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Stephen Crane: An Episode of War

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

American writers on peace and against war

Stephen Crane: There was crimson clash of war

Stephen Crane: War Is Kind

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Stephen Crane
An Episode of War

The lieutenant’s rubber blanket lay on the ground, and upon it he had poured the company’s supply of coffee. Corporals and other representatives of the grimy and hot-throated men who lined the breastwork had come for each squad’s portion.

The lieutenant was frowning and serious at this task of division. His lips pursed as he drew with his sword various crevices in the heap until brown squares of coffee, astoundingly equal in size, appeared on the blanket. He was on the verge of a great triumph in mathematics, and the corporals were thronging forward, each to reap a little square, when suddenly the lieutenant cried out and looked quickly at a man near him as if he suspected it was a case of personal assault. The others cried out also when they saw blood upon the lieutenant’s sleeve.

He had winced like a man stung, swayed dangerously, and then straightened. The sound of his hoarse breathing was plainly audible. He looked sadly, mystically, over the breastwork at the green face of a wood, where now were many little puffs of white smoke. During this moment the men about him gazed statue-like and silent, astonished and awed by this catastrophe which happened when catastrophes were not expected – when they had leisure to observe it.

As the lieutenant stared at the wood, they too swung their heads, so that for another instant all hands, still silent, contemplated the distant forest as if their minds were fixed upon the mystery of a bullet’s journey.

The officer had, of course, been compelled to take his sword into his left hand. He did not hold it by the hilt. He gripped it at the middle of the blade, awkwardly. Turning his eyes from the hostile wood, he looked at the sword as he held it there, and seemed puzzled as to what to do with it, where to put it. In short, this weapon had of a sudden become a strange thing to him. He looked at it in a kind of stupefaction, as if he had been endowed with a trident, a sceptre, or a spade.

Finally he tried to sheath it. To sheath a sword held by the left hand, at the middle of the blade, in a scabbard hung at the left hip, is a feat worthy of a sawdust ring. This wounded officer engaged in a desperate struggle with the sword and the wobbling scabbard, and during the time of it he breathed like a wrestler.

But at this instant the men, the spectators, awoke from their stone-like poses and crowded forward sympathetically. The orderly-sergeant took the sword and tenderly placed it in the scabbard. At the time, he leaned nervously backward, and did not allow even his finger to brush the body of the lieutenant. A wound gives strange dignity to him who bears it. Well men shy from this new and terrible majesty. It is as if the wounded man’s hand is upon the curtain which hangs before the revelations of all existence – the meaning of ants, potentates, wars, cities, sunshine, snow, a feather dropped from a bird’s wing; and the power of it sheds radiance upon a bloody form, and makes the other men understand sometimes that they are little. His comrades look at him with large eyes thoughtfully. Moreover, they fear vaguely that the weight of a finger upon him might send him headlong, precipitate the tragedy, hurl him at once into the dim, grey unknown. And so the orderly-sergeant, while sheathing the sword, leaned nervously backward.

There were others who proffered assistance. One timidly presented his shoulder and asked the lieutenant if he cared to lean upon it, but the latter waved him away mournfully. He wore the look of one who knows he is the victim of a terrible disease and understands his helplessness. He again stared over the breastwork at the forest, and then turning went slowly rearward. He held his right wrist tenderly in his left hand as if the wounded arm was made of very brittle glass.

And the men in silence stared at the wood, then at the departing lieutenant – then at the wood, then at the lieutenant.

As the wounded officer passed from the line of battle, he was enabled to see many things which as a participant in the fight were unknown to him. He saw a general on a black horse gazing over the lines of blue infantry at the green woods which veiled his problems. An aide galloped furiously, dragged his horse suddenly to a halt, saluted, and presented a paper. It was, for a wonder, precisely like an historical painting.

To the rear of the general and his staff a group, composed of a bugler, two or three orderlies, and the bearer of the corps standard, all upon maniacal horses, were working like slaves to hold their ground, preserve, their respectful interval, while the shells boomed in the air about them, and caused their chargers to make furious quivering leaps.

A battery, a tumultuous and shining mass, was swirling toward the right. The wild thud of hoofs, the cries of the riders shouting blame and praise, menace and encouragement, and, last the roar of the wheels, the slant of the glistening guns, brought the lieutenant to an intent pause. The battery swept in curves that stirred the heart; it made halts as dramatic as the crash of a wave on the rocks, and when it fled onward, this aggregation of wheels, levers, motors, had a beautiful unity, as if it were a missile. The sound of it was a war-chorus that reached into the depths of man’s emotion.

The lieutenant, still holding his arm as if it were of glass, stood watching this battery until all detail of it was lost, save the figures of the riders, which rose and fell and waved lashes over the black mass.

Later, he turned his eyes toward the battle where the shooting sometimes crackled like bush-fires, sometimes sputtered with exasperating irregularity, and sometimes reverberated like the thunder. He saw the smoke rolling upward and saw crowds of men who ran and cheered, or stood and blazed away at the inscrutable distance.

He came upon some stragglers, and they told him how to find the field hospital. They described its exact location. In fact, these men, no longer having part in the battle, knew more of it than others. They told the performance of every corps, every division, the opinion of every general. The lieutenant, carrying his wounded arm rearward, looked upon them with wonder.

At the roadside a brigade was making coffee and buzzing with talk like a girls’ boarding-school. Several officers came out to him and inquired concerning things of which he knew nothing. One, seeing his arm, began to scold. “Why, man, that’s no way to do. You want to fix that thing.” He appropriated the lieutenant and the lieutenant’s wound. He cut the sleeve and laid bare the arm, every nerve of which softly fluttered under his touch. He bound his handkerchief over the wound, scolding away in the meantime. His tone allowed one to think that he was in the habit of being wounded every day. The lieutenant hung his head, feeling, in this presence, that he did not know how to be correctly wounded.

The low white tents of the hospital were grouped around an old schoolhouse. There was here a singular commotion. In the foreground two ambulances interlocked wheels in the deep mud. The drivers were tossing the blame of it back and forth, gesticulating and berating, while from the ambulances, both crammed with wounded, there came an occasional groan. An interminable crowd of bandaged men were coming and going. Great numbers sat under the trees nursing heads or arms or legs. There was a dispute of some kind raging on the steps of the school-house. Sitting with his back against a tree a man with a face as grey as a new army blanket was serenely smoking a corn-cob pipe. The lieutenant wished to rush forward and inform him that he was dying.

A busy surgeon was passing near the lieutenant. “Good-morning,” he said, with a friendly smile. Then he caught sight of the lieutenant’s arm and his face at once changed. “Well, let’s have a look at it.” He seemed possessed suddenly of a great contempt for the lieutenant. This wound evidently placed the latter on a very low social plane. The doctor cried out impatiently, “What mutton-head had tied it up that way anyhow?” The lieutenant answered, “Oh, a man.”

When the wound was disclosed the doctor fingered it disdainfully. “Humph,” he said. “You come along with me and I’ll ‘tend to you.” His voice contained the same scorn as if he were saying, “You will have to go to jail.”

The lieutenant had been very meek, but now his face flushed, and he looked into the doctor’s eyes. “I guess I won’t have it amputated,” he said.

“Nonsense, man! Nonsense! Nonsense!” cried the doctor. “Come along, now. I won’t amputate it. Come along. Don’t be a baby.”

“Let go of me,” said the lieutenant, holding back wrathfully, his glance fixed upon the door of the old school-house, as sinister to him as the portals of death.

