort to fort, and post to post, repeat
The ceaseless challenge of the war-drum’s beat,
And round the green earth, to the church-bell’s chime,
The morning drum-roll of the camp keeps time,
To dream of peace amidst a world in arms,
Of swords to ploughshares changed by Scriptural charms,
Of nations, drunken with the wine of blood,
Staggering to take the Pledge of Brotherhood,
Like tipplers answering Father Matthew’s call;
The sullen Spaniard, and the mad-cap Gaul,
The bull-dog Briton, yielding but with life,
The Yankee swaggering with his bowie-knife,
The Russ, from banquets with the vulture shared,
The blood still dripping from his amber beard,
Quitting their mad Berserker dance to hear
The dull, meek droning of a drab-coat seer;
Leaving the sport of Presidents and Kings,
Where men for dice each titled gambler flings,
To meet alternate on the Seine and Thames,
For tea and gossip, like old country dames!
No! let the cravens plead the weakling’s cant,
Let Cobden cipher, and let Vincent rant,
Let Sturge preach peace to democratic throngs,
And Burritt, stammering through his hundred tongues,
Repeat, in all, his ghostly lessons o’er,
Timed to the pauses of the battery’s roar;
Check Ban or Kaiser with the barricade
Of “Olive-leaves” and Resolutions made,
Spike guns with pointed Scripture-texts, and hope
To capsize navies with a windy trope;
Still shall the glory and the pomp of War
Along their train the shouting millions draw;
Still dusty Labor to the passing Brave
His cap shall doff, and Beauty’s kerchief wave;
Still shall the bard to Valor tune his song,
Still Hero-worship kneel before the Strong;
Rosy and sleek, the sable-gowned divine,
O’er his third bottle of suggestive wine,
To plumed and sworded auditors, shall prove
Their trade accordant with the Law of Love;
And Church for State, and State for Church, shall fight,
And both agree, that “Might alone is Right!”
Despite of sneers like these, O faithful few,
Who dare to hold God’s word and witness true,
Whose clear-eyed faith transcends our evil time,
And o’er the present wilderness of crime
Sees the calm future, with its robes of green,
Its fleece-flecked mountains, and soft streams between, –
Still keep the path which duty bids ye tread,
Though worldly wisdom shake the cautious head;
No truth from Heaven descends upon our sphere,
Without the greeting of the skeptic’s sneer;
Denied and mocked at, till its blessings fall,
Common as dew and sunshine, over all.”

Then, o’er Earth’s war-field, till the strife shall cease,
Like Morven’s harpers, sing your song of peace;
As in old fable rang the Thracian’s lyre,
Midst howl of fiends and roar of penal fire,
Till the fierce din to pleasing murmurs fell,
And love subdued the maddened heart of hell.
Lend, once again, that holy song a tongue,
Which the glad angels of the Advent sung,
Their cradle-anthem for the Saviour’s birth,
Glory to God, and peace unto the earth!
Through the mad discord send that calming word
Which wind and wave on wild Gennesareth heard,
Lift in Christ’s name his Cross against the Sword!
Not vain the vision which the prophets saw,
Skirting with green the fiery waste of war,
Through the hot sand-gleam, looming soft and calm
On the sky’s rim, the fountain-shading palm.
Still lives for Earth, which fiends so long have trod,
The great hope resting on the truth of God, –
Evil shall cease and Violence pass away,
And the tired world breathe free through a long Sabbath day. 

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