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Ernest Crosby: Woman and War


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

American writers on peace and against war

Ernest Crosby: Selections against war, for peace

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Ernest Crosby
Woman and War

I saw a lamb gnashing its untried teeth,
Rending the fleece
Of its own brother, piece by piece.
Until beneath
Blood trickled red upon the heath,
And stained the mouth of that perverted lamb
That mouth not made to frighten,
But rather to whiten
With the innocent milk of its dam.

I heard a bobolink in June
Forget its limpid tune,
And choose the shriek and angry talk
Of a carrion hawk;
And I saw it swooping, mad, relentless, down,
Where in a tuft of long couch-grass
Lay an unprotected nest,
Hidden from those who pass,
But spied from above as a spot of brown
By the bird on its ruthless quest.

“Oh God,” I cried, “what ails the universe?
What hell-born curse
Has stirred these gentle hearts to strike?
What anti-natural taint
Makes devil and saint
In hate and cruelty alike?

God did not answer; yet He was not dumb.
He only said:
“The worst is still to come.”
And then I seemed to see
With eyes of dread
A sight most monstrous and unwarranted.
For there appeared to me,
Sadder than aught that I beheld before –
Oh, blasphemy!
A woman urging men to war
(Ah, that such a thing should be!) –
A pure-browed maiden urging men to war!

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The Epitaph

Above his grave they raised a stone
That towered toward the sky,
And on it they carved in shadows deep
These words that held mine eye:

“Here lies a patriot soldier bold,
Who at his country’s call
With joy laid down his youthful life;
Sweet is it thus to fall.”

That night by the ghostly moonlit stone
We saw an angel stand,
And he wiped that labored legend out
With a sweep of his silver hand.

Then with a finger that seemed to glow
Like a flame that was pale and blue
He traced a single white-hot word
That scorched us through and through.

“Angel of Truth,” we cried, aghast
(How did we know his name?),
“What means upon our hero’s tomb
This word of burning shame?

“Was he a ‘traitor’ who fought so well
Against his nation’s foe –
A “traitor,” who gave his life’s red blood
When his country bade it flow?

“He was a traitor,” like a bell
Of silver Truth replied:
“Traitor to more than country’s call
Or patriot’s loyal pride –

“Traitor to freedom when he sought
To subjugate the free –
Traitor to love when, steeped in hate,
He crossed the distant sea –

“Traitor to conscience when he stilled
Its cry of pain within –
Nay, traitor to his country too
For helping her to sin.”

Back toward the stars the angel rose,
And when he disappeared
We chiseled out that shameful word,
Tho deep the stone was seared,

And once again we carved the lines
Which told our hero’s deed.
So deep and clear the words appear
That he who runs may read.

And there they stay until this day
To publish his renown,
For, tho we feared the angel’s wrath,
He never again came down.

Yet, when I read those deep-cut lines,
Between them and behind
I see aflame another name
That burns into my mind.

Traitor to freedom, truth and love,
Traitor to good and right

What patriot boast can save his soul
Who falls in such a fight?

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