Home > Uncategorized > Voltaire: Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie, therefore those cruel arms lay by

Voltaire: Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie, therefore those cruel arms lay by


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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war


On Peace Concluded in 1736
Translated by Tobias Smollett

Aetna within its cavern dire,
Thunder conceals and liquid fire;
On earth the fiery torrent pours,
And its inhabitants devours,
Your steps, afflicted Dryads, turn
From dreary plains which always burn;
Those caverns where hell seems to breathe
In fire and sulphur from beneath;
Those gulfs which to Tartarus bend,
Their furious floods incessant send.

More fierce and terrible the Po
Makes its fierce stream its banks o’erflow;
Pours through the plain its furious waves,
Foams, and with dreadful uproar raves:
It spreads destruction through the plain,
Fright, terror, death, compose its train;
And through Ferrara’s fire conveys
The spoils of nations to the seas.

This war where elements contend,
Which heaven’s expanse with fury rend;
These shocks from which all nature quakes,
With which earth’s solid basis shakes:
Scourges of heaven which oft appear
To hang o’er this sad hemisphere;

Are all disasters much less dire,
Than statesmen who too high aspire;
From them less desolation springs,
Than from the dangerous feuds of kings.

From India’s verge to Gallia’s shore,
One family the sun rolls o’er:
O’er this love only still should reign,
And union amongst all maintain.
Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie,
Therefore those cruel arms lay by;
Can you advantage gain by fight?
Can you in havoc find delight?
When you’re sunk in death’s dismal gloom,
What bliss expect you in the tomb?

Those soldiers well deserve applause,
Who combat in their country’s cause;
But you for hire your lives expose,
You’re paid to combat others’ foes:
You die to prop some tyrant’s throne,
Some tyrant to your eyes unknown;
You are hired assassins to defend
Lords, who ill pay you in the end.

Such are those greedy birds of prey,
Those animals which man obey,
Who can their native fierceness tame,
And teach them to pursue their game.
The sounding horn excites their rage,
And makes them ardent to engage;
They headlong pour upon the game,
Not led by interest, choice, or fame;
The victory they strive to gain,
Although no prize they can obtain.

Italy, climate of delight,
How much you suffered by the fight!
With desolation covered o’er,
You’re Europe’s garden now no more!
An army of confederate powers,
With greediness your crops devours;
Although the cursed, destructive band,
Vowed to avenge your injured land:
Ravaged and desolate you fight
To assert a foreign master’s right.

Let kings be armed, yet discords cease,
Let them all reign like gods of peace;
Let them the thunder bear on high,
But never launch it through the sky.
The faithful shepherd, who befriends
His flock, and with due care attends;
By care and diligence obtains
The applause of all the neighboring swains:
Unpitied may that shepherd die,
Who lets his flocks neglected lie,
Who can his fleecy care expose,
To perish by the wolves, their foes.

In that king’s fame, can I take part,
Whose frenzy stabs me to the heart:
A king, at whose capricious will,
My heart’s blood I’m obliged to spill?

When I’m by indigence oppressed,
Diseased, deprived of needful rest;
Say, shall my lot more blessed appear,
When I our prince’s glories hear;
Shall my distresses all be o’er,
If German plains are drenched in gore?
Colbert, whose praises we resound,
Who planted arts on Gallic ground,
France shall revere you as a sage;
Posterity in every age
Shall own you born the land to bless.
And Louvois be applauded less,
Louvois, who with ambition dire,
Set the Palatinate on fire;
And Holland to destroy aspired,
Had with his fury fate conspired.

Let Louis, even in decline,
Still as the greatest monarch shine:
But may he wisely fame acquire,
Not to the conqueror’s wreath aspire;
Louis in peace claims just applause,
His subjects all revere his laws;
Their happiness from
Louis springs –
Louis, the greatest, best of kings.

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