The Last Voyage
“Not long ago
They only laughed at Lister…”
“He has joined
Those other voices now, beyond the storm.
How many lives has Lister saved since then?”
“In eighteen-seventy, armies rotted to death
For lack of what he taught us; and the knife
Sent more than half its victims to the grave.
So, Lister, whom we sneered at, must have saved
Some fifty million lives throughout the world,
Men, women, children. – ”
“More than thrice the number
That fifteen nations, slaughtering night and day,
For those five years of glorious war…”
The voice of Science was now on the air
To save that child; but, also on the air,
Blind voices from the dens of state-craft rose,
Threatening war, their hypocritical word
For universal murder; and in the name
Of Science, planned new deaths for half mankind.
The Last Voyage
Delayed by folly, baffled and beaten again
By lethargy, in man’s own sleep-walking world,
Driven back in defeat by the nightmare chaos of war
But finding new light, even there, on that blood-red road;
The struggle went on; each age with a broken cry,
Ars longa, vita brevis, re-echoing still
The cry of Hippocrates, Galen and Harvey in turn,
But flinging the deathless fire with a dying hand
To youth that should follow and conquer….
“We grieve when we look on an exquisite tapestry torn,
A picture disfigured, a Parian masterpiece wrecked,
A desecrate shrine; yet – yet – with our wars and our sins
What havoc we make of God’s image….”
Gerard Manley Hopkins
When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.
From The Torch-Bearers
Watchers of the Sky
Wars we have sung. The blind, blood-boltered kings
Move with an epic music to their thrones.
Have you no song, then, of that nobler war?
Of those who strove for light, but could not hope
Even of this victory that they helped to win,
Silent discoverers, lonely pioneers,
Prisoners and exiles, martyrs of the truth
Who handed on the fire, from age to age;
Of those who, step by step, drove back the night
And struggled, year on year, for one more glimpse
Among the stars, of sovran law, their guide;
Of those who searching inward, saw the rocks
Dissolving into a new abyss, and saw
Those planetary systems far within.
Atoms, electrons, whirling on their way
To build and to unbuild our solid world;
Of those who conquered, inch by difficult inch,
The freedom of this realm of law for man;
Dreamers of dreams, the builders of our hope,
The healers and the binders up of wounds,
Who, while the dynasts drenched the world with blood,
Would in the still small circle of a lamp
Wrestle with death like Heracles of old To save one stricken child.
Their magic fleet came foaming into port.
Whereat old senators, wagging their white beards.
And plucking at golden chains with stiff old claws
Too feeble for the sword-hilt, squeaked at once:
“This glass will give us great advantages In time of war.”
War, war, O God of love,
Even amidst their wonder at Thy world,
Dazed with new beauty, gifted with new powers,
These old men dreamed of blood. This was the thought
To which all else must pander, if he hoped
Even for one hour to see those dull eyes blaze
At his discoveries.
“Wolves,” he called them, “wolves”…
War was the thought
That filmed those old men’s eyes. They did not hear
My father, when he hinted at his hope
Of opening up the heavens for mankind
With that new power of bringing far things near.
From Don Juan
You are ‘the best of cut-throats:’ – do not start;
The phrase is Shakspeare’s, and not misapplied:
War’s a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
If you have acted once a generous part,
The world, not the world’s masters, will decide,
And I shall be delighted to learn who,
Save you and yours, have gain’d by Waterloo?
I am no flatterer – you ‘ve supp’d full of flattery:
They say you like it too -‘t is no great wonder.
He whose whole life has been assault and battery,
At last may get a little tired of thunder;
And swallowing eulogy much more than satire, he
May like being praised for every lucky blunder,
Call’d ‘Saviour of the Nations’ – not yet saved,
And ‘Europe’s Liberator’ – still enslaved.
To you the unflattering Muse deigns to inscribe
Truths, that you will not read in the Gazettes,
But which ‘t is time to teach the hireling tribe
Who fatten on their country’s gore, and debts,
Must be recited…
O ye! or we! or he! or she! reflect,
That one life saved, especially if young
Or pretty, is a thing to recollect
Far sweeter than the greenest laurels sprung
From the manure of human clay, though deck’d
With all the praises ever said or sung:
Though hymn’d by every harp, unless within
Your heart joins chorus, Fame is but a din.
From Don Juan
Now back to thy great joys, Civilisation!
