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Archive for March, 2017

William Shakespeare: Works of poetry outlast the works of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Shakespeare: So inured to war that mothers smile as their children are slain

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William Shakespeare
Sonnet LV

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

****

Sonnet CVII

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

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Robert Buchanan: The moon gleamed on the dreadful drifts of dead

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Buchanan
From The Changeling

Into the tent where the warrior slept,
She saw on his hand a blood-red stain.
And she kissed the stain again and again
With her cold pure lips, but it would not go!

The Battle-Field

One night she walked with a foot of snow
Thro’ a battle-field; and the Moon on high
Swam thro’ the film of a starry sky,
And the breath of the Moon, like hoar-frost shed,
Gleamed on the dreadful drifts of dead.
Then she saw him standing amid it all
Living and bloody, ghastly and tall,
With a hand on his moaning horse’s mane!
And his face was awful with hate and pain,
And his eyes were mad for beneath him lay,
Quivering there in the pale moonray,
A wounded foe while with red right hand
He held in the air a bloody brand
To cleave him down!
Before his look
One moment the Spirit Mother shook;
He could not hear her, he could not see,
But she shriek’d aloud in her agony!
He glared all round him like one in dread
Of a voice from heaven or a ghost from the dead,
And he sheathed his sword with a shudder soon,
Alone in the light of the lonely Moon . . .
O Moon! immortal Moon!

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Algernon Charles Swinburne: Death made drunk with war

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

British writers on peace and war

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A gospel of war and damnation for the bestial by birth

Algernon Charles Swinburne: There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
From the Epilogue to Songs Before Sunrise

Out where the breath of war may bear,
Out in the rank moist reddened air
That sounds and smells of death, and hath
No light but death’s upon its path
Seen through the black wind’s tangled hair,
I send you past the wild time’s wrath
To find his face who bade you bear
Fruit of his seed to faith and love,
That he may take the heart thereof.

***

In this black wind of war they fly
Now, ere that hour be in the sky
That brings back hope, and memory back,
And light and law to lands that lack;
That spiritual sweet hour whereby
The bloody-handed night and black
Shall be cast out of heaven to die;
Kingdom by kingdom, crown by crown,
The fires of darkness are blown down.

Yet heavy, grievous yet the weight
Sits on us of imperfect fate.
From wounds of other days and deeds
Still this day’s breathing body bleeds;
Still kings for fear and slaves for hate
Sow lives of men on earth like seeds
In the red soil they saturate;
And we, with faces eastward set,
Stand sightless of the morning yet.

***

One light, one law, that burns up strife,
And one sufficiency of life.
Self-stablished, the sufficing soul
Hears the loud wheels of changes roll,
Sees against man man bare the knife,
Sees the world severed, and is whole;
Sees force take dowerless fraud to wife,
And fear from fraud’s incestuous bed
Crawl forth and smite his father dead:

Sees death made drunk with war, sees time
Weave many-coloured crime with crime,
State overthrown on ruining state,
And dares not be disconsolate.
Only the soul hath feet to climb,
Only the soul hath room to wait,
Hath brows and eyes to hold sublime
Above all evil and all good,
All strength and all decrepitude.

***

We that see wars and woes and kings,
And portents of enormous things,
Empires, and agonies, and slaves,
And whole flame of town-swallowing graves;
That hear the harsh hours clap sharp wings
Above the roar of ranks like waves,
From wreck to wreck as the world swings;
Know but that men there are who see
And hear things other far than we.

By the light sitting on their brows,
The fire wherewith their presence glows,
The music falling with their feet,
The sweet sense of a spirit sweet
That with their speech or motion grows
And breathes and burns men’s hearts with heat;
By these signs there is none but knows
Men who have life and grace to give,
Men who have seen the soul and live.

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Algernon Charles Swinburne: There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won

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

British writers on peace and war

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Death made drunk with war

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A gospel of war and damnation for the bestial by birth

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
From A Year’s Burden

Fire and wild light of hope and doubt and fear,
Wind of swift change, and clouds and hours that veer
As the storm shifts of the tempestuous year;
Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

Hope sits yet hiding her war-wearied eyes,
Doubt sets her forehead earthward and denies,
But fear brought hand to hand with danger dies,
Dies and is burnt up in the fire of fight.

From shores laid waste across an iron sea
Where the waifs drift of hopes that were to be,
Across the red rolled foam we look for thee,
Across the fire we look up for the light.

From days laid waste across disastrous years,
From hopes cut down across a world of fears,
We gaze with eyes too passionate for tears,
Where faith abides though hope be put to flight.

There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won,
But in thy sight whose eyes are as the sun
All names shall be one name, all nations one,
All souls of men in man’s one soul unite.

O sea whereon men labour, O great sea
That heaven seems one with, shall these things not be?
O earth, our earth, shall time not make us free?
Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

***

From A Marching Song

O nations undivided,
O single people and free,
We dreamers, we derided,
We mad blind men that see,
We bear you witness ere ye come that ye shall be.

Ye sitting among tombs,
Ye standing round the gate,
Whom fire-mouthed war consumes,
Or cold-lipped peace bids wait,
All tombs and bars shall open, every grave and grate.

