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Olive Tilford Dargan: Beyond War

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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

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Olive Tilford Dargan
Beyond War

I
Now seres the planet like a leaf
On burnt and shaken Ygdrasil.
What voice have we for this wide ill?
How shall we mourn when God in grief
Bows for a world he made and lost
At love’s eternal cost?

‘Tis not that brides shall turn to stone,
And mothers bend with bitter cry
Cursing the day they did not die
When daring death they bore a son,
And waifs shall lift their thin hands up
For famine’s empty cup;

‘Tis not that piled in bleeding mounds
These fathers, sons, and brothers moan,
Or torn upon the seas go down
Glad that the waves may hide their wounds;
Not that the lips that knew our kiss
Are parched and black, but this:

That thou must pause, O vaulting Mind,
Untrammelled leaper in the sun;
Pause, stricken by the spear of one,
The savage thou hadst left behind;
Fall, gibber, fade, and final pass,
Less than returning grass:

That Hate shall end what Love began,
And strip from Life her human boast,
The Maker’s whitest dream be lost,
The dream he trusted to the Man,
The Man who upright rose and stared
Farther than eagle dared:

That now the red lust blinds the eye
That bore the vision, held the star;
And where Life’s fossil recreants are
Another bone and skull shall lie,
While she to dust must stoop again
To build her more than men.

II.
But as the blackest marble’s lit
With struggle of a birthless dawn,
Nay, as behind her door undrawn
Hell forges key that opens it,
And souls that troop to light and breath
Cast habit then of death;

Our dark, this dark, wears still a gleam.
O God, thou wilt not turn thine eyes
For comfort to thine other skies,
Some other star that saved thy dream, –
Until, her gory fiends fordone,
Night wrestles to the Sun!

Canst find no cheer in this, that o’er
Our moaning, reeking battle dews,
And redder than the blood we lose,
More hot and swift, in surge before
War’s shriek and smoke, goes up as flame
The scarlet of our shame?

Stripped and unchristianed in a day,
Made naked by one blast of war,
Bare as the beast we know we are,
Not less shame marks the man, and they
Who wear with blush the fang and claw
May yet make love their law.

For “honor” lift we dripping hands.
For “home” we loose the storm of steel
Till over earth Thy homeless reel.
For “country!” – Thine are all the lands.
We pray, but thou hast seen our dead
Who knew not why they bled.

So warm were they, with destinies
Like straining stars that lustrously
Bore Goethes, Newtons not to be.
(“Long live the king!”) So warm were these
That dropped, and the cold moon alone
May count them, stone by stone.

Ah, Courage, what slain dreams of men
Thy blind, brave eyes here shut upon!
Let reckoners to come outrun
This unstanched loss. Dumb until then,
We wet Eternity with tears;
The aching score is hers.

III.
O Brothers of the lyre and reed,
Lend not a note to this wild fray,
Where Christ still cries in agony
“They know not, Father, thou dost bleed!”
Cast here no song, like flower prest
To Slaughter’s seething breast.

But be the minstrel breath of Peace;
For her alone lift up your lyre,
Mad with the old celestial fire,
Or on our earth let music cease,
While keep we day and night the long
Dumb funeral of Song.

And if among ye one should rise,
Blind garlander of armored crime,
Trailing the jungle in a rhyme,
Let him be set ‘neath blackened skies
By mourning doors, and there begin
The last chant of our sin,

Long gone the warrior’s dancing plume
That played o’er battle’s early day;
Now must his song be laid away,
Child-relic, that was glory’s bloom;
And Man who cannot sing his scars,
Is he not done with wars?

Ay, hearts deny the feet of haste,
And as they muster, oh, they break!
Hate’s loudest fife no more can wake
In them the lust to kill and waste,
And madly perish, fool on fool,
That Might, the brute, may rule.

We hope! Love walks thee yet, O Earth!
Through thy untunable days she glows
A bowed but yet untrampled rose,
Wearing the fearless flush of birth, –
Yea, in our songless shame doth see
Thyself her harp to be!

Ye ages turning men to mould,
Yours be the past, the future ours!
God hear us! There are infant powers
Stronger than giant sins of old!
To all the hells that are and were
Man rises challenger.

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