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James Montgomery: War, that self-inflicted scourge of man


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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace


James Montgomery
From The World Before the Flood

“When war, that self-inflicted scourge of man,
His boldest crime and bitterest curse, – began;
As lions fierce, as forest-cedars tall,
And terrible as torrents, in their fall,
Headlong from rocks, through vales and vineyards hurl’d,
These men of prey laid waste the eastern world;
They taught their tributary hordes to wield
The sword, red-flaming, through the death-strown field,
With strenuous arm the uprooted rock to throw,
Glance the light arrow from the bounding bow,
Whirl the broad shield to meet the darted stroke,
And stand to combat, like the unyielding oak.
Then eye from eye with fell suspicion turn’d,
In kindred breasts unnatural hatred burn’d;
Brother met brother in the lists of strife,
The son lay lurking for the father’s life;
With rabid instinct, men who never knew
Each other’s face before, each other slew;
All tribes, all nations learn’d the fatal art,
And every hand was arm’d to pierce a heart.
Nor man alone the giants’ might subdued ;
– The camel wean’d from quiet solitude,
Grazed round their camps, or slow along the road,
Midst marching legions bore the servile load.
With flying forelock and dishevell’d mane,
They caught the wild steed prancing o’er the plain,
For war or pastime reined his fiery force;
Fleet as the wind he stretch’d along the course,
Or loudly neighing at the trumpet’s sound,
With hoofs of thunder smote the indented ground.
The enormous elephant obey’d their will,
And, tamed to cruelty with direst skill,
Roar’d for the battle, when he felt the goad.
And his proud lord his sinewy neck bestrode.
Through crashing ranks resistless havoc bore,
And writhed his trunk, and bathed his tusks in gore…”

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