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Ernest Renan: No military path to the kingdom of God

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

French writers on war and peace

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Ernest Renan
From a letter to David Strauss

That which admits to Valhalla excludes from the kingdom of God. Have you remarked that neither in the beatitudes, nor in the Sermon on the Mount, not in the Gospels, is there a word giving a place to military virtues among those which gain the kingdom of God?

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Sara Teasdale: Spring in War-Time

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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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Sara Teasdale
Spring in War-Time

I feel the spring far off, far off,
The faint, far scent of bud and leaf –
Oh, how can spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
Deep grief?

The sun turns north, the days grow long,
Later the evening star grows bright –
How can the daylight linger on
For men to fight,
Still fight?

The grass is waking in the ground,
Soon it will rise and blow in waves –
How can it have the heart to sway
Over the graves,
New graves?

Under the boughs where lovers walked
The apple-blooms will shed their breath –
But what of all the lovers now
Parted by Death,
Grey Death?

***

There Will Come Soft Rains

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

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Vachel Lindsay: Speak Now for Peace

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Vachel Lindsay
Speak Now for Peace

Lady of Light, and our best woman, and queen,
Stand now for peace, (though anger breaks your heart),
Though naught but smoke and flame and drowning is seen.

Lady of Light, speak, though you speak alone,
Though your voice may seem as a dove’s in this howling flood,
It is heard to-night by every senate and throne.

Though the widening battle of millions and millions of men
Threatens to-night to sweep the whole of the earth,
Back of the smoke is the promise of kindness again.

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James Darmesteter: War and prophecy

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

French writers on war and peace

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James Darmesteter
From The Prophets of Israel
Translated by Helen B. Jastrow

When prophetic literature appeared, the moral and political horizon stretching before the eyes of the dreamers of Israel and of Judah consisted of a number of small states, Moab, Edom, Tyre, Philistia, Israel, Judah, all contending with one another with the bitterness characteristic of small states. War and pillage were the order of the day, perpetual razzias supplying captives for the slave trade of Tyre and the Greek islands. Farther off, a powerful state, Damascus, and, still farther, mighty Assyria, with their vast armies, their wars of extermination, their frightful systems of deportation and transportation in mass, already throw the shadow of death upon this chaos of lawless communities. The gods are as wicked and as bigoted as men; religion is become a school of prostitution in the temple of Astarte, of barbarity on the altars of Moloch; worship vacillating between silly and atrocious practices; divination, sorcery, imposture, are closely bound up with all the cults. And when the prophet of Jehovah extends his gaze to his own people, he beholds political and moral anarchy. Israel is divided against herself, and presents a united front only when opposing Judah. Bloody military revolutions create and overthrow kings, and all the horrors of a pretorian regime exist in a kingdom of several square miles. In the intermittent hours of peace, force remains absolute master, as in the time of war; the poor are oppressed by the rich….

The cruelty, the degradation, the iniquity, characteristic of those times, were certainly no worse than in preceding centuries, both in Israel and in the rest of the Semitic world; nor worse than those which prevailed later in Greece and in Rome…It was part of the spirit of prophecy to be dumfounded at human ferocity as at something against nature and reason. In the presence of the iniquities of the world, the heart of the prophets bled as though from a wound of the divine spirit, and their cry of indignation reechoed the wrath of the deity…

Then, at the sight of the crushed Assyrian, a vision of peace that has ever since haunted the universe passes before the eyes of the prophet. War had come to an end, hatred had ceased, Jehovah became the arbiter of nations. The nations no longer raised the sword against one another, and swords were to be forged into ploughshares.

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James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery: The poet tracks not the warrior’s fiery road

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
From M.S.
To the memory of a female whom sickness had reconciled to the notes of sorrow

What is the Poet’s highest aim,
His richest heritage of fame? –
– To track the warrior’s fiery road,
With havoc, spoil, destruction strew’d,
While nations bleed along the plains,
Dragg’d at his chariot-wheels in chains?

– With fawning hand to woo the lyre,
Profanely steal celestial fire,
And bid an idol’s altar blaze
With incense of unhallow’d praise?
– With syren strains, Circean art,
To win the ear, beguile the heart,
Wake the wild passions into rage,
And please and prostitute the age!

NO! – to the generous bard belong
Diviner themes and purer song…

****

From The Mole-Hill

Yon gloomy ruffian, gash’d and gored,
Was he, whose fatal skill
First beat the plough-share to a sword,
And taught the art to kill?

Behind him skulks a shade, bereft
Of fondly worshipt fame;
He built the Pyramids, but left
No stone to tell his name.

****

Vultures

Abominable harpies, spare the dead.
– We only clear the field which man has spread;
On which should Heaven its hottest vengeance rain?
You slay the living, we but strip the slain.

****

From The Lyre

“That which Alexander sigh’d for,
That which Caesar’s soul possess’d.
That which heroes, kings, have died for –
Glory! – animates my breast:
Hark! the charging trumpets’ throats
Pour their death-defying notes;
‘To arms!’ they call: to arms I fly,
Like Wolfe to conquer, and like Wolfe to die.

“Soft! – the blood of murdered legions
Summons vengeance from the skies;
Flaming towns and ravaged regions,
All in awful judgment rise. –
O then, innocently brave,
I will wrestle with the wave;
Lo! Commerce spreads the daring sail,
And yokes her naval chariots to the gale.

“Blow, ye breezes! – gently blowing,
Waft me to that happy shore,
Where, from fountains ever flowing,
Indian realms their treasures pour;
Thence returning, poor in health,
Rich in honesty and wealth,
O’er thee, my dear paternal soil,
I’ll strew the golden harvest of my toil.

“Then shall Misery’s sons and daughters
In their lowly dwellings sing:
Bounteous as the Nile’s dark waters,
Undiscover’d as their spring,
I will scatter o’er the land
Blessings with a secret hand;
For such angelic tasks design’d,
I give the lyre and sorrow to the wind.”

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Shaftesbury: Improvement of arts and scholarship requires rest from war

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

British writers on peace and war

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Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury
From Advice to an Author
Grandees and men in power

It would be very hard if the princes of our nation refused to permit the industrious race of authors to do their work; since their royal ancestors and predecessors have had so much honour brought to them from their being writers. It’s to authorship that they owe that bright jewel of their crown, purchased by a warlike prince [Henry VIII] who took on the role of author and tried his strength in the polemical writings of the scholastic theologians, and thought it was an honour on this account to retain the title of Defender of the Faith.

Another prince [James I], with a more peaceful nature and fluent thought, put scholarship ahead of arms and military discipline. Putting his trust in his princely knowledge and profound learning, he made his style and speech the nerve and sinew of his government. He gave us his works full of wise exhortation and advice to his royal son as well as of instruction to his good people…At that time one might have seen our nation growing young and teachable, with the simplicity of heart that qualified them to profit like a scholar-people under their royal teacher…

It’s barely a quarter-century since our prince and our people reached such a good balance of power that our previously fragile liberties are now firmly secured, and we are freed from the fear of civil commotions – and of wars and violence…

It’s the same with us as it was with the Roman people in those early days, when to apply themselves to the improvement of arts and scholarship all they needed was a rest from war.