And this is the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm. When he reached home, his sisters, his mother, his wife sobbed for a long time at the sight of the flat sleeve. “Oh, well,” he said, standing shamefaced amid these tears, “I don’t suppose it matters so much as all that.”

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Edmund Gosse: War and the brutalities of the real thing

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

British writers on peace and war

Siegfried Sassoon: Selections on war

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Edmund Gosse
From Mr. Sassoon’s Satires (1927)

The time has even now hardly come when we can speak of the War with calm, or even consider its aspects without repugnance. But these poems of Mr. Sassoon’s were received with more than reluctance, even with a kind of disgust. The shouting was over, the laurels were cut, but people at home were still unwilling to recognise the brutalities of the real thing. In France, M. Barbusse startled everybody with his dreadful book “Le Feu”; here though much less sensation was caused by the less violent poems of Mr. Sassoon, the movement was identical; it was an unwilling transition from a pink world to a black one, from illusion to reality…

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Jean Paul Richter: The Goddess of Peace

April 14, 2016 1 comment

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

German writers on peace and war

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Jean Paul Richter
From The Titan (1800-1803)
Translated by Charles T. Brooks

The Goddess of Peace seemed to have here her church and her church seat…Thy soul, still covered with its chrysalis shell, confounds as yet the horizon of the eye with the horizon of the heart, and outer elevation with inner, and soars through the physical heaven after the ideal one! For the same power which in the presence of great thoughts lifts our head and our body and expands the chest, raises the body also even with the dark yearning after greatness, and the chrysalis swells with the beating wings of the Psyche; yes, it must needs be, that by the same band wherewith the soul draws up the body the body also can lift up the soul.

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But in every noble heart burns a perpetual thirst for a nobler, in the fair, for a fairer; it wishes to behold its ideal out of itself, in bodily presence, with glorified or adopted form, in order the more easily to attain to it, because the lofty man can ripen only by a lofty one, as diamond can be polished only by diamond…

The first journey, especially when Nature casts over the long road nothing but white radiance and orange-blossoms and chestnut-shadows, imparts to the youth what the last journey often takes away from the man, – a dreaming heart, wings for the ice-chasms of life, and wide-open arms for every human breast.

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Exalted Nature! when we see and love thee, we love our fellow-men more warmly; and when we must pity or forget them, thou still remainest with us, reposing before the moist eye like a verdant chain of mountains in the evening red…

What a form! From a dry, haggard face projected between eyes which gleamed on, half hid beneath their sockets, a contemptuous nose with a proud curl, – there stood a cherub with the germ of the fall, a scornful, imperious spirit, who could not love aught, not even his own heart, hardly a higher, -one of those terrible beings who exalt themselves above men, above misfortune, above the earth, and above conscience, and to whom it is all the same whatever human blood they shed, whether another’s or their own.

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The youth, like all young men and hermits, had too severe notions of courtiers and men of the world: he held them to be decided basilisks and dragons, – although I can still excuse that, if he means by basilisks only what the naturalists mean, – wingless lizards, – and by dragons, nothing but winged ones, and thus regards them only as amphibia, hardly less cold and odious than Linnæus defines such to be.

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Leo Tolstoy: Prescription for peace

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

Russian writers on war

Leo Tolstoy: Selections on war

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Leo Tolstoy
From The Kreutzer Sonata (1889)
Translated by Margaret Wettlin

“Observe this: If the aim of human life is goodness, kindness, love; if the aim of human life is what is told us in the prophecies, that all people are to be united by love, that the sword is to be exchanged for the ploughshare, and all the rest, then what is it that prevents us from achieving this aim? Our passions. And of all the passions, the strongest, the most vicious and persistent, is sexual, carnal love, and therefore if the passions are subdued, especially this, then the prophecies will be fulfilled and mankind will be united into one, the aim of human life will be achieved, and there will no longer be anything to live for. As long as mankind exists it is inspired by the ideal, and certainly not the ideal of pigs and rabbits, which is to have as many offspring as possible, nor the ideal of monkeys and Parisians, which is to get the most refined enjoyment out of sexual indulgence. It is the ideal of goodness achieved through continence and purity. Man always has and always will strive to attain this…”

“Slavery is nothing but a state in which some people reap the benefit of the forced labour of others. Slavery can be abolished only when people no longer wish to reap the benefit of the forced labour of others because they consider it sinful or shameful. But what they actually do is to change the outer forms of slavery by forbidding the sale of slaves, and they fancy (and convince themselves) that slavery has been abolished, not seeing and not wishing to see that slavery continues to exist because people go on wanting to reap the benefit of other people’s labour and consider it right and just to do so. So long as this is considered right, there will be found people who, being stronger and more cunning than others, will bring about slavery.”

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Charles Nodier: Painful to the eyes and the heart of he who cherishes liberty

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

French writers on war and peace

Charles Nodier: Fruitless is the glory of battles

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Charles Nodier
From Promenade from Dieppe to the Mountains of Scotland (1821)
Translated unknown

Farther on the austere rocks of Dunbarton terminate the prospect, and resemble a vast natural cupola of which the river is the avenue. By little and little they open, advance, and discover to the eye that basaltic mass so striking, and at the same time so strange, which incloses between two enormous side walls, divided by a percussion that can only be attributed to the most ancient revolutions of the globe, the most dismal castle with which feudality ever terrified the eyes of nations. Groups of red soldiers, who throw their looks down its desolate depth, from the top of the fortifications, render this spectacle still more painful to the eyes and the heart of a traveller who cherishes liberty…

It is worth observing that there is nothing more difficult to efface than blood. It is the testimony which always arises against the murderer; out of a hundred accusations of homicide, there is not a single one in which it does not serve as an indication. It even cries out in the presence of history and posterity…

Tender and affectionate sentiments not only form the happiness of the individual: they have an influence on the welfare of nations as well as on that of families…

There is a time of life when we no longer exert, on all that surrounds us, that power of sensibility which drags along, which domineers, which makes us fear, and, above all, makes us love; a time when, notwithstanding the soul, still energetic, still young, preserves in the sole possession of its recollections something delicious, which only manifests itself in the calm of solitude…

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Suetonius: Caligula and military glory

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Suetonius: Not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous

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Suetonius
From Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

So much for Caligula as emperor; we must now tell of his career as a monster…

He had but one experience with military affairs or war, and then on a sudden impulse; for having gone to Mevania to visit the river Clitumnus and its grove, he was reminded of the necessity of recruiting his body-guard of Batavians and was seized with the idea of an expedition to Germany. So without delay he assembled legions and auxiliaries from all quarters, holding levies everywhere with the utmost strictness, and collecting provisions of every kind on an unheard of scale. Then he began his march and made it now so hurriedly and rapidly, that the praetorian cohorts were forced, contrary to all precedent, to lay their standards on the pack-animals and thus to follow him; again he was so lazy and luxurious that he was carried in a litter by eight bearers, requiring the inhabitants of the towns through which he passed to sweep the roads for him and sprinkle them to lay the dust.

On reaching his camp, to show his vigilance and strictness as a commander, he dismissed in disgrace the generals who were late in bringing in the auxiliaries from various places, and in reviewing his troops he deprived many of the chief centurions who were well on in years of their rank, in some cases only a few days before they would have served their time, giving as a reason their age and infirmity; then railing at the rest for their avarice, he reduced the rewards given on completion of full military service to six thousand sesterces.

