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George William Russell: Gods of War


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

British writers on peace and war

Irish writers on peace and war


George William Russell (A.E.)
Gods of War

Fate wafts us from the pygmies’ shore:
We swim beneath the epic skies:
A Rome and Carthage war once more,
And wider empires are the prize;
Where the beaked galleys clashed, lo, these
Our iron dragons of the sea!

High o’er the mountains’ dizzy steep
The winged chariots take their flight.
The steely creatures of the deep
Cleave the dark waters’ ancient night.
Below, above, in wave, in air
New worlds for conquest everywhere.

More terrible than spear or sword
Those stars that burst with fiery breath:
More loud the battle cries are poured
Along a hundred leagues of death.
So do they fight. How have ye warred,
Defeated Armies of the Lord?

This is the Dark Immortals’ hour;
His victory, whoever fail;
His prophets have not lost their power:
Ceasar and Attila prevail.
These are your legions still, proud ghosts,
These myriad embattled hosts.

How wanes thine empire, Prince of Peace!
With the fleet circling of the suns
The ancient gods their power increase.
Lo, how thine own anointed ones
Do pour upon the warring bands
The devil’s blessing from their hands!

Who dreamed a dream mid outcasts born
Could overbrow the pride of kings?
They pour on Christ the ancient scorn.
His Dove its gold and silver wings
Has spread. Perhaps it nests in flame
In outcasts who abjure His name.

Choose ye your rightful gods, nor pay
Lip reverence that the heart denies,
O Nations. Is not Zeus to-day,
The thunderer from the epic skies,
More than the Prince of Peace? Is Thor
Not nobler for a world at war?

They fit the dreams of power we hold,
These gods whose names are with us still.
Men in their image made of old
The high companions of their will.
Who seek an airy empire’s pride,
Would they pray to the Crucified?

O outcast Christ, it was too soon
For flags of battle to be furled
While life was yet at the high noon.
Come in the twilight of the world:
Its kings may greet Thee without scorn
And crown Thee then without a thorn.



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