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From Concerning Virtue or Merit

The last passions that we have to examine are the ones that don’t lead to a public or a private good, and don’t bring any advantage to the species in general or to the creature in particular. I call these the ‘unnatural affections’, to distinguish them from the ‘social’ (or ‘natural’) affections and from the ‘private’ affections.

Of this kind is the unnatural and inhuman delight in beholding torments, and getting a special joy and pleasure from viewing distress, calamity, blood, massacre and destruction. This has been the dominant passion of many tyrants and barbarous nations; and some degree of it belongs to temperaments that have thrown off the courteousness of behaviour that retains in us a proper reverence for mankind and prevents the growth of harshness and brutality. Wherever civility or affable manners have any place, however small, this passion doesn’t occur. It is in the nature of ‘good breeding’, as we call it, that even in the midst of many other corruptions it won’t allow inhumanity or savage pleasure. To get cruel delight from an enemy’s suffering may come from intense anger, vengefulness, fear, or some other extreme self-passion; but to delight in the torture and pain of other creatures even-handedly – natives or foreigners, human or of some other species, related to us or not, known or unknown – to feed on death (so to speak), and to be entertained with dying agonies, can’t be explained in terms of self-interest or private good, but is wholly and absolutely unnatural, as well as being horrible and miserable.

 

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James Montgomery: ‘Twas but a dream. But one word found utterance – “Peace, peace! peace!”

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
From Lord Falkland’s Dream

Oft from his lips a shrill, sad moan would start,
And cold misgivings creep around his heart,
When he beheld the plague of war increase,
And but one word found utterance – “Peace, peace! peace!”

***

“Henceforth let civil war for ever cease;
Henceforth, my sons and daughters, dwell in peace;
Amidst the ocean-waves that never rest.
My lovely Isle, be thou the halcyon’s nest;
Amidst the nations, evermore in arms,
Be thou a haven, safe from all alarms;
Alone immovable ‘midst ruins stand,
Th’ unfailing hope of every failing land:

To thee for refuge kings enthroned repair;
Slaves flock to breathe the freedom of thine air.
Hither, from chains and yokes, let exiles bend
Their footsteps; here the friendless find a friend;
The country of mankind shall Britain be,
The home of peace, the whole world’s sanctuary.”

The pageant fled; ’twas but a dream: he, woke,
And found himself beneath the Druid-oak,
Where first the phantom on his vigil broke.
Around him gleam’d the morn’s reviving light;
But distant trumpets summon’d to the fight,
And Falkland slept among the slain at night.

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Petrarch: Return, O heaven-born Peace!

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

Italian writers on war and militarism

Petrarch: Wealth and power at a bloody rate is wicked, better bread and water eat with peace

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Petrach
From To the Princes of Italy
An Exhortation to Peace
Translated by Barbarina Brand, Lady Dacre

O my own Italy! though words are vain
The mortal wounds to close,
Unnumbered, that thy beauteous bosom stain,
Yet may it soothe my pain
To sigh forth Tiber’s woes,
And Arno’s wrongs, as on Po’s saddened shore
Sorrowing I wander, and my numbers pour.
Ruler of heaven! By the all-pitying love
That could thy Godhead move
To dwell a lowly sojourner on earth,
Turn, Lord! on this thy chosen land thine eye:
See, God of Charity!
From what light cause this cruel war has birth;
And the hard hearts by savage discord steeled,
Thou, Father! from on high,
Touch by my humble voice, that stubborn wrath may yield!

***

From broken fortunes and from humble toil
The hard-earned dole to wring,
While from afar ye bring
Dealers in blood, bartering their souls for hire?
In truth’s great cause I sing,
Nor hatred nor disdain my earnest lay inspire.

***

My song! with courtesy, and numbers sooth,
Thy daring reasons grace;
For thou the mighty, in their pride of place,
Must woo to gentle ruth,
Whose haughty will long evil customs nurse,
Ever to truth averse!
Thee better fortunes wait,
Among the virtues few, the truly great!
Tell them – but who shall bid my terrors cease?
Peace! Peace! on thee I call! Return, O heaven-born Peace!

 

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Arnold Bennett: War casualties and war profiteers

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

British writers on peace and war

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Arnold Bennett
From Mr. Prohack

Silas Angmering had evidently been what is called a profiteer. He had made his money “out of the war.” And Silas was an Englishman. While Englishmen, and – later – Americans, had given up lives, sanity, fortunes, limbs, eyesight, health, Silas had gained riches…Prohack had himself seen, in the very club in which he was now entertaining Softly Bishop, a man who had left an arm in France chatting and laughing with a man who had picked up over a million pounds by following the great principle that a commodity is worth what it will fetch when people want it very badly and there is a shortage of it…

Few facts gave Mr. Prohack a more serene and proud satisfaction than the fact that he had materially lost through the war. He was positively glad that he had lost, and that the Government, his employer, had treated him badly…And now to become the heir of a profiteer!

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John Milton: No war or battle’s sound was heard the world around

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

British writers on peace and war

Milton: Men levy cruel wars, wasting the earth, each other to destroy

John Milton: What can war but endless war still breed?

Milton: Without ambition, war, or violence

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John Milton
From On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

[T]he meek-ey’d Peace:
She, crown’d with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.

No war or battle’s sound
Was heard the world around;
The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstain’d with hostile blood;
The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.

But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.

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James Montgomery: Farewell to War

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
Farewell to War

Peace to the trumpet! – no more shall my breath
Sound an alarm in the dull ear of death,
Nor startle to life from the truce of the tomb
The relics of heroes, to combat till doom.
Let Marathon sleep to the sound of the sea,
Let Hannibal’s spectre haunt Cannae for me;
Let Cressy and Agincourt tremble with corn,
And Waterloo blush with the beauty of morn;
I turn not the furrow for helmets and shields,
Nor sow dragon’s teeth in their old fallow fields;
I will not, as bards have been wont, since the flood,
With the river of song swell the river of blood,
-The blood of the valiant, that fell in all climes,
-The song of the gifted, that hallow’d all crimes,
-All crimes in the war-fiend incarnate in one;
War, withering the earth – war, eclipsing the sun,
Despoiling, destroying, since discord began,
God’s works and God’s mercies, – man’s labours and man.
Yet war have I loved, and of war have I sung.
With my heart in my hand and my soul on my tongue;
With all the affections that render life dear,
With the throbbings of hope and the flutterings of fear,
– Of hope, that the sword of the brave might prevail,
– Of fear, lest the arm of the righteous should fail.
But what was the war that extorted my praise?
What battles were fought in my chivalrous lays?

