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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Titled idiot kindles flames of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Declaration of Rights

Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.

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From Essay on the Existing State of Things

Destruction marks thee! o’er the blood-stain’d heath
Is faintly borne the stifled wail of death;
Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on Mar’s red altar lie.
The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped
To the unfruitful mansions of the dead.
Whilst fell Ambition o’er the wasted plain
Triumphant guides his car – the ensanguin’d rein
Glory directs; fierce brooding o’er the scene,
With hatred glance, with dire unbending mien.
Fell Despotism sits by the red glare
Of Discord’s torch, kindling the flames of war.
For thee then does the Muse her sweetest lay
Pour ’mid the shrieks of war, ’mid dire dismay;
For thee does Fame’s obstrep’rous clarion rise,
Does Praise’s voice raise meanness to the skies.
Are we then sunk so deep in darkest gloom,
That selfish pride can virtue’s garb assume?
Does real greatness in false splendour live?
When narrow views the futile mind deceive,
When thirst of wealth, or frantic rage for fame,
Lights for awhile self-interest’s little flame,
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide.

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