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William Crowe: On poets who sing of war

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

British writers on peace and war

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William Crowe
In evil hour, and with unhallow’d voice (1796)

In evil hour, and with unhallow’d voice
Profaning the pure gift of poesy
Did he begin to sing, he first who sung
Of arms and combats, and the proud array
Of warriors on the embattled plain and raised
The aspiring spirit to hopes of fair renown
By deeds of violence. For since that time
The imperious victor, oft unsatisfied
With bloody spoil and tyrannous conquest, dares
To challenge fame and honour; and too oft
The poet, bending low to lawless power,
Hath paid unseemly reverence, yea, and brought
Streams clearest of the Aonian fount, to wash
Blood-stain’d ambition. If the stroke of war
Fell certain on the guilty head none else;
If they who make the cause might taste the effect,
And drink themselves the bitter cut they mix,
Then might the bard (though child of peace) delight
To twine fresh wreaths around the conqueror’s brow,
Or haply strike his high toned harp to swell
The trumpet’s martial sound, and bid them on,
Whom justice arms for vengeance: but alas!
That undistinguishing and deathful storm
Beats heaviest on the exposed Innocent;
And they that stir its fury, while it raves
Stand at safe distance; send their mandate forth
Unto the mortal Ministers that wait
To do their bidding – Ah! who then regards
The Widow’s tears, the friendless Orphan’s cry,
And Famine, and the ghastly train of woes
That follow at the dogged heels of war?
They in the pomp and pride of victory,
Rejoicing o’er the desolated Earth,
As at an altar wet with human blood,
And flaming with the fire of cities burnt,
Sing their mad hymns of triumph, hymns to God
O’er the destruction of his gracious works! –
Hymns to the Father o’er his slaughter’d Sons!
Detested by their sword, abhorred their name,
And scorn’d the tongues that praise them.

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