-The war against darkness contending with light;
The war against violence trampling down right;
-The battles of patriots, with banner unfurl’d,
To guard a child’s cradle against an arm’d world;
Of peasants that peopled their ancestors’ graves,
Lest their ancestors’ homes should be peopled by slaves.
I served, too, in wars and campaigns of the mind;
My pen was the sword, which I drew for mankind;
-In war against tyranny throned in the West,
-Campaigns to enfranchise the negro oppress’d;
In war against war, on whatever pretence,
For glory, dominion, revenge or defence,
While murder and perfidy, rapine and lust,
Laid provinces desolate, cities in dust.

Yes, war against war was ever my pride;
My youth and my manhood in waging it died,
And age, with its weakness, its wounds, and its scars,
Still finds my free spirit unquench’d as the stars.
And he who would bend it to war must first bind
The waves of the ocean, the wings of the wind;
For I call it not war, which war’s counsels o’erthrows,
I call it not war which gives nations repose;
‘Tis judgment brought down on themselves by the proud,
Like lightning, by fools, from an innocent cloud.

I war against all war…

Around the mute trumpet, – no longer to breathe
War-clangours, my latest war-chaplets I wreathe.
Then hang them aloof on the time-stricken oak,
And thus, in its shadow, heaven’s blessing invoke:
“Lord God! since the African’s bondage is o’er,
And war in our borders is heard of no more,
May never, while Britain adores Thee, again
The malice of fiends or the madness of men,
Break the peace of our land, and by villanous wrong
Find a field for a hero, a hero for song.”

****

From Greenland

‘Twere long and dreary to recount in rhyme
The crude traditions of that long-lost clime:
To sing of wars, by barbarous chieftains waged,
In which as fierce and noble passions raged.
Heroes as subtle, bold, remorseless, fought.
And deeds as dark and terrible were wrought.
As round Troy-walls became the splendid themes
Of Homer’s song, and Jove’s Olympian dreams;
When giant-prowess, in the iron field,
With single arm made phalanx’d legions yield
When battle was but massacre, – the strife
Of murderers, – steel to steel, and life to life.

****

From The Pelican Island

He gave the ideal, too, of truth and beauty; –
To look on Nature with a poet’s eye.
And live, amidst the daylight of this world,
In regions of enchantment; – with the force
Of song, as with a spirit, to possess
The souls of those that hearken, till they feel
But what the minstrel feels, and do but that.
Which his strange inspiration makes them do ;
Thus with his breath to kindle war, and bring
The array of battle to electric issue;
Or, while opposing legions, front to front.
Wait the dread signal for the work of havoc.
Step in between, and with the healing voice
Of harmony and concord win them so.
That hurling down their weapons of destruction
They rush into each other’s’ arms, with shouts
And tears of transport; till inveterate foes
Are friends and brethren, feasting on the field.
Where vultures else had feasted, and gorged wolves
Howl’d in convulsive slumber o’er their corses.

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Thomas Hood: When war has ceased with all its Ills, Captains should come like sucking Doves, With Olive Branches in their Bills

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

British writers on peace and war

Thomas Hood: As gentle as sweet heaven’s dew beside the red and horrid drops of war

Thomas Hood: Freelance soldiering

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Thomas Hood
Lines on the Celebration of Peace
By Dorcas Dove

And is it thus ye welcome Peace!
From Mouths of forty-pounding Bores?
Oh cease, exploding Cannons, cease!
Lest Peace, affrighted, shun our shores!

Not so the quiet Queen should come;
But like a Nurse to still our Fears,
With Shoes of List, demurely dumb,
And Wool or Cotton in her Ears!

She asks for no triumphal Arch;
No steeples for their ropy Tongues;
Down, Drumsticks, down, She needs no March,
Or blasted Trumps from brazen Lungs.

She wants no Noise of Mobbing Throats
To tell that She is drawing nigh:
Why this Parade of scarlet Coats,
When War has closed his bloodshot Eye?

Returning to Domestic Loves,
When war has ceased with all its Ills,
Captains should come like sucking Doves,
With Olive Branches in their Bills.

No need there is of vulgar Shout,
Bells, Cannons, Trumpets, Fife, and Drum,
And Soldiers marching all about,
To let Us know that Peace is come.

Oh mild should be the Signs and meek.
Sweet Peace’s Advent to proclaim!
Silence her noiseless Foot should speak,
And Echo should repeat the same.

Lo! where the Soldier walks, alas!
With Scars received on foreign Grounds;
Shall we consume in coloured Glass
The Oil that should be pour’d in Wounds?

The bleeding Gaps of War to close,
Will whizzing Rocket-Flight avail?
Will Squibs enliven Orphans’ Woes?
Or Crackers cheer the Widow’s Tale?

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: I am weary of your quarrels, weary of your wars and bloodshed

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

American writers on peace and against war

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals the blast of War’s great organ shakes the skies!

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Peace-Pipe
From The Song of Hiawatha

On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
He the Master of Life, descending,
On the red crags of the quarry
Stood erect, and called the nations,
Called the tribes of men together.
From his footprints flowed a river,
Leaped into the light of morning,
O’er the precipice plunging downward
Gleamed like Ishkoodah, the comet.
And the Spirit, stooping earthward,
With his finger on the meadow
Traced a winding pathway for it,
Saying to it, “Run in this way!”
From the red stone of the quarry
With his hand he broke a fragment,
Moulded it into a pipe-head,
Shaped and fashioned it with figures;
From the margin of the river
Took a long reed for a pipe-stem,
With its dark green leaves upon it;
Filled the pipe with bark of willow,
With the bark of the red willow;
Breathed upon the neighboring forest,
Made its great boughs chafe together,
Till in flame they burst and kindled;
And erect upon the mountains,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
Smoked the calumet, the Peace-Pipe,
As a signal to the nations.
And the smoke rose slowly, slowly,
Through the tranquil air of morning,
First a single line of darkness,
Then a denser, bluer vapor,
Then a snow-white cloud unfolding,
Like the tree-tops of the forest,
Ever rising, rising, rising,
Till it touched the top of heaven,
Till it broke against the heaven,
And rolled outward all around it.
From the Vale of Tawasentha,
From the Valley of Wyoming,
From the groves of Tuscaloosa,
From the far-off Rocky Mountains,
From the Northern lakes and rivers
All the tribes beheld the signal,
Saw the distant smoke ascending,
The Pukwana of the Peace-Pipe.
And the Prophets of the nations
Said: “Behold it, the Pukwana!
By the signal of the Peace-Pipe,
Bending like a wand of willow,
Waving like a hand that beckons,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
Calls the tribes of men together,
Calls the warriors to his council!”
Down the rivers, o’er the prairies,
Came the warriors of the nations,
Came the Delawares and Mohawks,
Came the Choctaws and Camanches,
Came the Shoshonies and Blackfeet,
Came the Pawnees and Omahas,
Came the Mandans and Dacotahs,
Came the Hurons and Ojibways,
All the warriors drawn together
By the signal of the Peace-Pipe,
To the Mountains of the Prairie,
To the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
And they stood there on the meadow,
With their weapons and their war-gear,
Painted like the leaves of Autumn,
Painted like the sky of morning,
Wildly glaring at each other;
In their faces stern defiance,
In their hearts the feuds of ages,
The hereditary hatred,
The ancestral thirst of vengeance.
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
The creator of the nations,
Looked upon them with compassion,
With paternal love and pity;
Looked upon their wrath and wrangling
But as quarrels among children,
But as feuds and fights of children!
Over them he stretched his right hand,
To subdue their stubborn natures,
To allay their thirst and fever,
By the shadow of his right hand;
Spake to them with voice majestic
As the sound of far-off waters,
Falling into deep abysses,
Warning, chiding, spake in this wise :