All that he accomplished was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of Cynobellinus king of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had deserted to the Romans with a small force; yet as if the entire island had submitted to him, he sent a grandiloquent letter to Rome, commanding the couriers who carried it to ride in their post-chaise all the way to the Forum and the House, and not to deliver it to anyone except the consuls, in the temple of Mars the Avenger, before a full meeting of the senate.

Presently, finding no one to fight with, he had a few Germans of his body-guard taken across the river and concealed there, and word brought him after luncheon with great bustle and confusion that the enemy were close at hand. Upon this he rushed out with his friends and a part of the praetorian cavalry to the woods close by, and after cutting the branches from some trees and adorning them like trophies, he returned by torchlight, taunting those who had not followed him as timorous and cowardly, and presenting his companions and the partners in his victory with crowns of a new kind and of a new name, ornamented with figures of the sun, moon and stars, and called exploratoriae. Another time some hostages were taken from a common school and secretly sent on ahead of him, when he suddenly left a banquet and pursued them with the cavalry as if they were runaways, caught them, and brought them back in fetters, in this farce too showing immoderate extravagance. On coming back to the table, when some announced that the army was assembled, he urged them to take their places just as they were, in their coats of mail. He also admonished them in the familiar line of Vergil to “bear up and save themselves for better days.”

Meanwhile he rebuked the absent senate and people in a stern edict because “while Caesar was fighting and exposed to such dangers they were indulging in revels and frequenting the theatres and their pleasant villas.”

Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistas and other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them “spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine.” As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos.Then promising the soldiers a gratuity of a hundred denarii each, as if he had shown unprecedented liberality, he said, “Go your way happy; go your way rich.”

Then turning his attention to his triumph, in addition to a few captives and deserters from the barbarians he chose all the tallest of the Gauls, and as he expressed it, those who were “worthy of a triumph,” as well as some of the chiefs. These he reserved for his parade, compelling them not only to dye their hair red and to let it grow long, but also to learn the language of the Germans and assume barbarian names. He also had the triremes in which he had entered the Ocean carried overland to Rome for the greater part of the way. He wrote besides to his financial agents to prepare for a triumph at the smallest possible cost, but on a grander scale than had ever before been known, since the goods of all were at their disposal.

Before leaving the province he formed a design of unspeakable cruelty, that of butchering the legions that had begun the mutiny years before just after the death of Augustus, because they had beleaguered his father Germanicus, their leader, and himself, at the time an infant; and though he was with difficulty turned from this mad purpose, he could by no means be prevented from persisting in his desire to decimate them. Accordingly he summoned them to an assembly without their arms, not even wearing their swords, and surrounded them with armed horsemen. But seeing that some of the legionaries, suspecting his purpose, were stealing off to resume their arms, in case any violence should be offered them, he fled from the assembly and set out for the city in a hurry, turning all his ferocity upon the senate, against which he uttered open threats, in order to divert the gossip about his own dishonour. He complained among other things that he had been cheated of his fairly earned triumph; whereas a short time before he had himself given orders that on pain of death no action should be taken about his honours.

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Mark Aldanov: War was the only subject she avoided

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

Russian writers on war

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Mark Aldanov
From For Thee the Best (1945)
Translated by Nicholas Wreden

She liked to engage a pleasant person in a pleasant conversation on mundane or even spiritual matters. She loved to speculate on what awaits us in the next world. War was the only subject she avoided. People were being maimed for no reason, and if a man returned home without a leg how could he enjoy liberty?

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Later, perhaps much later and probably by accident, history would discover which among these statesmen had actually been insane. Sometimes, even history might not reveal the full truth. The most talented actors disappear from the stage to the accompaniment of boos and hisses, and only the buffoons remain and enjoy tremendous, continuous popularity…

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Charles Nodier: Fruitless is the glory of battles

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

French writers on war and peace

Charles Nodier: Painful to the eyes and the heart of he who cherishes liberty

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Charles Nodier
From Promenade from Dieppe to the Mountains of Scotland (1821)
Translated unknown

The church of St. Paul is the Pantheon of the illustrious men of the last generation, beginning with Johnson and Reynolds, of whom there are statues. Around them are monuments of a number of officers, who were killed during the last thirty years, fighting against France. Fruitless is the glory of battles, which plants a palm wherever it sinks a grave!

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The armoury of the Tower of London is of very little importance to the traveller who has seen the arsenal of Venice, or any other great collection of instruments invented for the destruction of man. It is always, more or less, nothing but an armourer’s shop…

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In a very industrious and very intelligent nation, the docks are the most extraordinary monument of the industry, and perhaps of the intelligence of man. They are certainly the most useful. They have this incontestible advantage over columns and pyramids which bear above the clouds the parade of our impotence and vanity. The statue of the founder of the docks is not erected at the expense of the sweat, the tears, and the blood of his countrymen…

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Vladimir Korolenko: Final judgment

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

Russian writers on war

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Vladimir Korolenko
From Makar’s Dream (1883)
Translated by Suzanne Rozenberg

Hunger and misery drove him hard; he had suffered from the drought in summer and the bitter frosts in winter; the taiga and the frozen soil had yielded him nothing. His life had been like that of cattle which are being driven on and do not know where they are going. Did he know what the priest’s sermons in church meant and why he had to pay the tithes? Did he know what had become of his eldest son, who had been taken as a soldier? He did not know where he died, in what place his poor bones lay!

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Nikolai Leskov: Immorality

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

Russian writers on war

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Nikolai Leskov
From The Cathedral Folk (1872)
Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood

Owing to the illness of the teacher Gonorsky, Prepotensky was temporarily entrusted with the history lessons, and he immediately began to hold forth on the immorality of war, and applied this directly to the happenings in Poland. But as though this  were not enough for him, he also ridiculed civilization, censured patriotism, and the principle of nationality, furthermore he made fun of decency to the children, representing it even as, in many respects, immoral; and he cited as an example of this, that cultivated peoples conceal the begetting of a man, but do not conceal the act of murder, and even carry the weapons of war on their shoulders…

 

 

 

 

 

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Maurice Baring: Unalterable horror, misery, pain and suffering which is caused by modern war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Maurice Baring
From With the Russians in Manchuria (1905)

As to the war I shall be satisfied if there is a single sentence in this book which will have brought home to anyone the unalterable horror, misery, pain, and suffering which is caused by a modern war – anything which will make people reflect when, or rather before, they beat the big drum and appeal to St. Jingo.

War is an insensate abomination…

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Ivan Turgenev: “Militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand”

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

Russian writers on war

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Ivan Turgenev
From Old Portraits
Unknown Translator

‘There was more freedom in those days, more decorum; on my honour, I assure you! but since the year eighteen hundred…militarism, the soldiery, have got the upper hand. Our soldier gentlemen stuck some sort of turbans of cocks’ feathers on their heads then, and turned like cocks themselves; began binding their necks up as stiff as could be…they croak, and roll their eyes – how could they help it, indeed? The other day a police corporal came to me; “I’ve come to you,” says he, “honourable sir,”…(fancy his thinking to surprise me with that!…I know I’m honourable without his telling me!) “I have business with you.” And I said to him, “My good sir, you’d better first unfasten the hooks on your collar. Or else, God have mercy on us – you’ll sneeze. Ah, what would happen to you! what would happen to you! You’d break off, like a mushroom … and I should have to answer for it!” And they do drink, these military gentlemen – oh, oh, oh! I generally order home-made champagne to be given them, because to them, good wine or poor, it’s all the same; it runs so smoothly, so quickly, down their throats – how can they distinguish it? And, another thing, they’ve started sucking at a pap-bottle, smoking a tobacco-pipe. Your military gentleman thrusts his pap-bottle under his moustaches, between his lips, and puffs the smoke out of his nose, his mouth, and even his ears – and fancies himself a hero!’

