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Joseph Fawcett: The contemptible wagers of civilized war

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Fawcett: War Elegy

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Joseph Fawcett
From The Art of War

Man
Was made to cherish, not to butcher man.
The sordid senator, who sells his breath
To wake the coals of war, she [Reason] doth proclaim,
Nor can his ear th’ accus’d patrician seal,
Accomplice in the murder of mankind.
When in the peaceful camp, while battle breathes ,
Their shouting the recumbent captains cease,
Oft to the letter’d leader of his band,
As, ruminating, silent he reclines,
She whispers audible “What dost thou here?
Is this a fair and honest scene around thee,
That shrinks not from the beam of piercing Truth?
Is this thy post of duty? Wert thou made
To be the saviour or the foe of life?”

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…’tis you alone,
Sons of Refinement, sons of Science, you!
Convicted stand of murder’s cruel crime.
And all the mild humanities that mix
With the rough horror of the hostile scene;
During each pause of intermittent Mars,
The courteous intercourse betwixt you chiefs,
Fair, interlucory civilities,
That deck and soften war’s stern rigid state;
But serve its iron ugliness to point.
Each streak of beauteous white that breaks its dark
Shows but in blacker night its ebon shade….

A madd’ning war of venom, stings and teeth;
Into whose dragon broil, and high-wrought rage,
(Prodigious discord!) all her out-sent soul
Alecto breath’d! oh, better far my fight
Could such complete, consistent scene sustain,
Than this strange mixture of our motley strife.
Urbanity, and battle! manners bland,
And murders bloody! thorns that deeply pierce,
And beautifully flower! soft courtly camps,
That kill, and smile, and smile, and kill again!

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Civiliz’d war! in every varied view,
Ill suits thee, fiend accurs’d! so fair a name.
Though in the field a smoother form thou wear
Than thy wild sister-hag of craggier shape,
A feller fury thou! for on thee wait
Severer sufferings; and a wider scene
With varied woes thy vaster mischief fills.
Ah, ’tis in cultur’d life, and chiefly there,
War is the scourge we call it; there alone
In thickest show’r of heaviest lashes felt,
It deeply lacerates and long furrows makes
On, bleeding Happiness! thy mangled frame.
What if the field of savage slaughter show
With blood a more obliterated green,
A redder plain and direr forms of death?
Its rage the savage soldier feels, nor fears:
Nurs’d in no silken lap, his lion-nerves,
Strings strong as steel, stiff and untrembling, know
To laugh at torment and to sing in death.
War is his sport; in ecstasy of soul
He whoops and hails the hour that bids him face
Its frowning front, its horrid dangers dare,
And hew in pieces whom his heart abhors.
Not with this prompt, exulting leap to arms
Europe’s cold hireling with her call complies:
Forth to the field, unused to suffer pain,
And long time lapp’d in soft and drowsy ease,
Fearful and loth he moves: the arms of Peace
He leaves reluctant, and reluctant lifts
The hostile spear: nor by hot malice spurr’d
‘Gainst whom he’s sent to slay, nor flaming love
Of whom he goes to serve, with sluggish step,
Heavy and homeward hanging, he obeys
His crested master’s bidding to depart.

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Till then (whate’er the gay-cloath’d coward prate,
Whose crest tremendous scares the sons of Peace)
In him who fights for pay, not love of fight,
Nor of the cause which his sold arm sustains,
Contemplative Compassion views a wretch,
When first he enters the dread, fateful field,
A cold, recoiling wretch, that, pale, regrets
He e’er forsook the safe domestic scene.
In fancy slain by every slaught’rous sound,
Lifeless he hears the loud disploded deaths,
And ‘mid the thunder dies a thousand times.

Ah cruel lusts! wherever ye have lain,
Lodg’d in whatever bosoms, founts of wars,
That myriads thus have mercilessly sent
From life’s smooth walks and humanized scenes
To freeze with horror amid forms they hate;
To wear white faces in the field of death,
Without a cause to kindle scorn of life;
Dire ills to work, where ill to none they wish;
Hurt whom they hate not, whom they know not crush,
And act the fiend by fury uninspir’d!

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