“O my children! my poor children!
Listen to the words of wisdom,
Listen to the words of warning,
From the lips of the Great Spirit,
From the Master of Life, who made you!

“I have given you lands to hunt in,
I have given you streams to fish in,
I have given you bear and bison,
I have given you roe and reindeer,
I have given you brant and beaver,
Filled the marshes full of wild-fowl,
Filled the rivers full of fishes:
Why then are you not contented?
Why then will you hunt each other?

“I am weary of your quarrels,
Weary of your wars and bloodshed,
Weary of your prayers for vengeance,
Of your wranglings and dissensions;
All your strength is in your union,
All your danger is in discord;
Therefore be at peace henceforward,
And as brothers live together.

“I will send a Prophet to you,
A Deliverer of the nations,
Who shall guide you and shall teach you,
Who shall toil and suffer with you.
If you listen to his counsels,
You will multiply and prosper;
If his warnings pass unheeded,
You will fade away and perish!

“Bathe now in the stream before you,
Wash the war-paint from your faces,
Wash the blood-stains from your fingers,
Bury your war-clubs and your weapons,
Break the red stone from this quarry,
Mould and make it into Peace-Pipes,
Take the reeds that grow beside you,
Deck them with your brightest feathers,
Smoke the calumet together,
And as brothers live henceforward!”

Then upon the ground the warriors
Threw their cloaks and shirts of deer-skin,
Threw their weapons and their war-gear,
Leaped into the rushing river,
Washed the war-paint from their faces.
Clear above them flowed the water,
Clear and limpid from the footprints
Of the Master of Life descending;
Dark below them flowed the water,
Soiled and stained with streaks of crimson,
As if blood were mingled with it!
From the river came the warriors,
Clean and washed from all their war-paint;
On the banks their clubs they buried,
Buried all their warlike weapons.
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
The Great Spirit, the creator,
Smiled upon his helpless children!
And in silence all the warriors
Broke the red stone of the quarry,
Smoothed and formed it into Peace-Pipes,
Broke the long reeds by the river,
Decked them with their brightest feathers,
And departed each one homeward,
While the Master of Life, ascending,
Through the opening of cloud-curtains,
Through the doorways of the heaven,
Vanished from before their faces,
In the smoke that rolled around him,
The Pukwana of the Peace-Pipe!

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Winthrop Mackworth Praed: Take the sword away

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

British writers on peace and war

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Winthrop Mackworth Praed
Mars Disarmed by Love

Aye, bear it hence, thou blessed child,
Though dire the burden be,
And hide it in the pathless wild,
Or drown it in the sea;
The ruthless murderer prays and swears
So let him swear and pray;
Be deaf to all his oaths and prayers,
And take the sword away.

We’ve had enough of fleets and camps,
Guns, glories, odes, gazettes,
Triumphal arches, coloured lamps,
Huzzas and epaulettes;
We could not bear upon our head
Another leaf of bay;
That horrid Buonaparte’s dead:
Yes, take the sword away.

We’re weary of the noisy boasts
That pleased our patriot throngs;
We’ve long been dull to Gooch’s toasts,
And tame to Dibdin’s songs;
We’re quite content to rule the wave
Without a great display;
We’re known to be extremely brave;
But take the sword away.

We give a shrug, when fife and drum
Play up a favourite air;
We think our barracks are become
More ugly than they were;
We laugh to see the banners float:
-We loathe the charger’s bray;
We don’t admire a scarlet coat;
Do take the sword away.

Let Portugal have rulers twain,
Let Greece go on with none.
Let Popery sink or swim in Spain
While we enjoy the fun;
Let Turkey tremble at the knout,
Let Algiers lose her Dey,
Let Paris turn her Bourbons out:
Bah! take the sword away.

Our honest friends in Parliament
Are looking vastly sad;
Our farmers say with one consent
It’s all immensely bad;
There was a time for borrowing,
And now it’s time to pay;
A budget is a serious thing;
So take the sword away.

And, oh, the bitter tears we wept
In those our days of fame, –
The dread that o’er our heart-strings crept
With every post that came, –
The home affections, waged and lost
In every far-off fray, –
The price that British glory cost!
Ah, take the sword away!

We’ve plenty left to hoist the sail
Or mount the dangerous breach,
And Freedom breathes in every gale
That wanders round our beach;
W^hen duty bids us dare or die.
We’ll fight, another day;
But till we know the reason why,
Take – take the sword away.

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Jonathan Swift: Brutes more modest than men in perpetuating war against their own species

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

British writers on peace and war

Jonathan Swift: Lemuel Gulliver on War

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Jonathan Swift
From A Tale of a Tub
A Digression on Wars

This being a matter of great consequence, the author intends to treat it methodically, and at large, in a treatise apart, and here to give only some hints of what his large treatise contains. The state of war natural to all creatures. War is an attempt to take by violence from others a part of what they have and we want. Every man, duly sensible of his own merit, and finding it not duly regarded by others, has a natural right to take from them all that he thinks due to himself; and every creature, finding its own wants more than those of others, has the same right to take everything its nature requires. Brutes much more modest in their pretensions this way than men; and mean men more than great ones. The higher one raises his pretensions this way, the more bustle he makes about them; and the more success he has, the greater hero. Thus greater souls, in proportion to their superior merit, claim a greater right to take everything from meaner folks. This the true foundation of grandeur and heroism, and of the distinction of degrees among men. War therefore necessary to establish subordination, and to found cities, kingdoms, etc., as also to purge bodies politic of gross humours. Wise princes find it necessary to have wars abroad, to keep peace at home. War, famine, and pestilence, the usual cures for corruptions in bodies politic. A comparison of these three. The author is to write a panegyric on each of them. The greatest part of mankind loves war more than peace. They are but few and mean-spirited that live in peace with all men. The modest and meek of all kinds, always a prey to those of more noble or stronger appetites. The inclination to war universal: those that cannot, or dare not, make war in person, employ others to do it for them. This maintains bullies, bravoes, cutthroats, lawyers, soldiers, etc. Most professions would be useless, if all were peaceable. Hence brutes want neither smiths nor lawyers, magistrates nor joiners, soldiers nor surgeons. Brutes, having but narrow appetites, are incapable of carrying on or perpetuating war against their own species, or of being led out in troops and multitudes to destroy one another. These prerogatives proper to man alone. The excellency of human nature demonstrated by the vast train of appetites, passions, wants, etc., that attend it. This matter is to be more fully treated in the author’s Panegyric on Mankind.