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Alphonse Daudet: Revenge and war

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

French writers on war and peace

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Alphonse Daudet
From Support of the Family
Unknown translator

“Mauglas, whom we just picked up on the road, declares that from one generation to another is as far as from Mars to the earth or any other planet, and that urchins like Raymond here, when I talk to them of the coup d’État of 1852 and of Badingue’s [Napoleon III’s] cowardly recantation, do not know what I mean.”

“Any more than they understand those of my generation who preach revenge and war to them.”

***

Mademoiselle Pulchérie, the older sister, betrayed by a very keen taste for hussars, gave every year a fresh proof of her affection for them to some officer of the 12th, then in garrison at Saint-Lô. When the war of 1870 scattered the jaunty hussars with their wasp-waists, one of Monsieur Denizan’s clerks took the place left vacant by the officers of the 12th, and, being less scrupulous than they, ran away with the daughter and the money-box.

***

There was no more carting, but the roads were abandoned to parties of abandoned troops, Algerian swallows who devoured even the window curtains. Twice, soldiers on their way to their regiments had set the house on fire.

***

“I agree with you, my boy. But the novelist, who is the historian of unimportant people, of those who have no history, has no more right than other historians to deal in imposture and evil speaking…”

 

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Anton Chekhov: You can’t remember a single year without war

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

Russian writers on war

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Anton Chekhov
The Rook
Translator unknown

The rooks had arrived and swarmed in great circles around the Russian cornfields. I singled out the most important-looking I could find, and began to talk to him. Unfortunately I hit upon a rook who was a moralist and a great reasoner; consequently our conversation was a dull one.

This is what we talked about:

I. “It’s said that you rooks live to a great age. The naturalists cite you and the pike as great examples of longevity. How old are you?”

The Rook. “I am three hundred and seventy-six years old.”

I. “Well, I never! You’ve lived precious long! In your place, old bird, the devil only knows how many articles I could have written for the Russian Antiquarian and the Historical Journal. If I had lived three hundred and seventy-six years I can’t imagine how many novels, stories, plays, scenes and other trifles I should have written. What numbers of fees I should have pocketed! Now, what have you, old rook, done during all those years?”

The Rook. “Nothing, Mr. Man. I have only eaten, drunk, slept and multiplied.”

I. “Shame! I really feel shame for you, silly old bird. You have lived in the world three hundred and seventy-six years, and you are as stupid today as you were three hundred years ago. Not a ha’p’orth of progress.”

The Rook. “Wisdom, Mr. Man, comes not from age, but from education and learning. Look at China – she has existed much longer than I have, and she is till as great a simpleton to-day as she was a thousand years ago.”

I (with astonishment). “Three hundred and seventy-six years! What do you call that? An eternity! During that time I should have been able to attend lectures in every faculty; I could have been married twenty times; tried every profession and employment; attained the devil only knows what high rank and, no doubt, have died a Rothschild. Just think of it, you fool, one rouble placed in the bank at five per cent compound interest becomes in two hundred and eighty-three years a million. Just calculate. That means, if you had placed one rouble on interest two hundred and eighty-three years ago, you would have had a million roubles today. Ah, you fool, you fool! Are you not ashamed, don’t you feel a fool to be so stupid?”

The Rook. “Not at all. We are stupid; but we can comfort ourselves with the thought that during the four hundred years of our life we do fewer foolish things than a man does during his forty years. Yes, Mr. Man, I have lived three hundred and seventy-six years, and I have never once seen rooks make war on one another, or kill one another, and you can’t remember a single year without war. We do not rob one another, or open savings banks or schools for modern languages; we do not bear false witness or blackmail; we do not write bad novels and bad verse, or edit blasphemous newspapers…I have lived three hundred and seventy-six years and I have never seen that our mates have been unfaithful to, or have injured their husbands…and with you, Mr. Man, how is it? We have no lackeys, no back-biters, no sycophants, no swindlers, no panderers, no hypocrites…”

At that moment this talker was called by his companions, and flew away over the fields before he had time to finish his sentence.

***

From Miss N. N.’s Story

There is never a wall that cannot be broken through; but the heroes of present-day fiction, as far as I know them, are too timid, too slow, too lazy and fearsome, and they are too apt to be satisfied with the thought that they are failures, and that their own life has duped them; instead of struggling, they only criticize and call the world mean, and they forget that their own criticism gradually degenerates into meanness.

***

From At Home

Such appears to be the law of life; the more intangible the evil the more fiercely and mercilessly is it combated.

***

From Two Tragedies

The general stupefaction, the mother’s pose, the father’s indifferent face, exhaled something attractive and touching; exhaled that subtle, intangible beauty of human sorrow which cannot be analysed or described, and which music alone can express.

In general, phrases, however beautiful and profound, act only on those who are indifferent, and seldom satisfy the happy or unhappy; it is for this reason that the most touching expression of joy or sorrow is always silence; sweethearts understand one another best when they are silent; and a burning passionate eulogy spoken above a grave touches only the strangers present, and seems to widow and child inexpressive and cold.

In each was expressed the egoism of the unfortunate. And men who are unfortunate, egotistical, angry, unjust, and heartless are even less than stupid men capable of understanding one another. For misfortune does not unite, but sever; and those who should be bound by community of sorrow are much more unjust and heartless than the happy and contented.

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Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Libanius: Rulers more popular for granting mercy than possessing multitudes of soldiers

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Libanius: War in time of peace

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Libanius
From Orations
Translated by A. F. Norman

[T]he ruling power gets its popularity not so much from its trophies, from cities either taken in war or received into alliance, from the multitudes of its soldiery, or from its legislation, wisdom and scrupulous administration of justice, as from its grants of pardon in their misdeeds.

***

This is the normal treatment of the weaker at the hands of the influential, of the penniless at the hands of the wealthy, of the masses at the hands of the elite…[T]his the treatment accorded to the manufacturing class by…lackeys of the governors to such as do not gratify their every whim. Brutal masters make full use of this technique every single day, for any one who is compelled by law to remain silent, however wronged he may be, must needs be arrested also. Into this category are also to be put the peasants who work for the landlords, for some treat them just as though they were slaves, and if they do not acquiesce in the extortions that are practised upon them, just a word or two is needed, and a soldier goes down to the farm, complete with fetters, they are arrested, and the jail takes them in…

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Henry Noel Brailsford: Who is the happy warrior?

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Noel Brailsford: Waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming

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Henry Noel Brailsford
From The Broom of the War God (1898)

“Ah! I have killed them. A sergeant and five men. I shot them with my own hand from behind a rock as they entered Domoko this morning. A sergeant and five men! And you?”

“We chased the Turks for two miles.”

Kala,” said Alexi, as he rolled himself in his rug.

“Nay, simple shepherd. It is not well,” thought Graham.“ Six Moslem mothers are desolate in Anatolia, and Varatasi has fallen, and all that true men loved is lost, and there is none to heed. And now there is joy in all the Chancelries, and the Philistines make merry.” And he envied Varatasi.

“Who is the happy warrior? who is be
That every man in arms would wish to be!”

And then as the grey dawn defined the outlines of the hills, blackened the great fortress and revealed the snows, he fell asleep and dreamed. And in his dream he was at rest. He lay on his back on the plain of Domoko, dead, and Varatasi was near him. A blaze of white light illumined the hillside. It shone till the blood danced as to the noise of a trumpet. And men in shimmering armour swept up towards him, with a song in their mighty throats and a purpose of victory in their tread.

