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Alfred Noyes: They say that war’s a noble thing!

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

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Wine Press: A Tale of War (1913)

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The troop-train couplings clanged like Fate
Above the bugles’ din.
Sweating beneath their haversacks,
With rifles bristling on their backs,
Like heavy-footed oxen
The dusty men trooped in.

It seemed that some gigantic hand
Behind the veils of sky
Was driving, herding all these men
So few of them could understand,
So many of them must die.

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“They say that war’s a noble thing!
They say it’s good to die,
For causes none can understand!
They say it’s for the Fatherland!
They say it’s for the Flag, the King,
And none must question why!”

The train shrieked into a tunnel.
“Duty? Yes, that is good.
But when the thing has grown so vast
That no man knows, from first to last,
The reason why he finds himself
Up to his neck in blood;

When you are trapped and carried along
By a Power that runs on rails;
Why, open that door, my friends, and see
The way you are fixed. You think you are free,
But the iron wheels are singing a song
That stuns our fairy-tales;

Like cattle into a cattle-pen,
When you are lifted up like this
Between a finger and thumb,
And dropt you don’t know where or why,
And told to shoot and butcher and die,
And not to question, not to reply,
But go like a sheep to the shearers,
A lamb to the slaughter, dumb;

What? Are the engines, then, our God?
Does one amongst you know
The reason of this bitter work?”

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