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Charles Mackay: Hung the sword in the hall, the spear on the wall

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

British writers on peace and war

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Charles Mackay
From Tubal Cain

Old Tubal Cain was a man of might
In the days when earth was young:
By the fierce red light of his furnace bright
The strokes of his hammer rung;
And he lifted high his brawny hand
On the iron glowing clear,
Till the sparks rush’d out in scarlet showers,
As he fashion’d the sword and spear.
And he sang – “Hurrah for my handiwork!
Hurrah for the spear and sword!
Hurrah for the hand that shall wield them well,
For he shall be king and lord!”

***

But a sudden change came o’er his heart
Ere the setting of the sun,
And Tubal Cain was fill’d with pain
For the evil he had done;
He saw that men, with rage and hate,
Made war upon their kind,
That the land was red with the blood they shed
In their lust for carnage, blind.
And he said – “Alas! that ever I made,
Or that skill of mine should plan,
The spear and the sword for men whose joy
Is to slay their fellow-man!”

And for many a day old Tubal Cain
Sat brooding o’er his woe;
And his hand forebore to smite the ore,
And his furnace smoulder’d low.
But he rose at last with a cheerful face,
And a bright courageous eye,
And bared his strong right arm for work,
While the quick flames mounted high.
And he sang – “Hurrah for my handiwork!”
And the red sparks lit the air;
“Not alone for the blade was the bright steel made;”
And he fashion’d the first ploughshare!

And men, taught wisdom from the past,
In friendship join’d their hands,
Hung the sword in the hall, the spear on the wall,
And plough’d the willing lands;
And sang – “Hurrah for Tubal Cain!
Our stanch good friend is he;
And for the ploughshare and the plough
To him our praise shall be…”

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John Gower: Peace is chief of all world’s wealth, war is mother of all wrongs

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Gower
In Praise of Peace

Pes is the chief of al the worldes welthe,
And to the Heven it ledeth ek the weie;
Pes is of soule and lif, the mannes helthe
Of pestilence, and doth the werre aweie.
My liege lord, tak hiede of that Y seie:
If werre may be left, tak pes on honde,
Which may noght be withoute Goddis sonde.

With pes stant every creature in reste;
Withoute pes ther may no lif be glad;
Above alle othre good, pes is the beste;
Pes hath himself whan werre is al bestad;
The pes is sauf, the werre is ever adrad:
Pes is of al charité the keie,
Which hath the lif and soul forto weie.

My liege lord, if that thee list to seche
The sothe essamples that the werre hath wroght,
Thow schalt wiel hiere of wisemennes speche,
That dedly werre turneth into noght;
For if these olde bokes be wel soght,
Ther myght thou se what thing the werre hath do,
Bothe of conqueste and conquerer also.

For vein honour or for the worldes good,
Thei that whilom the stronge werres made,
Wher be thei now? Bethenk wel in thi mod,
The day is goon, the nyght is derk and fade;
Her crualté, which mad hem thanne glade,
Thei sorwen now and yit have noght the more;
The blod is schad which no man mai restore.

The werre is modir of the wronges alle:
It sleth the prest in Holi Chirche at Masse,
Forlith the maide and doth here flour to falle;
The werre makth the grete citee lasse,
And doth the Lawe his reules overpasse.
There is no thing wherof meschef mai growe,
Which is noght caused of the werre, Y trowe.

The werre bringth in poverté at hise hieles,
Wherof the comon poeple is sore grieved.
The werre hath set his cart on thilke whieles
Wher that Fortune mai noght be believed;
For whan men wene best to have achieved,
Ful ofte it is al newe to beginne:
The werre hath no thing siker, thogh he winne.

***

In th’Olde Lawe, er Crist Himself was bore,
Among the Ten Comandementz Y rede
How that manslaghtre schulde be forbore;
Such was the will that time of the Godhede.
And aftirward, whanne Crist tok His manhede,
Pes was the ferste thing He let do crie
Agein the worldes rancour and envie.

And er Crist wente out of this erthe hiere,
And stigh to hevene, He made His testament,
Wher He beqwath to His disciples there
And gaf His pes, which is the foundement
Of charité, withouten whos assent
The worldes pes mai never wel be tried,
Ne love kept, ne lawe justefied.

***

To give ous pes was cause whi Crist dide;
Withoute pes may no thing stonde availed;
Bot now a man mai sen on everi side
How Cristes feith is every dai assailed,
With the paiens destruid, and so batailed
That for defalte of help and of defence,
Unethe hath Crist His dewe reverence.

***

The worldes cause is waited overal;
Ther ben the werres redi to the fulle.
Bot Cristes oghne cause in special,
Ther ben the swerdes and the speres dulle;
And with the sentence of the popes bulle
As forto do the folk paien obeie,
The chirche is turned al an other weie.

It is to wondre above a mannys wit,
Withoute werre, how Cristes feith was wonne;
And we that ben uppon this erthe yit,
Ne kepe it noght as it was first begonne.
To every creature undir the sonne
Crist bad Himself how that we schulden preche,
And to the folk His evangile teche.

***

Of that the heved is siek, the limes aken:
These regnes that to Cristes pes belongen,
For worldes good, these dedly werres maken,
Whiche helpples as in balance hongen;
The heved above hem hath noght undirfongen
To sette pes, bot every man sleth other,
And in this wise hath charité no brother.