“Hail, Saviour, Prince of Peace,
Thy Kingdom shall increase.”

They sang the brave words to that old crusader’s tune, with the clang of arms in its rhythms, the resistless ardour in the throbbing of its accents…

Wearily he rose, rubbing his eyes, for he was fain of victory and the magic wrought by courage.

He noticed Alexi peacefully resting. He looked more closely and saw the stain of blood on his sheepskin cloak. He had been shot in the side, and had died quietly as he slept.

And then he turned and went without a word to his thankless task. As he tramped the three miles in the grey light and the bitter cold along the mountain path, he thought of his dream, and found comfort. For there is a time to fight and a time to rest. He took up the great burden of peace and dishonour; he thought no more of the madness of the charge; he ceased to long for a death among the enemy. The time for fierce energy was past…For there is a time to fight and a time to rest, a time for resurrection and a time to acquiesce in death. He trudged long accepting the mortal prose of failure.

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Suetonius: Not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Suetonius: Caligula and military glory

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Suetonius
From Lives of the Twelve Caesars
Translated by J. C. Rolfe

Caesar compelled Pompeius and Crassus to come to Luca, a city in his province, where he prevailed on them to stand for a second consulship, to defeat Domitius; and he also succeeded through their influence in having his term as governor of Gaul made five years longer. Encouraged by this, he added to the legions which he had received from the state others at his own cost, one actually composed of men of Transalpine Gaul…which he trained in the Roman tactics and equipped with Roman arms; and later on he gave every man of it citizenship. After that he did not let slip any pretext for war, however unjust and dangerous it might be, picking quarrels as well with allied, as with hostile and barbarous nations; so that once the senate decreed that a commission be sent to inquire into the condition of the Gallic provinces, and some even recommended that Caesar be handed over to the enemy.

***

He doubled the pay of the legions for all time. Whenever grain was plentiful, he distributed it to them without stint or measure, and now and then gave each man a slave from among the captives.

***

He took no less pains to win the devotion of princes and provinces all over the world, offering prisoners to some by the thousand as a gift, and sending auxiliary troops to the aid of others whenever they wished, and as often as they wished, without the sanction of the senate or people…

***

There is a saying of Marcus Cato that Caesar was the only man who undertook to overthrow the state when sober.

***

Neither when in command of armies nor as a magistrate at Rome did he show a scrupulous integrity; for as certain man have declared in their memoirs, when he was proconsul in Spain,he not only begged money from the allies, to help pay his debts, but also attacked and sacked some towns of the Lusitanians although they did not refuse his terms and opened their gates to him on his arrival. In Gaul he pillaged shrines and temples of the gods filled with offerings, and oftener sacked towns for the sake of plunder than for any fault. In consequence he had more gold than he knew what to do with, and offered it for sale throughout Italy and the provinces at the rate of three thousand sesterces the pound. In his first consulship he stole three thousand pounds of gold from the Capitol, replacing it with the same weight of gilded bronze. He made alliances and thrones a matter of barter, for he extorted from Ptolemy alone in his own name and that of Pompey nearly six thousand talents, while later on he met the heavy expenses of the civil wars and of his triumphs and entertainments by the most bare-faced pillage and sacrilege.

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Alfred de Vigny: It is war that is wrong, not we

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

‘We were at war. He’s no more a murderer than I was myself at Rheims. When I killed the Russian boy perhaps I, too, was a murderer? In the great war in Spain the men who stabbed our sentries did not consider themselves murderers and, since they were at war, perhaps they were not. Did the Catholics and Huguenots murder each other or not? How many murders are there in a big engagement? That is a point upon which our reasoning fails and is silent. It is war that is wrong, not we…’

The dazzling Grandeur of conquerors is quenched, perhaps for ever. Their past luster fades, I repeat, in proportion to the growth in human minds of contempt for war and, in human hearts, of loathing for its ruthless cruelty. Standing armies are an embarrassment to their masters…Happily, philosophy has belittled war; negotiations replaced it; scientific invention will end by abolishing it.

***

Soldiers fight and die with little thought of God. Our age knows this is so, would wish it otherwise, and can do nothing.

***

Cold calculation now enables war to be waged with scientific violence.

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Rutilius Namatianus: Races of demigods who knew not iron-harnessed Mars

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Rutilius Namatianus
From A Voyage Home to Gaul
Translated by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff

More good is done to the world by teeming earth which gives birth to iron than by the golden gravel washed down by the Tagus in the distant West; for deadly gold is the substance that makes vice: blind lust of gold leads into every crime: golden gifts carry by storm the troth of wedded brides: a golden shower can buy the maid’s embraces: loyalty sapped by gold betrays the well-walled town: scandalous misuse of gold ambition itself pursues its wild career. But not so iron: it is with iron that neglected fields are tilled; by iron was the first way of living found. Races of demigods, who knew not iron-harnessed Mars, by iron faced the charge of savage beasts.

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Alexandre Dumas: The dove

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

French writers on war and peace

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Alexandre Dumas
From The Chevalier de Maison Rouge (1845)
Translator unknown

In the tempest which unchains the wind and hurls the thunderbolt, the nest of the dove is shaken in the tree where it had retired for shelter.

***

The house of justice was a large and somber building, exciting more fear than love for the goddess. There might be seen united in this narrow space all the instruments and attributes of human vengeance.

***

These cries were mournful and prolonged; there was about them something unearthly and piercing, like the howling of wind in the dark and deserted corridor, when the tempest borrows the human voice to animate the passions of the elements.

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Alfred de Vigny: Admiration for military commander turns us into slaves and madmen

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

Such things happen in a society where feeling is repressed. The constant and excessive effort to toughen one’s character is one of the bad sides of the profession of arms. The heart is trained to be hard, and pity hidden for fear it should seem weakness; one tries one’s hardest to conceal the divine sense of compassion, without realizing that by dint of locking up a good emotion the prisoner is stifled.

***

Martial Grandeur…seems to me to be of two kinds: that of command and that of obedience. The first, wholly superficial, active, brilliant, proud, egotistical and capricious, will daily become rarer, and less coveted, as civilization grows more peaceful; the other, wholly interior, passive, hidden, modest, devoted and persevering, will be honoured more every day; for, to-day, when the spirit of conquest is dying out, the only kind of greatness an exalted character can bring to the profession of arms seems to me to reside to less in the glory of battle than in the honour of silent suffering…

***

O dreams of command and slavery! O corrupting thoughts of power, fit only to deceive children! False enthusiasms! Subtle poisons, who will ever succeed in finding an antidote for you?

***

Admiration for a military commander becomes a passion, a fanaticism, a frenzy, which blinds us and turns us into slaves and madmen.

 

 

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Libanius: War in time of peace

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Libanius: Rulers more popular for granting mercy than possessing multitudes of soldiers

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Libanius
From Oration 30
Unknown translator

[T]he husbandman is impoverished, and the revenue suffers. For, be the will ever so good, impossibilities are not to be surmounted. Of such mischievous consequence are the arbitrary proceedings of those persons in the country, who say, ‘they fight with the temples.’ But that war is the gain of those who oppress the inhabitants: and robbing these miserable people of their goods, and what they had laid up of the fruits of the earth for their sustenance, they go off as with the spoils of those whom they have conquered…[T]hese also are your subjects, and so much more profitable than those who injure them, as laborious men are than the idle: for they are like bees, these like drones…Others glory and boast, and tell their exploits to those who are ignorant of them, and say they are more deserving than the husbandmen. Nevertheless, what is this but in time of peace to wage war with the husbandmen? For it by no means lessens these evils that they suffer from their countrymen. But it is really more grievous to suffer the things which I have mentioned in a time of peace, from those who ought to assist them in a time of trouble.

