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Dana Burnet: The Dreadnaught


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

American writers on peace and against war

Dana Burnett: Selections on war


Dana Burnet
The Dreadnaught

One Fall they sent a fighting-ship to sea,
With wine-stained bows, and pennants streaming gay.
Men watched her from the docks: said she was fair,
And felt their hearts lift as she dimmed away….

She was the triumph of the world she sailed,
The sea’s supremest, proud and tall and fair;
We watched her to the far horizon’s rim
Until her smoke thinned to a single hair;

Then, turning, said one man with withered eyes:
“She’ll last her day, and then she’ll rot and die.
To-morrow, matey, they’ll invent her death
Somewhere beyond that point she touched the sky” –

His vague hands fluttered in their prophecy,
“Somewhere across the world they’ll sweat and scheme,
And break their hearts behind their secret doors,
To find a murderer for Steel and Steam….

“A German, mebbe, or a Japanee
Will guess at heavier guns and then she’ll fall.
I know her breed! I fought the Merrimac
In sixty-two….What benefits it all?”

But we, who still stood watching her dark hair,
Mocked him to silence: one by one we hailed
Her strength, her beauty smiled and drifted on,
Boasting that we had seen her as she sailed.

Three years she reigned; three years we spoke of her,
Vaunting her name along the waterside;
Then came the news a newer, foreign ship
Of heavier guns….Slowly our old faiths died.

Another Fall we gathered on the docks,
To watch her creep back through the autumn rain;
Her men stood dully at her sullen breasts,
Knowing that she would never sail again.

She came like some vast Sorrow, brooding, slow,
Damned by her dead perfection, hugely sad;
I heard a voice behind me in the rain:
“Three years! Three little years is all she had” –

The rain dripped down, and then the voice again:
“Three years! My youngest died three years ago.
Plain starved, they said….And yonder in the
Roads….Ah, mates, in God’s name why should life be so?”

We turned; a man stood with uplifted hands,
A laborer, with Death upon his face,
And in his eyes the dumb bewilderment
Of those who wear injustice for the race.

And still the great, gray ship came creeping in,
Sullen and sad….I heard his laugh ring wild:
“For what it costs to feed her lightest gun
I might have saved my little child….my child!”

A vision smote us of an Iron God
That taxed the world with fearful wrack and pain;
We saw the unguessed sacrifice of souls
Dead faces on the canvas of the rain….

Then suddenly a man with withered eyes
And vague, wan hands came leering through the crowd
“I said she’d fall,” he quavered, gesturing;
“I know her breed! The Merrimac was proud.

“But, mates, she passed.”…His voice trailed off; was still.
There was no sound except the drear rain’s fall.
We watched the dead ship creeping to her grave
I thought again: what benefits it all?


“Who Dreams Shall Live”

Who dreams shall live! And if we do not dream
Then we shall build no Temple into Time.
Yon dust cloud, whirling slow against the sun,
Was yesterday’s cathedral, stirred to gold
By heedless footsteps of a passing world.
The faiths of stone and steel are failed of proof,
The King who made religion of a Sword
Passes, and is forgotten in a day.
The crown he wore rots at a lily’s root,
The rose unfurls her banners o’er his dust.

The dreamer dies, but never dies the dream,
Though Death shall call the whirlwind to his aid,
Enlist men’s passions, trick their hearts with hate,
Still shall the Vision live! Say nevermore
That dreams are fragile things. What else endures
Of all this broken world save only dreams!

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