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James Montgomery: War, that self-inflicted scourge of man

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
From The World Before the Flood

“When war, that self-inflicted scourge of man,
His boldest crime and bitterest curse, – began;
As lions fierce, as forest-cedars tall,
And terrible as torrents, in their fall,
Headlong from rocks, through vales and vineyards hurl’d,
These men of prey laid waste the eastern world;
They taught their tributary hordes to wield
The sword, red-flaming, through the death-strown field,
With strenuous arm the uprooted rock to throw,
Glance the light arrow from the bounding bow,
Whirl the broad shield to meet the darted stroke,
And stand to combat, like the unyielding oak.
Then eye from eye with fell suspicion turn’d,
In kindred breasts unnatural hatred burn’d;
Brother met brother in the lists of strife,
The son lay lurking for the father’s life;
With rabid instinct, men who never knew
Each other’s face before, each other slew;
All tribes, all nations learn’d the fatal art,
And every hand was arm’d to pierce a heart.
Nor man alone the giants’ might subdued ;
– The camel wean’d from quiet solitude,
Grazed round their camps, or slow along the road,
Midst marching legions bore the servile load.
With flying forelock and dishevell’d mane,
They caught the wild steed prancing o’er the plain,
For war or pastime reined his fiery force;
Fleet as the wind he stretch’d along the course,
Or loudly neighing at the trumpet’s sound,
With hoofs of thunder smote the indented ground.
The enormous elephant obey’d their will,
And, tamed to cruelty with direst skill,
Roar’d for the battle, when he felt the goad.
And his proud lord his sinewy neck bestrode.
Through crashing ranks resistless havoc bore,
And writhed his trunk, and bathed his tusks in gore…”

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James Montgomery: Fratricidal war speeds on inexorability of Death

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

British writers on peace and war

James Montgomery: Selections on war and peace

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James Montgomery
From The World Before the Flood

From sunrise to the ocean of the west,
I found that sin, where’er the foot of man
Nature’s primeval wilderness o’er-ran,
Had tracked his steps, and through advancing time
Urged the deluded race from crime to crime,
Till wrath and strife, in fratricidal war,
Gather’d the force of nations from afar,
To deal and suffer death’s unheeded blow,
As if the curse on Adam were too slow,
Even now an host, like locusts on their way,
That desolate the earth and dim the day…

***

When first the mingling sons of God and man
The demon-sacrifice of war began,
Self-exiled here, the family of Seth
Renounced a world of violence and death,
Faithful alone amidst the faithless found,
And innocent while murder cursed the ground.

====

From The Brahmin

“Now, mark the words these dying lips impart,
And wear this grand memorial. round your heart:
All that inhabit ocean, air, or earth,
From ONE eternal sire derive their birth.
The Hand that built the palace of the sky
Formed the light wings that decorate a fly:
The Power that wheels the circling planets round
Rears every infant floweret on the ground;
That Bounty which the mightiest beings share
Feeds the least gnat that gilds the evening air.
Thus all the wild inhabitants of woods.
Children of air, and tenants of the floods;
All, all are equal, independent, free,
And all the heirs of immortality!
For all that live and breathe hare once been men.
And, in succession, will be such again:
Even you, in turn, that human shape must change.
And through ten thousand forms of being range.

“Ah ! then, refrain your brethren’s blood to spill,
And, till you can create, forbear to kill!
Oft as a guiltless fellow-creature dies,
The blood of innocence for vengeance cries:
Even grim, rapacious savages of prey.
Presume not, save in self-defence, to slay;
What, though to heaven their forfeit lives they owe,
Hath heaven commissioned thee to deal the blow?
Crush not the feeble, inoffensive worm.
Thy sister’s spirit wears that humble form!
Why should thy cruel arrow smite yon bird?
In him thy brother’s plaintive song is heard.
When the poor, harmless kid, all trembling, lies,
And begs his little life with infant cries,
Think, ere you take the throbbing victim’s breath.
You doom a dear, an only child, to death.
When at the ring the beauteous heifer stands,
– Stay, monster! stay those parricidal hands;
Canst thou not, in that mild, dejected face,
The sacred features of thy mother trace?
When to the stake the generous bull you lead.
Tremble, – ah, tremble, – lest your father bleed.
Let not your anger on your dog descend,
The faithful animal was once your friend;
The friend whose courage snatch’d you from the grave,
When wrapp’d in flames or sinking in the wave.
– Rash, impious youth! renounce that horrid knife,
Spare the sweet antelope! – ah, spare – thy wife!
In the meek victim’s tear-illumined eyes.
See the soft image of thy consort rise;
Such as she is, when by romantic streams
Her spirit greets thee in delightful dreams;
Not as she look’d, when blighted in her bloom;
Not as she lies, all pale in yonder tomb…

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Walter Besant: War and the destruction of London, a city lone and widowed

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

British writers on peace and war

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Walter Besant
From London

“Why should I delay? Still the invaders flocked over. Of one nation all came – men, women, and children – leaving a desert behind. In the year of our Lord 500, the whole of the east and most of the south country were in the hands of this new people. Now this strange thing has been observed of them. They love not towns, and will not willingly dwell within walls for some reason connected with their diabolical religion; or perhaps because they suspect magic. Therefore, when they conquered the country, they occupied the lands indeed, and built thereon their farm-houses, but they left the towns deserted. When they took a place they utterly burned and destroyed it, and then they left it, so that at this day there are many once rich and flourishing towns which now stand desolate and deserted. For instance, the city and stronghold of Rutupiæ, once garrisoned by the Second Legion; this they took and destroyed. It is reported that its walls still stand, but it is quite deserted. So also Anderida, where they massacred every man, woman, and child, and then went away, leaving the houses in ashes and the dead to the wolves; and they say that Anderida still stands deserted. So, also, Calleva Atrebatum, which they also destroyed, and that, too, stands desolate. So, too, Durovernum, which they now call Cantwarabyrig. This they destroyed, and for many years it lay desolate, but is now, I learn, again peopled. So, too, alas! the great and glorious Augusta [later to be London], which now lies empty, a city lone and widowed, which before was full of people.

“When Cantia fell to the Jutes we lost our trade with that fair and rich province. When the East Saxons and the Angles occupied the east country, and the South Saxons the south, trade was lost with all this region. Then the gates of the Vicinal Way and that of the Bridge were closed. Also the navigation of the Lower Thames became full of danger. And the prosperity of Augusta daily declined. Still there stood open the great highway which led to the middle of Britannia and the north, and the river afforded a safe way for barges and for boats from the west. But the time came when these avenues were closed. For the Saxons stretched out envious hands from their seaboard settlements, and presently the whole of this rich country, where yet lived so many great and wealthy families, was exposed to all the miseries of war. The towns were destroyed, the farms ruined, the cattle driven away. Where was now the wealth of this famous province? It was gone. Where was the trade of Augusta? That, too, was gone. Nothing was brought to the port for export; the roads were closed; the river was closed; there was nothing, in fact, to send; nay, there were no more households to buy the things we formerly sent them. They lived now by the shore and in the recesses of the forest, who once lived in great villas, lay on silken pillows, and drank the wine of Gaul and Spain.

“Then we of the City saw plainly that our end was come; for not only there was no more trade, but there was no more food. The supplies had long been scanty, and food was dear; therefore those who could no longer buy food left the town, and sallied forth westward, hoping to find a place of safety, but many perished of cold, of hunger, and by sword of the enemy. Some who reached towns yet untaken joined the warriors, and received alternate defeat and victory, yet mostly the former.