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Alfred de Vigny: War is condemned of God and even of man who holds it in secret horror

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

I had not at that time any comprehensive view of our Fatherland of France or of that other Fatherland of Europe which surrounds it; indeed, looking further, of the fatherland of humanity, the whole world, which happily becomes smaller each day, as the hand of civilization closes around it. I had not then thought how much happier the soldier would be at heart if he could feel that there were two men within him, the one obeying the other; if he knew that after the hard part he must play in war, he had the right to play another, more benevolent and no less glorious, in peace…

[I]t is too much for a single head to bear the heavy responsibility of so many murders; if there were as many to bear it as there are combatants, they would be none too many. Those who are responsible for executing the law of bloodshed should in justice at least properly understand it…I repeat once more, armies and wars will not endure for ever. Despite the words of the sophist, with whom I have argued elsewhere, it is quite untrue to suppose that there is anything sacred about war, even against a foreign enemy; nor is there any truth in the saying that the earth thirsts for blood. War is condemned of God and even of man who, though he makes it, holds it in secret horror; and the earth cries to heaven for no more than the fresh water of its rivers and the pure dew of its clouds.

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Henry Noel Brailsford: Waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Noel Brailsford: Who is the happy warrior?

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Henry Noel Brailsford
From The Broom of the War God (1898)

It was a charitable darkness. The persons of the farce dropped their masks. They moved about, black human figures, neither petty nor frivolous, black human figures waiting for the horrors of a war that was coming. A sense of pity and forgiveness, of a simple sadness in the tragedy that called for no clever phrase to express it, came over Graham as he sat on his bench, thinking without words. Yes, yes, it was Fate that moved them, those black masses on legs, those things in the dark without eyes. And he abandoned himself to the fancy. It seemed the road to rest, to walk towards Death in this fashion, with grown-up children about one, with “Folly” for the rule of life.

***

The company had covered half-a-mile when a halt was called, and the captain and the sergeant went aside again to peer over the plain and discuss the situation.

“Hallo!” said Smith, “that road wasn’t red a minute ago.” It was as though a vein had been opened on the moor three miles away, and the red blood trickled slowly down, a thin streak soaking its way through the yellow dust. The eyes of the company were fixed on the dry road, greedily watching the yellow absorbing the red.

It had a fascination like nothing else on earth, this thin red symbol of terror that crept remorselessly over the sand.

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Alfred de Vigny: The army is a machine wound up to kill

February 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

The army is blind and dumb, strikes down unquestioningly those to whom it is opposed, desires nothing for itself and acts under compulsion; it is a machine wound up to kill…

In looking closely at the life of the armed forces – the daily burden imposed upon us by successive governments – we shall indeed find, as I have said, that the soldier’s lot is the most melancholy relic if barbarism (next to capital punishment) that lingers on among mankind…

The life is regular, monotonous and dull. The hours are as muffled and sullen as the drum that marks their passing. Bearing and demeanor are as uniform as the dress. The animation of youth and the sluggishness of age are reduced to the same denominator, which is that of Service. The Service in which one serves is the mould into which one’s character is thrown and there changed, recast, shaped for ever to a common pattern. The Man is lost in the Soldier.

Military bondage is as oppressive and inflexible as the iron mask of the unknown prisoner and confers upon all soldiers and aspect of uniformity and reserve.

***

I shall choose among my memories those that seem to me at once to clothe, most fitly and decently, a chosen subject, and to show how many conditions, which are opposed to the development of character and intelligence, arise from the gross bondage and primitive customs of standing armies.

Their crown is a crown of of thorns, and among its spokes there is none, I think, more painful than passive obedience…

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Alfred de Vigny: When armies and war exist no more

February 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Alfred de Vigny: Selections on war

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Alfred de Vigny
From Servitude et grandeur militaires (1835)
Translated by Humphrey Hare

We cannot sufficiently forestall the time when the army is identified with the nation if we are ever to see the day when armies and war exist no more, when the world consists of but one nation unanimous at last as regards its social structure – an event which should already have occurred ages ago.

***

The army is a nation within a nation; this is a defect of our times.

***

The fate of a modern army is quite other [than that of the Middle Ages to the middle of the eighteenth century], and the centralization of power has made it what it is. It is a body divorced from the great body of the nation, resembling a child in its lagging intelligence, a child, moreover, forbidden to grow up. The modern army, as soon as it ceases to be at war, becomes a kind of constabulary. It is ashamed, knowing neither its duty nor its status, whether it rules the state or is its slave; a body searching in vain for its own soul.

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Morning song

February 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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Scandinavian writers on peace and war

February 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Scandinavian writers on peace and war

Hans Christian Andersen: Art, not arms, rules the world. War, an allegory.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: All labor’s dread of war’s mad waste and murder

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: I saw a dove fear-daunted

Georg Brandes: Selections on war

Georg Brandes: An Appeal Against Wholesale Murder

Georg Brandes: War, uninterrupted series of horrors, atrocities, and slaughter

Georg Brandes: The World at War

Georg Brandes: The Praise of War

Georg Brandes: Only officers and ammunition-makers wish war

Georg Brandes: Two million men held in readiness to exterminate each other

Georg Brandes: Wars waged by governments fronting for financial oligarchies

Georg Brandes: Abrupt about-face, the glorification of war

Georg Brandes: Giants of bloodshed; military staffs foster war

Georg Brandes: The future will look on war as the present looks on witchcraft, the Inquisition

Georg Brandes: War not fight for ideals but fight for concessions

Nordahl Grieg: War is contempt for life

Pentti Haanpää: War suits only such people as want to die

Ludvig Holberg: Military modesty and candor

Ellen Key: Overcoming the madness of a world at war

Pär Lagerkvist: If such a thing as war can end

Selma Lagerlöf: The Fifth Commandment. The Great Beast is War.

Selma Lagerlöf: The mark of death was on them all

Halldór Laxness: In war there is no cause except the cause of war. A bitter disappointment when it turned out they could defend themselves

Martin Andersen Nexø : From warlike giant to hysterical popinjay

August Strindberg: Progeny of soulless militarism

August Strindberg: What has become of the sacred promise of peace on our earth?

 

 

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Morning song

February 22, 2016 Leave a comment

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August Strindberg: Progeny of soulless militarism

February 21, 2016 Leave a comment

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

August Strindberg: What has become of the sacred promise of peace on our earth?

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August Strindberg
From Corinna (1886)
Translator unknown

Since her father occupied the highest rank in their circle of friends, everybody treated him with an amount of respect which is rarely shown to equals, and as she was the general’s daughter, she was treated in the same way. She held the rank of a general and she knew it.

There was always an orderly sitting in the hall who rose with much clanking and clashing of steel and stood at attention whenever she went in or out. At the balls none but the majors dared to ask her for a dance; she looked upon a captain as a representative of an inferior race, and a lieutenant as a naughty boy.

She fell into the habit of appreciating people entirely according to their rank. She called all civilians “fishes,” poorly-clad people “rascals,” and the very poor “the mob.”

***

As she belonged to an old family which on her father’s side, had squandered its strength in a soulless militarism, drink and dissipation, and on her mother’s had suppressed fertility to prevent the splitting up of property, Nature seemed to have hesitated about her sex at the eleventh hour; or perhaps had lacked strength to determine on the continuation of the race.

