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George Sterling: War past, present, future


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

American writers on peace and against war

George Sterling: To the War-Lords


George Sterling

The Past

In that abyss what monsters greet the sight!
Then were the fertile leisures of the sage,
And stony Art saw then her Golden Age;
But nation upon nation in that night,

With flame to blast and savage steel to smite,
Fell fiendlike, drunken with the battle-rage,
And Time’s red arm upholds a bloody page
Before the revelation of the light.

The dreadful heritage is on us yet:
Rapine and tears and torment and despair –
The murder-stains wherewith our hands are wet.
Still round us rise the dungeons of the Past,
The crypt abominable whence we fare
Slowly, ah! slowly to the light at last.

The Present

They will not pause for counsel. Deadly wings
Take now the skies, and the horizons slay
With hands invisible, and warships sway
To billows broken by their thunderings.

So wrought the lands where now the desert flings
A pall of sand on columns that decay;
And whose the realm none knows unto this day,
Nor knows the Wrath that smote its cruel kings.

Is this the wholesome blue, the heavens of night
Whose eastern star the wise men had for guide?
Found they the Prince of Peace below its light?
That orb hath set. Swift from its holy place
With level wings the pampered vultures slide,
As morning glimmers on a dead man’s face.

The Future

Be beautiful, O morning’s feet of gold,
Upon the mountains of that time to be!
Be swift, O dayspring that shall set us free
From all the blinding tyrannies of old!

Thine are the years by seer and bard foretold,
And thine the judgment driven as a sea
On man’s high-treason to humanity.
Thine is the sun their armies shall behold.

O ranks that serve the future and the Right,
How fair your conquests and how high your wars,
When, bathed in that deliverance of light,
Your swords are lifted against pain and wrong,
And, ere man’s House be builded toward the stars,
Ye lay its deep foundations with a song!

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