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Stephen Spender: The War God

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

British writers on peace and war

Stephen Spender: Selections on war

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Stephen Spender
The War God

Why cannot the one good
Benevolent, feasible
Final dove, descend?

And the wheat be divided?
And the soldiers sent home?
And the barriers torn down?
And the enemies forgiven?
And there be no retribution?

Because the conqueror
Is the victim of his own power
Hammering his will
Out of fear of former fear:
Remembering yesterday
When those he now vanquishes
destroyed his hero-father
And surrounded his cradle
With fabled anguishes.

Today his sun of victory
Hides the night’s anxiety
Lest children of the slain
Prove dragon teeth sown
By their sun going down,
To rise up tomorrow
In sky and sea all blood
And avenge their fathers again.

Those who surrender
On the helpless field
May dream the pious reasons
Of mercy, but alas
They know what they did
In their own sun-high season.
For the world is the world
And not the slain
Nor the slayer forgive
And it writes no histories
That end in love.

Yet under the waves’
Chains chafing despair
Love’s need does not cease.

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