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Cicero: All wars, undertaken without a proper motive, are unjust

February 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Cicero: Military commands, phantom of glory and the ruin of one’s own country and personal downfall

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Cicero
From De re publica
Translated by Francis Barham

No war can be undertaken by a just and wise state, unless for faith or self–defence…

All wars, undertaken without a proper motive, are unjust. And no war can be reputed just, unless it be duly announced and proclaimed, and if it be not preceded by a rational demand for restitution.

When Alexander inquired of a pirate by what right he dared to infest the sea with his little brigantine: “By the same right (he replied) which is your warrant for conquering the world.”…This same Alexander, this mighty general, who extended his empire over all Asia, how could he, without violating the property of other men, acquire such universal dominion, enjoy so many pleasures, and reign without bound or limit?

Now if Justice, as you assert, commands us to have mercy upon all; to exercise universal philanthropy; to consult the interests of the whole human race; to give every one his due, and to injure no sacred, public, or foreign rights – how shall we reconcile this vast and all–embracing justice with worldly wisdom and policy, which teach us how to gain wealth, power, riches, honours provinces, and kingdoms from all classes, peoples, and nations?

If we were to examine the conduct of states by the test of justice, as you propose, we should probably make this astounding discovery, that very few nations, if they restored what they have usurped, would possess any country at all, – with the exception, perhaps, of the Arcadians and Athenians, who, I presume, dreading that this great act of retribution might one day arrive, pretend that they were sprung from the earth like so many of our field mice.

There is a true law, a right reason, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil. Whether it enjoins or forbids, the good respect its injunctions, and the wicked treat them with indifference. This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and is not liable either to derogation or abrogation. Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice. It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience. It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing to–day and another to–morrow; but in all times and nations this universal law must for ever reign, eternal and imperishable. It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings.

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Morning song

February 20, 2016 Leave a comment

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August Strindberg: What has become of the sacred promise of peace on our earth?

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

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

August Strindberg: Progeny of soulless militarism

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August Strindberg
From Holy Trinity Night
Translated by Lotta M. Löfgren

“What has become of the sacred promise of peace on our earth?
Human intentions are noble, peace is our greatest desire;
Forced into violence and war, to betrayal and treacherous language –
Harken to roars of the damned who have lost all faith in goodness;
Life is ugly, an evil, yet people abominate evil.
Does he not suffer who sevenfold battered the already conquered?
Mankind’s intentions were good, but life insisted on evil…”

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Morning song

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

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Ludvig Holberg: Military modesty and candor

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Ludvig Holberg
From Diderich the Terrible (1724)
Translated by Henry Alexander

JEW. Who are you?

HENRIK. I’m Christopher Battering-ram.

JEW. Christopher Battering-ram! That’s a strange name.

HENRIK. That name’s a proud one. Open up!

JEW. A little patience, sir.

HENRIK. What d’you mean, patience? I’m an officer.

JEW. And I’m a resident here.

HENRIK. That’s just like saying: “You’re Joergen the Hat-maker and I’m Alexander the Great.” Open up, or you’re a dead man!

JEW. (coming out) What do you want, mounseer?

HENRIK. Perhaps you don’t know Christopher Battering-ram?

JEW. No, sir.

HENRIK. Haven’t you read my name in the papers?

JEW. No, Mr. Battering-ram.

HENRIK. Haven’t you heard of the battle of Ragusa?

JEW. No, sir.

HENRIK. You civilians are as stupid as oxen.

JEW. Everyone knows something; maybe I understand some things you don’t understand.

HENRIK. What do you understand? Heark’ee, poltroon! What’s a counterscarp?

JEW. I don’t know.

HENRIK. What’s a ravelin?

JEW. I don’t know.

HENRIK. A company in square formation?

JEW. I don’t understand that.

HENRIK. A Gregory regiment?

JEW. I’m not a soldier.

HENRIK. An approach of petards?

JEW. I don’t know that either.

HENRIK. An escort, a battalion, a squadron, an order of battle, an order for the ramparts, a protective volley, a platoon, a bastion, a company, a dromedary, a military commissar?

JEW. Mounseer, I don’t understand any military language.

HENRIK. Then you’re as annoying as a brure beast.

***

MENSCHENSKRAEK…The Turks were so terrified of my name that they wouldn’t try to take any plunder, I’d make them so sick of that business. I dare say that all by myself in battles here and there I killed twenty thousand men, and once during one month I massacred two thousand Janissaries with my own hand. Isn’t that so, Christopher Battering-ram?

CHRISTOPHER. Certainly.

MENSCHENSKRAEK. That’s why the general himself gave me the name Menschenskraek (“The Terrible”).

ELVIRE. Is that possible? Is that how you got your name?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, he himself did me the honor of presenting me to the Duke of Dalmatia with these words: Your Highness, here is a second Scanderberg, the scourge of the Turks.

ELVIRE. Really?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Nothing was more pleasant to me than to meet a whole company of armed Turks all by myself. Isn’t that so, Battering-ram?

CHRISTOPHER. Certainly.

MENSCHENSKRAEK. I had the Turkish vizier Mahometh Podolski by the heels, but just at that moment a bomb came and blew my hand back, so he escaped that time. But it’s only a short respite. I’ll never forget how he shrieked in Turkish: oh, la, la, la.

ELVIRE: What does that mean in our language?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. It means: Oh, great Mahomet, help me against this this strong warrior Menshencskraek.

ELVIRE. Can those few words mean so much?

MENSCHENSKRAEK. Yes, the Turkish language is very rich.

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Morning song

February 18, 2016 Leave a comment

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Plautus: Military braggadocio

February 17, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Plautus
From Miles Gloriosus, or The Braggart Captain
Translated by Henry Thomas Riley

PYRGOPOLINICES
What do you remember?

ARTOTROGUS
I do remember this. In Cilicia there were a hundred and fifty men, a hundred in Cryphiolathronia, thirty at Sardis, sixty men of Macedon, whom you slaughtered altogether in one day.

PYRGOPOLINICES
What is the sum total of those men?

ARTOTROGUS
Seven thousand.

PYRGOPOLINICES
It must be as much: you keep the reckoning well.

ARTOTROGUS
Yet I have none of them written down; still, so I remember it was.

PYRGOPOLINICES
By my troth, you have a right good memory.

***

ARTOTROGUS
Besides, in Cappadocia, you would have killed five hundred men altogether at one blow, had not your sabre been blunt.

PYRGOPOLINICES
I let them live, because I was quite sick of fighting.

ARTOTROGUS
Why should I tell you what all mortals know, that you, Pyrgopolinices, live alone upon the earth, with valour, beauty, and achievements most unsurpassed? All the women are in love with you, and that not without reason, since you are so handsome…

This city is Ephesus; then, the Captain, my master, who has gone off hence to the Forum, a bragging, impudent, stinking fellow, brimful of lying and lasciviousness, says that all the women are following him of their own accord. Wherever he goes, he is the laughing-stock of all…

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Morning song

February 17, 2016 Leave a comment

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Pär Lagerkvist: If such a thing as war can end

February 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Pär Lagerkvist
From The Death of Ahasuerus (1960)
Translated by Naomi Walford

“I’d left the others and was roving on my own…yes, I was a soldier; there was war, of course, there always was…”

“The war went on for many years…She lived in the midst of brutality, whoring and drunkenness there in the baggage-train, among those lecherous women whom the army dragged with it until they became so worn out, used up and ill that they straggled behind or were chased away, while in their place others were sucked in on the march through that ravaged, plundered country…”

“Then the war came to an end at last – if such a thing as war can end. We soldiers were disbanded – ‘sent home,’ as they called it, although we had no homes and turned bandit instead…”

“Disgust and loathing I felt too for the life itself – this life of rough soldiering and banditry – this criminal life that seemed to fill the world, to lay waste the world, expose it to senseless devastation; to shame, misery and despair. The criminal life I had led so long – I and all these others. Why was I in it, why was I just like all the others? How could I endure it, stoop to it? What sort of life was it? How could I go on? I became more and more revolted by this existence, my own shameless existence, and by myself.”

