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James Montgomery: The poet tracks not the warrior’s fiery road


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 M.S.
To the memory of a female whom sickness had reconciled to the notes of sorrow

What is the Poet’s highest aim,
His richest heritage of fame? –
– To track the warrior’s fiery road,
With havoc, spoil, destruction strew’d,
While nations bleed along the plains,
Dragg’d at his chariot-wheels in chains?

– With fawning hand to woo the lyre,
Profanely steal celestial fire,
And bid an idol’s altar blaze
With incense of unhallow’d praise?
– With syren strains, Circean art,
To win the ear, beguile the heart,
Wake the wild passions into rage,
And please and prostitute the age!

NO! – to the generous bard belong
Diviner themes and purer song…


From The Mole-Hill

Yon gloomy ruffian, gash’d and gored,
Was he, whose fatal skill
First beat the plough-share to a sword,
And taught the art to kill?

Behind him skulks a shade, bereft
Of fondly worshipt fame;
He built the Pyramids, but left
No stone to tell his name.



Abominable harpies, spare the dead.
– We only clear the field which man has spread;
On which should Heaven its hottest vengeance rain?
You slay the living, we but strip the slain.


From The Lyre

“That which Alexander sigh’d for,
That which Caesar’s soul possess’d.
That which heroes, kings, have died for –
Glory! – animates my breast:
Hark! the charging trumpets’ throats
Pour their death-defying notes;
‘To arms!’ they call: to arms I fly,
Like Wolfe to conquer, and like Wolfe to die.

“Soft! – the blood of murdered legions
Summons vengeance from the skies;
Flaming towns and ravaged regions,
All in awful judgment rise. –
O then, innocently brave,
I will wrestle with the wave;
Lo! Commerce spreads the daring sail,
And yokes her naval chariots to the gale.

“Blow, ye breezes! – gently blowing,
Waft me to that happy shore,
Where, from fountains ever flowing,
Indian realms their treasures pour;
Thence returning, poor in health,
Rich in honesty and wealth,
O’er thee, my dear paternal soil,
I’ll strew the golden harvest of my toil.

“Then shall Misery’s sons and daughters
In their lowly dwellings sing:
Bounteous as the Nile’s dark waters,
Undiscover’d as their spring,
I will scatter o’er the land
Blessings with a secret hand;
For such angelic tasks design’d,
I give the lyre and sorrow to the wind.”

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