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Margaret Widdemer: War-March

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

American writers on peace and against war

Women writers on peace and war

Margaret Widdemer: After War

Margaret Widdemer: A Mother to the War-Makers

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Margaret Widdemer
War-March

“For this were ye made,” the King saith,”
To be sent to death
For the sake of Our thrones;
For this shall your women breed
Fighting-men to our need;
For this shall ye drudge to mold
Toil into guarding gold:
For We build Our thrones
Of gold and of dead men’s bones,
And this is of God,” the King saith….
“Ay,” said the Folk, ” we know.
Great are God and the King. We go.”

“There is nothing new since the world began,
“There is nothing new” swing the cheery fife and drum,
“There is nothing new in all the land of man
In the death of man, in the hate of man,
Ay, the mirth and killing in the hand of man,
Let them come! Let them come! Let them come!
We have cheered the killing on the earth of man
Since the birth of man for the mirth of man:
There is nothing new in all the wars of man
Let them come – let them come – let them come!”

(Ay, fife-and-drum beat, hideously cheerful,
Hideously merry, shrilly heartening,
Death-birds settling over the stricken field,
Widely circling, smooth, unhurried of wing;
Babes born dead on the earth-heaps, women starving alone,
Skulls turned up in the plowing a century hence from the mold,
By peoples battle-dwarfed, fearful,
Ay, fife-and-drum beat, hideously cheerful,
Joy-of-battle unsealed,
All these are known
All these are old.)

Silent troopers tramping down the roadway,
(Horror falls when the drums forget to beat)
Heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak
Echoes and follows from the heavy-marching feet.

Screaming boys lash-drafted from their plowing,
Fear-hushed women hoping of the dead
Heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak –
Answers and follows on the ruthless-passing tread.

Strong young soldiers singing toward their death-place,
Never strong more, never to have sons
Heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak –
Throbs their tread above the thunder of the guns.

Stiffened hands that touch no sweetheart ever,
Mouths agape, in horrid laughter curled
Heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak – heartbreak –
Echoes and shudders all across the shaken world….
There is grief on the forsaken fields….

(Sorrow! wail the bugles . . . O endless sorrow and grieving!)
For the food that shall rot ungarnered, for the hungry who shall not eat,
For the starving years that must follow the track in the trampled wheat,
For the girl-children tortured and ravished, the old women lashed and maimed,
For the babies nailed up by the foot-palms, the shuddering mothers shamed….
(Sorrow! wail the bugles…O endless sorrow and grieving!)
For the hearts of the men made brutal, made murderers evermore,
For the world a century halted by challenging guards of war,
For death…and for hate…and for hunger….
(Sorrow! cry the bugles far off in the future….Sorrow!)

(“Were we made for this?” asked the Folk
Lifting their eyes from the sod
A little way to peer
From the crushing-weighted yoke
Of toil and of slaughterings
Of the King and his battle-lust,
The King and his battle-God:
0 War-March
And the sullen murmur broke
Like waves when the storm is near….
“The Kings,” they said, “are but dust –
Who hath made our world for Kings?”)

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