And the sweet consequence of large society,
War, pestilence, the despot’s desolation,
The kingly scourge, the lust of notoriety,
The millions slain by soldiers for their ration…
Here War forgot his own destructive art
In more destroying Nature; and the heat
Of carnage, like the Nile’s sun-sodden slime,
Engender’d monstrous shapes of every crime.
All that the mind would shrink from of excesses;
All that the body perpetrates of bad;
All that we read, hear, dream, of man’s distresses;
All that the devil would do if run stark mad;
All that defies the worst which pen expresses;
All by which hell is peopled, or as sad
As hell – mere mortals who their power abuse –
Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose.
If here and there some transient trait of pity
Was shown, and some more noble heart broke through
Its bloody bond, and saved perhaps some pretty
Child, or an aged, helpless man or two –
What ‘s this in one annihilated city,
Where thousand loves, and ties, and duties grew?
Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris!
Just ponder what a pious pastime war is.
Think how the joys of reading a Gazette
Are purchased by all agonies and crimes:
Or if these do not move you, don’t forget
Such doom may be your own in aftertimes.
The Victory Ball
The cymbals crash,
And the dancers walk,
With long white stockings
And arms of chalk,
And white breasts bare,
And shadows of dead men
Watching ’em there.
Shadows of dead men
Stand by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.
They do not reproach,
Because they know,
If they’re forgotten
It’s better so.
Under the dancing
Feet are the graves.
Dazzle and motley,
In long white waves,
Brushed by the palm-fronds
Grapple and whirl
And slim white girl.
Fat wet bodies
Go waddling by,
Girdled with satin,
Though God knows why:
Gripped by satyrs
In white and black,
With a fat wet hand
On the fat wet back.
See, there’s one child
Fresh from school,
Learning the ropes
As the old hands rule.
God! how the dead men
As she begs for a dose
Of the best cocaine.
God, how that dead boy
Gapes and grins
As the tom-toms bang
And the shimmy begins.]
“What do you think
We should find”, said the shade,
“When the last shot echoed
And peace was made?”
“Christ,” laughed the fleshless
Jaws of his friend,
“I thought they’d be praying
For worlds to mend,
“And making earth better
Or something silly
Like white-washing hell
They’ve a sense of humour,
These women of ours,
These exquisite lilies,
These fresh young flowers!”
“Pish”, said a statesman
I’m glad they keep busy
Their thoughts elsewhere!
We mustn’t reproach ‘em,
They’re young you see.”
“Ah”, said the dead men,
“So were we!”
On with the dance!
Back to the jungle
The new beasts prance!
God, how the dead men
Grin by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.
From Don Juan
Mortality! thou hast thy monthly bills;
Thy plagues, thy famines, thy physicians, yet tick,
Like the death-watch, within our ears the ills
Past, present, and to come; – but all may yield
To the true portrait of one battle-field.
There the still varying pangs, which multiply
Until their very number makes men hard
By the infinities of agony,
Which meet the gaze whate’er it may regard –
The groan, the roll in dust, the all-white eye
Turn’d back within its socket, – these reward
Your rank and file by thousands, while the rest
May win perhaps a riband at the breast!
Yet I love glory; – glory’s a great thing: –
Think what it is to be in your old age
Maintain’d at the expense of your good king:
A moderate pension shakes full many a sage,
And heroes are but made for bards to sing,
Which is still better; thus in verse to wage
Your wars eternally, besides enjoying
Half-pay for life, make mankind worth destroying.
From Don Juan
O blood and thunder! and oh blood and wounds!
These are but vulgar oaths, as you may deem,
Too gentle reader! and most shocking sounds:
And so they are; yet thus is Glory’s dream
Unriddled, and as my true Muse expounds
At present such things, since they are her theme,
So be they her inspirers! Call them Mars,
Bellona, what you will – they mean but wars.
History can only take things in the gross;
But could we know them in detail, perchance
In balancing the profit and the loss,
War’s merit it by no means might enhance,
To waste so much gold for a little dross,
As hath been done, mere conquest to advance.
The drying up a single tear has more
Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore.
The night was dark, and the thick mist allow’d
Nought to be seen save the artillery’s flame,
Which arch’d the horizon like a fiery cloud,
And in the Danube’s waters shone the same –
A mirror’d hell! the volleying roar, and loud
Long booming of each peal on peal, o’ercame
The ear far more than thunder; for Heaven’s flashes
Spare, or smite rarely – man’s make millions ashes!
William Lisle Bowles
From The Missionary
With murmured prayer, when Mercy stood aghast,
As War’s black trump pealed its terrific blast,
And o’er the withered earth the armed giant passed!