“Still food became scarcer. The foreign merchants by this time had all gone away; our slaves deserted us; the wharves stood desolate; a few ships without cargo or crew lay moored beside our quays; our churches were empty; silence reigned in the streets. Now, had the enemy attacked the City there would have been no resistance, but no enemy appeared. We were left alone – perhaps forgotten. The marshes and moors which surround the City on all sides became our protection. Augusta, to the invader, was invisible. And she was silent. Her enmity could do no harm, and her friendship could do no good. She was full of rich and precious things; the Basilica and the Forum, with the columns and the statues, stood in the midst; the houses contained pictures, books, baths, costly hangings; yet the Saxon wanted none of these things. The City contained no soldiers, and therefore he passed it by, or even forgot its existence.

“There came the day when no more provisions were left. Then those who were left, a scanty band, gathered in the Basilica, and it was resolved that we should leave the place, since we could no longer live in it. Some proposed to try escape by sea, some by land. I, with my wife and children, and others who agreed to accompany me, took what we could of food and of weapons, leaving behind us the houses where our lives had been so soft and happy, and went out by the western gate, and taking refuge where we could in the forest, we began our escape. Mostly we travelled by night; we passed burning towns and flaming farmsteads; we encountered hapless fugitives more naked and miserable than ourselves. But finally we arrived in safety at the town of Glevum, where we have found shelter and repose.

“Every year our people are driven westward more and more. There seems no frontier that will stop them. My sons have fallen in battle; my daughters have lost their husbands; my grandchildren are taught to look for nothing but continual war. Should they succeed in reaching our City, the old will perish; but the young may take flight across the river Sabrina, and even among the mountains of the West – their last place of flight. Should they be driven from the hills, it will be into the sea. And of Augusta have I learned nothing for many years. Wherefore am I sure that it remains desolate and deserted to this day.”

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Henry Kirke White: Far better music inspire peace than war

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Kirke White: The red-eyeballed warrior doomed to ruin

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Henry Kirke White
From Music (juvenilia)

At her command the various passions lie;
She stirs to battle, or she lulls to peace:
Melts the charm’d soul to thrilling ecstacy,
And bids the jarring world’s harsh clangour cease.

Her martial sounds can fainting troops inspire
With strength unwonted, and enthusiasm raise;
Infuse new ardour, and with youthful fire
Urge on the warrior gray with length of days.

Far better she, when, with her soothing lyre,
She charms the falchion from the savage grasp,
And melting into pity vengeful ire,
Looses the bloody breastplate’s iron clasp.

***

Oh! surely melody from heaven was sent,
To cheer the soul when tired with human strife,
To soothe the wayward heart by sorrow rent,
And soften down the rugged road of life.

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William Watson: Curse my country for its military victory

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

British writers on peace and war

William Watson: Dream of perfect peace

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William Watson
The Soudanese

They wrong’d not us, nor sought ‘gainst us to wage
The bitter battle. On their God they cried
For succour, deeming justice to abide
In heaven, if banish’d from earth’s vicinage.
And when they rose with a gall’d lion’s rage.
We, on the captor’s, keeper’s, tamer’s side,
We, with the alien tyranny allied,
We bade them back to their Egyptian cage.
Scarce knew they who we were! A wind of blight
From the mysterious far north-west we came.
Our greatness now their veriest babes have learn’d,
Where, in wild desert homes, by day, by night.
Thousands that weep their warriors unreturn’d,
O England, O my country, curse thy name!

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Joseph Mary Plunkett: Till blooms the bud on olive branch, borne by the bird of peace

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

British writers on peace and war

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Joseph Mary Plunkett
Die Taube

To-day when I beheld you all alone
And might have stayed to speak, the watchful love
Leapt up within my heart – then quick to prove
New strength, the fruit of sorrow you have sown
Sank in my stormy bosom like a stone
Nor dared to rise on flaming plumes above
Passionless winds, till you, O shining dove
Far from the range of wounding words had flown.

Far have you flown, and blows of battle cease
To drape the skies in tapestries of blood,
Now sinks within my heart the heaving flood
And Love’s long-fluttering pinions I release,
Bidding them not return till blooms the bud
On olive branch, borne by the bird of peace.

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William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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Henry Kirke White: The red-eyeballed warrior doomed to ruin

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

British writers on peace and war

Henry Kirke White: Far better music inspire peace than war

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Henry Kirke White
From Time

Where are the heroes of the ages past?
Where the brave chieftains, where the mighty ones
Who flourish’d in the infancy of days?
All to the grave gone down. On their fallen fame
Exultant, mocking at the pride of man,
Sits grim Forgetfulness. – The warrior’s arm
Lies nerveless on the pillow of its shame;
Hush’d is his stormy voice, and quench’d the blaze
Of his red eyeball. – Yesterday his name
Was mighty on the earth. – To-day – ’tis what?
The meteor of the night of distant years,
That flash’d unnoticed, save by wrinkled eld,
Musing at midnight upon prophecies,
Who at her lonely lattice saw the gleam
Point to the mist-poised shroud, then quietly
Closed her pale lips, and lock’d the secret up
Safe in the charnel’s treasures.

***

Where is Rome?
She lives but in the tale of other times;
Her proud pavilions are the hermit’s home,
And her long colonnades, her public walks,
Now faintly echo to the pilgrim’s feet,
Who comes to muse in solitude, and trace,
Through the rank moss reveal’d, her honour’d dust.
But not to Rome alone has fate confined
The doom of ruin; cities numberless,
Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, Babylon, and Troy,
And rich Phoenicia – they are blotted out,
Half razed from memory, and their very name
And being in dispute. –

***

Yet there is peace for man. – Yea, there is peace
Even in this noisy, this unsettled scene;
When from the crowd, and from the city far,
Haply he may be set (in his late walk
O’ertaken with deep thought) beneath the boughs
Of honeysuckle, when the sun is gone,
And with fix’d eye, and wistful, he surveys
The solemn shadows of the Heavens sail,
And thinks the season yet shall come, when Time
Will waft him to repose, to deep repose,
Far from the unquietness of life – from noise
And tumult far – beyond the flying- clouds.
Beyond the stars, and all this passing scene.
Where change shall cease, and Time shall be no more.

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John Galsworthy: The war made us all into barbarians

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

British writers on peace and war

John Galsworthy: Selections on war

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John Galsworthy
From The Silver Spoon

“If I had my savings.”

“Yes, Mrs. Bergfeld told me about them. I can inquire, but I’m afraid – ”

“It’s robbery.” The chattered sound let Michael at once into the confidence of the many Managers who had refused to employ him who uttered it.

“I know,” he said, soothingly, “robbing Peter to pay Paul. That clause in the Treaty was a bit of rank barbarism, of course, camouflage it as they like. Still, it’s no good to let it prey on your mind, is it?”

But his visitor had risen. “To take from civilian to pay civilian! Then why not take civilian life for civilian life? What is the difference? And England does it – the leading nation to respect the individual. It is abominable.”

Michael began to feel that he was overdoing it.