“The region I was walking in was deserted. That I’d already seen, but now I saw how deserted it really was, and in what way. It was no wilderness, but cultivated land; yet the fields lay untended; they could not have been tilled for a very long time, for they were full of saplings and bushes and here and there half-grown trees; the forest had broken into those fields again and won them back. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere, not any trace of one. It was forsaken.

“It came as no surprise, for many places were in the same state. For years war had rolled its devastation over this land, and was no doubt the cause of its neglect. And perhaps there were no folk left to cultivate it. After the war, plague had spread more swiftly than before, and claimed many more victims than the war itself; whole tracts of country were quite depopulated, and lay abandoned and desolate…”

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Morning song

February 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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Montaigne: Monstrous war waged for frivolous reasons

February 15, 2016 Leave a comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
Translated by Charles Cotton

From Of Managing the Will

Our greatest agitations have ridiculous springs and causes: what ruin did our last Duke of Burgundy run into about a cartload of sheepskins! And was not the graving of a seal the first and principal cause of the greatest commotion that this machine of the world ever underwent? – for Pompey and Caesar were but the offsets and continuation of the two others: and I have in my time seen the wisest heads in this kingdom assembled with great ceremony, and at the public expense, about treaties and agreements, of which the true decision, in the meantime, absolutely depended upon the ladies’ cabinet council, and the inclination of some bit of a woman.

The poets very well understood this when they put all Greece and Asia to fire and sword about an apple [the Trojan War]. Look why that man hazards his life and honour upon the fortune of his rapier and dagger; let him acquaint you with the occasion of the quarrel; he cannot do it without blushing: the occasion is so idle and frivolous.

A little thing will engage you in it; but being once embarked, all the cords draw; great provisions are then required, more hard and more important. How much easier is it not to enter in than it is to get out? Now we should proceed contrary to the reed, which, at its first springing, produces a long and straight shoot, but afterwards, as if tired and out of breath, it runs into thick and frequent joints and knots, as so many pauses which demonstrate that it has no more its first vigour and firmness; ’twere better to begin gently and coldly, and to keep one’s breath and vigorous efforts for the height and stress of the business. We guide affairs in their beginnings, and have them in our own power; but afterwards, when they are once at work, ’tis they that guide and govern us, and we are to follow them.

***

From Of Physiognomy

A monstrous war! Other wars are bent against strangers, this against itself, destroying itself with its own poison. It is of so malignant and ruinous a nature, that it ruins itself with the rest; and with its own rage mangles and tears itself to pieces. We more often see it dissolve of itself than through scarcity of any necessary thing or by force of the enemy. All discipline evades it; it comes to compose sedition, and is itself full of it; would chastise disobedience, and itself is the example; and, employed for the defence of the laws, rebels against its own. What a condition are we in! Our physic makes us sick!

***

I underwent the inconveniences that moderation brings along with it in such a disease: I was robbed on all hands; to the Ghibelline I was a Guelph, and to the Guelph a Ghibelline

***

From Of Experience

Pain, pleasure, love and hatred are the first things that a child is sensible of: if, when reason comes, they apply it to themselves, that is virtue.

***

Between ourselves, I have ever observed supercelestial opinions and subterranean manners to be of singular accord.

***

‘Tis to much purpose to go upon stilts, for, when upon stilts, we must yet walk with our legs; and when seated upon the most elevated throne in the world, we are but seated upon our breech. The fairest lives, in my opinion, are those which regularly accommodate themselves to the common and human model without miracle, without extravagance.

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Morning song

February 15, 2016 Leave a comment

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Montaigne: War’s fury

February 14, 2016 1 comment

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

French writers on war and peace

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
Translated by Charles Cotton

From Of Diversion

Whoever shall ask a man, “What interest have you in this siege?” – “The interest of example,” he will say, “and of the common obedience to my prince: I pretend to no profit by it; and for glory, I know how small a part can affect a private man such as I: I have here neither passion nor quarrel.” And yet you shall see him the next day quite another man, chafing and red with fury, ranged in battle for the assault; ’tis the glittering of so much steel, the fire and noise of our cannon and drums, that have infused this new rigidity and fury into his veins. A frivolous cause, you will say. How a cause? There needs none to agitate the mind; a mere whimsy without body and without subject will rule and agitate it.

***

From Upon Some Verses of Virgil

Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die; to destroy him a spacious field is sought out in the face of the sun, but, to make him, we creep into as dark and private a corner as we can: ’tis a man’s duty to withdraw himself bashfully from the light to create; but ’tis glory and the fountain of many virtues to know how to destroy what we have made: the one is injury, the other favour: for Aristotle says that to do any one a kindness, in a certain phrase of his country, is to kill him.

[I]s it not seen that in places where faults are crimes, crimes are but faults…?

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Morning song

February 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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Virgil: Shall impious soldiers have these new-ploughed grounds?

February 13, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Virgil: Age of peace

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Virgil
Translated by Charles Cotton

From Aeneid

Men plough, girt with arms; ever delighting in fresh robberies, and living by rapine.

Armati terram exercent, semperque recentes
Convectare juvat praedas; et vivere rapto.

***

From Eclogues

Shall impious soldiers have these new-ploughed grounds?

Impius haec tam culta novalia miles habebit!

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Morning Song

February 13, 2016 Leave a comment

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Horace: Let there be a limit to warfare

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Horace: Transcending war

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Horace
From The Odes
Translated by Charles Cotton

Let my old age have a fixed seat; let there be a limit to fatigues from the sea, journeys, warfare.

Sit meae sedes utinam senectae,
Sit modus lasso maris, et viarum,
Militiaeque.

***

Alas! our crimes and our fratricides are a shame to us! What crime does this bad age shrink from? What wickedness have we left undone? What youth is restrained from evil by the fear of the gods? What altar is spared?

Eheu! cicatricum, et sceleris pudet,
Fratrumque: quid nos dura refugimus
Aetas? quid intactum nefasti
Liquimus? Unde manus inventus
Metu Deorum continuit? quibus
Pepercit aris.

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Morning song

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

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Lucretius: Lull to a timely rest the savage works of war

February 11, 2016 Leave a comment

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Lucretius
From De Rerum Natura
Translated by William Ellery Leonard

Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,
Dear Venus…
Lull to a timely rest
O’er sea and land the savage works of war,
For thou alone hast power with public peace
To aid mortality; since he who rules
The savage works of battle, puissant Mars,
How often to thy bosom flings his strength
O’ermastered by the eternal wound of love –
And there, with eyes and full throat backward thrown,
Gazing, my Goddess, open-mouthed at thee,
Pastures on love his greedy sight, his breath
Hanging upon thy lips. Him thus reclined
Fill with thy holy body, round, above!
Pour from those lips soft syllables to win
Peace for the Romans, glorious Lady, peace!

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