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Goethe: Withdraw hands from your swords

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

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

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
From Iphigenia in Tauris (1786)
Translated by Charles E. Passage

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IPHIGENIA: If your heart has been steeled for this barbaric
Decision, you should not have come! A king
Who asks inhuman actions will find henchmen
Enough who for reward and favor will
With greed accept half of the action’s curse;
But his own presence still remains unblemished.
He sits within his stormcloud plotting death
And lets his messengers descend with flaming
Destruction on the luckless mortal’s head,
While he severely moves off in his storm,
An unscathed god across the heights of sky.

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IPHIGENIA: …Withdraw hands from
Your swords, and think of me and of my fate.
A quick fight may immortalize a man,
And even if he fails, the songs will praise him.
But the unending tears thereafter shed
By the surviving and deserted woman
No future age will count, and poets speak
No word about the thousand days and nights
Of weeping when a silent soul consumes
Itself in vain with a yearning to bring back
The lost and suddenly departed friend.

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ORESTES: …Allow your soul to turn to peace,
O king!
Men’s highest glory, violence and cunning,
Are by the truth of this exalted soul
Now put to shame, and pure and childlike trust
In a high-minded man meets with reward.

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