Ye, who his track with terror have pursued,
When some delightful land, all blood-imbrued,
He swept; where silent is the champaign wide,
That echoed to the pipe of yester-tide,
Save, when far off, the moonlight hills prolong
The last deep echoes of his parting gong;
Nor aught is seen, in the deserted spot
Where trailed the smoke of many a peaceful cot,
Save livid corses that unburied lie,
And conflagrations, reeking to the sky…
When the trump echoed to the quiet spot,
He thought upon the world, but mourned it not;
Enough if his meek wisdom could control,
And bend to mercy, one proud soldier’s soul…
When will the turmoil of earth’s tempests cease?
Father, I come to thee for peace – for peace!
Such is the conqueror’s dread path: the grave
Yawns for its millions where his banners wave;
But shall vain man, whose life is but a sigh,
With sullen acquiescence gaze and die?
From Don Juan
I pass each day where Dante’s bones are laid:
A little cupola, more neat than solemn,
Protects his dust, but reverence here is paid
To the bard’s tomb, and not the warrior’s column.
With human blood that column was cemented,
With human filth that column is defiled,
As if the peasant’s coarse contempt were vented
To show his loathing of the spot he soil’d:
Thus is the trophy used, and thus lamented
Should ever be those blood-hounds, from whose wild
Instinct of gore and glory earth has known
Those sufferings Dante saw in hell alone.
This is the patent age of new inventions
For killing bodies, and for saving souls,
All propagated with the best intentions;
Sir Humphry Davy’s lantern, by which coals
Are safely mined for in the mode he mentions,
Tombuctoo travels, voyages to the Poles,
Are ways to benefit mankind, as true,
Perhaps, as shooting them at Waterloo.
Of rapture to the blinding new-born light
In heaven, a light which though from age to age
Clouds may obscure it, grows and still shall grow
Until that nobler commonwealth be born,
That Union which draws nigher with every day,
That turning of the wasteful strength of war
To accomplish large and fruitful tasks of peace,
A gathering up of one another’s loads
Whereby the weak are strengthened and the strong
Made stronger in the increasing good of all.
William Lisle Bowles: Selections on war and peace
Why, child, I loathe all war, and warriors;
I live in peace and pleasure: what can man
I pray you note,
That there are worse things betwixt earth and heaven
Than him who ruleth many and slays none;
And, hating not himself, yet he loves his fellows
Enough to spare even those who would not spare him…
I am content: and, trusting in my cause,
Think we may yet be victors and return
To peace the only victory I covet.
To me war is no glory conquest no
Renown. To be forced thus to uphold my right
Sits heavier on my heart than all the wrongs
These men would bow me down with. Never, never
Can I forget this night, even should I live
To add it to the memory of others.
I thought to have made mine inoffensive rule
An era of sweet peace ‘midst bloody annals,
A green spot amidst desert centuries,
On which the future would turn back and smile,
And cultivate, or sigh when it could not
Recall Sardanapalus’ golden reign.
I thought to have made my realm a paradise,
And every moon an epoch of new pleasures.
Arthur Hugh Clough
From The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich
What! for a mite, for a mote, an impalpable odour of honour,
Armies shall bleed; cities burn; and the soldier red from the storming
Carry hot rancour and lust into chambers of mothers and daughters:
What! would ourselves for the cause of an hour encounter the battle,
Slay and be slain; lie rotting in hospital, hulk, and prison:
Die as a dog dies; die mistaken perhaps, and dishonoured.
[O]ne would drudge
And do one’s petty part, and be content
In base manipulation, solaced still
By thinking of the leagued fraternity,
And of cooperation, and the effect
Of the great engine. If indeed it work,
And is not a mere treadmill! which it may be.
Who can confirm it is not? We ask action,
And dream of arms and conflict; and string up
All self-devotion’s muscles; and are set
To fold up papers. To what end? we know not.
From The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich
Grace is given of God, but knowledge is bought in the market;
Knowledge needful for all, yet cannot be had for the asking.
There are exceptional beings, one finds them distant and rarely,
Who, endowed with the vision alike and the interpretation,
See, by the neighbours’ eyes and their own still motions enlightened,
In the beginning the end, in the acorn the oak of the forest,
In the child of to-day its children to long generations,
In a thought or a wish a life, a drama, an epos.
There are inheritors, is it? by mystical generation
Heiring the wisdom and ripeness of spirits gone by; without labour
Owning what others by doing and suffering earn; what old men
After long years of mistake and erasure are proud to have come to,
Sick with mistake and erasure possess when possession is idle.