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Byron: I made no wars

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

British writers on peace and war

Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Sardanapalus

[O]f all his conquests a few columns,
Which may be his, and might be mine, if I
Thought them worth purchase and conveyance, are
The landmarks of the seas of gore he shed,
The realms he wasted, and the hearts he broke.

***

The ungrateful and ungracious slaves! they murmur
Because I have not shed their blood, nor led them
To dry into the desert’s dust by myriads,
Or whiten with their bones the banks of Ganges;
Nor decimated them with savage laws,
Nor sweated them to build up pyramids,
Or Babylonian walls.

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Oh, thou wouldst have me doubtless set up edicts
“Obey the king – contribute to his treasure –
Recruit his phalanx spill – your blood at bidding –
Fall down and worship, or get up and toil.”
Or thus – “Sardanapalus on this spot
Slew fifty thousand of his enemies.
These are their sepulchres, and this his trophy.”
I leave such things to conquerors; enough
For me, if I can make my subjects feel
The weight of human misery less, and glide
Ungroaning to the tomb: I take no license
Which I deny to them. We all are men.

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I hate all pain,
Given or received; we have enough within us,
The meanest vassal as the loftiest monarch,
Not to add to each other’s natural burthen
Of mortal misery, but rather lessen,
By mild reciprocal alleviation,
The fatal penalties imposed on life:
But this they know not, or they will not know.
I have, by Baal! done all I could to soothe them:
I made no wars, I added no new imposts,
I interfered not with their civic lives…

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‘T is true I have not shed
Blood as I might have done, in oceans, till
My name became the synonyme of death,
A terror and a trophy. But for this
I feel no penitence; my life is love:
If I must shed blood, it shall be by force.
Till now, no drop from an Assyrian vein
Hath flow’d for me, nor hath the smallest coin
Of Nineveh’s vast treasures e’er been lavish’d
On objects which could cost her sons a tear:
If then they hate me, ‘t is because I hate not:
If they rebel, ‘t is because I oppress not.

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