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Thomas Nashe: Swords may not fight with fate

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

British writers on peace and war

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Thomas Nashe
From A Litany In Time Of Plague

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

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From The Unfortunate Traveller
Modern rendering by RR

Overseas with my implements I got me, where hearing the king of France and the Swiss were together by the ears, I made towards them as fast as I could, thinking to thrust myself into that faction that was the strongest. It was my good luck or my ill, I know not which, to come to the fighting of the battle where I saw an awful spectacle of bloodshed on both sides, here the unwieldy Swiss wallowing in their gore, like an ox in his dung, there the sprightly French sprawling and turning on the stained grass, like a roach [carp] newly taken out of the stream. All the ground was strewn with battle axes, as the carpenters’ yard with chips. The plain appeared like a quagmire, overspread as it was with trampled dead bodies. In one place you might behold a heap of dead murdered men overwhelmed by a falling steed instead of a tombstone, in another place a bundle of bodies fettered together in their own bowels, and as the tyrant Roman emperors  used to tie condemned living caitiffs face-to-face to dead corpses, so were the half-living here mixed with squeezed carcasses long putrefied. Any man might give arms that was an actor in that battle, for there were more arms and legs scattered in the field that day than will be gathered up until doomsday. The French king himself in this conflict was much distressed, the brains of his own men sprinkled in his face.

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Ouer sea with my implements I got me, where hearing the king of France and the Swizers were together by the ears, I made towards them as fast as I could, thinking to thrust my selfe into that faction that was strongest It was my good lucke or my ill, I know not which, to come iust to ye fighting of the battel, where I sawe a wonderfull spectacle of bloud shed on both sides, here the vnwildie swizers wallowing in their gore, like an oxe in his doung, there the sprightly French sprawling and turning on the stayned grasse, like a roach newe taken out of the streame, all the ground was strewed as thicke with battle axes, as the carpenters yard with chips. The plaine appeared like a quagmire, ouerspread as it was with trampled dead bodies. In one place might you beholde a heape of dead murthered men ouerwhelmed with a falling steed, in stead of a tombe stone, in another place a bundle of bodies fettered together in theyr owne bowels, and as the tyrant Romane Empereurs vsed to tie condemned liuing caitifes face to face to dead corses, so were the halfe liuing here mixt with squeazed carcases long putrifide. Anie man might giue armes that was an actor in that battell, for there were more armes and legs scattered in the field that daie, than will be gathered vp till dooms daie, the French king himselfe in this conflict was much distressed, the braines of his owne men sprinkled in his face…

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