The locks shall burst in sunder,
The hinges shrieking spin,
When time, whose hand is thunder,
Lays hand upon the pin,
And shoots the bolts reluctant, bidding all men in.

***

From A Song of Italy

When his wind shakes them and his waters whelm
Who rent thy robe and realm,
When they that poured thy dear blood forth as wine
Pour forth their own for thine,
On these, on these have mercy; not in hate,
But full of sacred fate,
Strong from the shrine and splendid from the god,
Smite, with no second rod.
Because they spared not, do thou rather spare;
Be not one thing they were.
Let not one tongue of theirs who hate thee say
That thou wast even as they.
Because their hands were bloody, be thine white;
Show light where they show night:
Because they are foul, be thou the rather pure;
Because they are feeble, endure;
Because they had no pity, have thou pity.

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George Meredith: The Olive Branch

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: On the Danger of War

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George Meredith
The Olive Branch

A dove flew with an Olive Branch;
It crossed the sea and reached the shore,
And on a ship about to launch
Dropped down the happy sign it bore.

‘An omen’ rang the glad acclaim!
The Captain stooped and picked it up,
‘Be then the Olive Branch her name,’
Cried she who flung the christening cup.

The vessel took the laughing tides;
It was a joyous revelry
To see her dashing from her sides
The rough, salt kisses of the sea.

And forth into the bursting foam
She spread her sail and sped away,
The rolling surge her restless home,
Her incense wreaths the showering spray.

Far out, and where the riot waves
Run mingling in tumultuous throngs,
She danced above a thousand graves,
And heard a thousand briny songs.

Her mission with her manly crew,
Her flag unfurl’d, her title told,
She took the Old World to the New,
And brought the New World to the Old.

Secure of friendliest welcomings,
She swam the havens sheening fair;
Secure upon her glad white wings,
She fluttered on the ocean air.

To her no more the bastioned fort
Shot out its swarthy tongue of fire;
From bay to bay, from port to port,
Her coming was the world’s desire.

And tho’ the tempest lashed her oft,
And tho’ the rocks had hungry teeth,
And lightnings split the masts aloft,
And thunders shook the planks beneath,

And tho’ the storm, self-willed and blind,
Made tatters of her dauntless sail,
And all the wildness of the wind
Was loosed on her, she did not fail;

But gallantly she ploughed the main,
And gloriously her welcome pealed,
And grandly shone to sky and plain
The goodly bales her decks revealed;

Brought from the fruitful eastern glebes
Where blow the gusts of balm and spice,
Or where the black blockaded ribs
Are jammed ’mongst ghostly fleets of ice,

Or where upon the curling hills
Glow clusters of the bright-eyed grape,
Or where the hand of labour drills
The stubbornness of earth to shape;

Rich harvestings and wealthy germs,
And handicrafts and shapely wares,
And spinnings of the hermit worms,
And fruits that bloom by lions’ lairs.

Come, read the meaning of the deep!
The use of winds and waters learn!
’Tis not to make the mother weep
For sons that never will return;

’Tis not to make the nations show
Contempt for all whom seas divide;
’Tis not to pamper war and woe,
Nor feed traditionary pride;

’Tis not to make the floating bulk
Mask death upon its slippery deck,
Itself in turn a shattered hulk,
A ghastly raft, a bleeding wreck.

It is to knit with loving lip
The interests of land to land;
To join in far-seen fellowship
The tropic and the polar strand.

It is to make that foaming Strength
Whose rebel forces wrestle still
Thro’ all his boundaried breadth and length
Become a vassal to our will.

It is to make the various skies,
And all the various fruits they vaunt,
And all the dowers of earth we prize,
Subservient to our household want.

And more, for knowledge crowns the gain
Of intercourse with other souls,
And Wisdom travels not in vain
The plunging spaces of the poles.

The wild Atlantic’s weltering gloom,
Earth-clasping seas of North and South,
The Baltic with its amber spume,
The Caspian with its frozen mouth;

The broad Pacific, basking bright,
And girdling lands of lustrous growth,
Vast continents and isles of light,
Dumb tracts of undiscovered sloth;

She visits these, traversing each;
They ripen to the common sun;
Thro’ diverse forms and different speech,
The world’s humanity is one.

O may her voice have power to say
How soon the wrecking discords cease,
When every wandering wave is gay
With golden argosies of peace!

Now when the ark of human fate,
Long baffled by the wayward wind,
Is drifting with its peopled freight,
Safe haven on the heights to find;

Safe haven from the drowning slime
Of evil deeds and Deluge wrath;—
To plant again the foot of Time
Upon a purer, firmer path;

‘Tis now the hour to probe the ground,
To watch the Heavens, to speak the word,
The fathoms of the deep to sound,
And send abroad the missioned bird,

On strengthened wing for evermore,
Let Science, swiftly as she can,
Fly seaward on from shore to shore,
And bind the links of man to man;

And like that fair propitious Dove
Bless future fleets about to launch;
Make every freight a freight of love,
And every ship an Olive Branch.

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