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James Montgomery: Farewell to War

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
Farewell to War

Peace to the trumpet! – no more shall my breath
Sound an alarm in the dull ear of death,
Nor startle to life from the truce of the tomb
The relics of heroes, to combat till doom.
Let Marathon sleep to the sound of the sea,
Let Hannibal’s spectre haunt Cannae for me;
Let Cressy and Agincourt tremble with corn,
And Waterloo blush with the beauty of morn;
I turn not the furrow for helmets and shields,
Nor sow dragon’s teeth in their old fallow fields;
I will not, as bards have been wont, since the flood,
With the river of song swell the river of blood,
-The blood of the valiant, that fell in all climes,
-The song of the gifted, that hallow’d all crimes,
-All crimes in the war-fiend incarnate in one;
War, withering the earth – war, eclipsing the sun,
Despoiling, destroying, since discord began,
God’s works and God’s mercies, – man’s labours and man.
Yet war have I loved, and of war have I sung.
With my heart in my hand and my soul on my tongue;
With all the affections that render life dear,
With the throbbings of hope and the flutterings of fear,
– Of hope, that the sword of the brave might prevail,
– Of fear, lest the arm of the righteous should fail.
But what was the war that extorted my praise?
What battles were fought in my chivalrous lays?

-The war against darkness contending with light;
The war against violence trampling down right;
-The battles of patriots, with banner unfurl’d,
To guard a child’s cradle against an arm’d world;
Of peasants that peopled their ancestors’ graves,
Lest their ancestors’ homes should be peopled by slaves.
I served, too, in wars and campaigns of the mind;
My pen was the sword, which I drew for mankind;
-In war against tyranny throned in the West,
-Campaigns to enfranchise the negro oppress’d;
In war against war, on whatever pretence,
For glory, dominion, revenge or defence,
While murder and perfidy, rapine and lust,
Laid provinces desolate, cities in dust.

Yes, war against war was ever my pride;
My youth and my manhood in waging it died,
And age, with its weakness, its wounds, and its scars,
Still finds my free spirit unquench’d as the stars.
And he who would bend it to war must first bind
The waves of the ocean, the wings of the wind;
For I call it not war, which war’s counsels o’erthrows,
I call it not war which gives nations repose;
‘Tis judgment brought down on themselves by the proud,
Like lightning, by fools, from an innocent cloud.

I war against all war…

Around the mute trumpet, – no longer to breathe
War-clangours, my latest war-chaplets I wreathe.
Then hang them aloof on the time-stricken oak,
And thus, in its shadow, heaven’s blessing invoke:
“Lord God! since the African’s bondage is o’er,
And war in our borders is heard of no more,
May never, while Britain adores Thee, again
The malice of fiends or the madness of men,
Break the peace of our land, and by villanous wrong
Find a field for a hero, a hero for song.”

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From Greenland

‘Twere long and dreary to recount in rhyme
The crude traditions of that long-lost clime:
To sing of wars, by barbarous chieftains waged,
In which as fierce and noble passions raged.
Heroes as subtle, bold, remorseless, fought.
And deeds as dark and terrible were wrought.
As round Troy-walls became the splendid themes
Of Homer’s song, and Jove’s Olympian dreams;
When giant-prowess, in the iron field,
With single arm made phalanx’d legions yield
When battle was but massacre, – the strife
Of murderers, – steel to steel, and life to life.

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From The Pelican Island

He gave the ideal, too, of truth and beauty; –
To look on Nature with a poet’s eye.
And live, amidst the daylight of this world,
In regions of enchantment; – with the force
Of song, as with a spirit, to possess
The souls of those that hearken, till they feel
But what the minstrel feels, and do but that.
Which his strange inspiration makes them do ;
Thus with his breath to kindle war, and bring
The array of battle to electric issue;
Or, while opposing legions, front to front.
Wait the dread signal for the work of havoc.
Step in between, and with the healing voice
Of harmony and concord win them so.
That hurling down their weapons of destruction
They rush into each other’s’ arms, with shouts
And tears of transport; till inveterate foes
Are friends and brethren, feasting on the field.
Where vultures else had feasted, and gorged wolves
Howl’d in convulsive slumber o’er their corses.

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