“You forget,” he said, “that the war made us all into barbarians, for the time being; we haven’t quite got over it yet…”

***

The war had deprived one of one’s own way, but the war had overdone it, and left one grasping at license. And for those, like Fleur, born a little late for the war, the tale of it had only lowered what respect they could have for anything. With veneration killed, and self-denial ‘off,’ with atavism buried, sentiment derided, and the future in the air, hardly a wonder that modernity should be a dance of gnats, taking itself damned seriously!

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Arthur Symons: A great reaction: people will be tired of wars

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

British writers on peace and war

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Arthur Symons
From a letter to his wife in 1900

By the way, I asked Hardy just now about what Harmsworth says. He entirely disbelieves it, feels sure it is merely temporary, and that there will soon be a great reaction, when people will be tired of wars and the like, and quite ready to return to literature. And he points out that some of the daily papers are giving more and more space to it, as it is.

 

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William Stokes: The peace of nations to destroy

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

British writers on peace and war

William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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William Stokes
To the Genius of War
As Embodied in the Warrior

Forbear, thou man of blood, forbear,
To claim a birth Divine;
No Son of Heaven can be the heir
Of passions such as thine.

Thy boasted trade, thy sole employ,
Is death to deal around;
The Peace of nations to destroy,
Wherever man is found.

The wide-spread earth, through all her lands,
Has mourned thy kindred tread;
And widows raise their pray’rful hands,
For vengeance on thy head.

In Europe’s polished courts, the seeds
Of hatred thou hast sown;
And yonder Southern island bleeds
With sorrows all thine own.

In thronging East, or far-spread West,
Or where the Niger rolls;
Thy murd’rous train has proved the pest
And curse, of human souls.

No sex, no nation, and no clime,
Has ‘scap’d thy cruel rage;
Thy plague has flow’d throughout all time,
And spread through every age.

And shall that plague, with curses rife,
Pass down to other times;
And spread around the seeds of strife,
To poison other climes?

Shall men be found for wealth or gain,
To doom a world to woe?
And all that earth can feel of pain,
Give earth that all to know?

Learn, then, man to murder given,
Note thou the mandate well;
“The work of Peace came down from heaven,
The work of War from hell.”

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Charles Churchill: Thousands bleed for some vile spot where fifty cannot feed

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

British writers on peace and war

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Charles Churchill
From Night

Stripp’d of her gaudy plumes and vain disguise,
See where ambition mean and loathsome lies;
Reflection with relentless hand pulls down
The tyrant’s bloody wreath and ravish’d crown.
In vain he tells of battles bravely won,
Of nations conquer’d, and of worlds undone;
Triumphs like these but ill with manhood suit,
And sink the conqueror beneath the brute.

***

Through a false medium things are shewn by day;
Pomp, wealth, and titles judgment lead astray.
How many from appearance borrow state,
Whom Night disdains to number with the great!
Must not we laugh to see yon lordling proud
Snuff up vile incense from a fawning crowd?
Whilst in his beam surrounding clients play,
Like insects in the sun’s enlivening ray,
Whilst, Jehu-like, he drives at furious rate,
And seems the only charioteer of state,
Talking himself into a little god,
And ruling empires with a single nod.
Who would not think, to hear him law dispense,
That he had interest, and that they had sense?
Injurious thought! beneath Night’s honest shade,
When pomp is buried, and false colours fade,
Plainly we see, at that impartial hour,
Them dupes to pride, and him the tool of power.

***

Vice after vice with ardour they pursue,
And one old folly brings forth twenty new.
Perplex’d with trifles through the vale of life,
Man strives ‘gainst man, without a cause for strife;
Armies embattled meet, and thousands bleed
For some vile spot, where fifty cannot feed.
Squirrels for nuts contend, and, wrong or right,
For the world’s empire kings ambitious fight.
What odds? to us ’tis all the self-same thing,
A nut, a world, a squirrel, and a king.

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Robert Louis Stevenson: Peace we found where fire and war had been

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Louis Stevenson
The Country Of The Camisards

We travelled in the print of olden wars;
Yet all the land was green;
And love we found, and peace,
Where fire and war had been.

They pass and smile, the children of the sword –
No more the sword they wield;
And O, how deep the corn
Along the battlefield!

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William Stokes: The Soldier

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

British writers on peace and war

William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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William Stokes
The Soldier

I saw him in his childhood,
While sporting on the green;
No sweeter bud, no lovelier flower,
The village dames had seen.

I saw him shoot in stature,
The tallest of his race;
He carried greatness in his mien,
And beauty in his face.

I saw him in his manhood,
A noble man was he;
He stood confess’d, the bravest there –
The freest of the free.

I saw him when deluded,
By words of dark deceit;
He little thought that words so fair
Were spoken by a cheat.

I saw him clothed in scarlet,
With gaudy plume and lace;
He sat upon a noble steed,
With yet more noble grace.

I saw him after battle,
To misery doomed for life;
He rued the day when first he heard
The sound of drum and fife.

I saw him wan and wretched,
A cripple, begging bread;
The “pamper’d menial” drove him forth,
With curses on his head.

I saw his last lone dwelling,
The rags and broken stool;
He breath’d out dying words and said,
“The soldier is a fool!”

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Robert Blair: Where are the mighty thunderbolts of war?

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Blair
From The Grave

Where are the mighty thunderbolts of war,
The Roman Caesars and the Grecian chiefs,
The boast of story? Where the hot-brain’d youth,
Who the tiara at his pleasure tore
From kings of all the then discovered globe;
And cried, forsooth, because his arm was hamper’d,
And had not room enough to do its work.

***

Here all the mighty troublers of the earth,
Who swam to sov’reign rule through seas of blood;
Th’ oppressive, sturdy, man-destroying villains,
Who ravag’d kingdoms, and laid empires waste,
And in a cruel wantonness of pow’r
Thinn’d states of half their people, and gave up
To want the rest; now, like a storm that’s spent,
Lie hush’d, and meanly sneak behind the covert.
Vain thought! to hide them from the general scorn,
That haunts and dogs them like an injured ghost
Implacable!

***

Sicknesses,
Of every size and symptom, racking pains,
And bluest plagues, are thine! See how the fiend
Profusely scatters the contagion round!
Whilst deep-mouth’d Slaughter, bellowing at her heels,
Wades deep in blood new-spilt; yet for to-morrow
Shapes out new work of great uncommon daring,
And inly pines till the dread blow is struck.

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William Stokes: The Angel of Peace

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

British writers on peace and war

William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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William Stokes
The Angel of Peace

Ring, ring the sweet bells, and unfurl the gay banners!
Let cold party-feeling and enmity cease;
Arise, ye glad nations, with lofty hosannahs!
And welcome with triumph the angel of peace.

Long, long have the foemen dealt fury around them;
Too long spread the flame of destruction and death;
Too long has the demon of discord spell-bound them,
And blasted the hope of the world with his breath.

Sing, sing the loud chorus! his spell is now broken,
And nations once more breathe the air of the free;
His watchword of “glory” shall henceforth be spoken,
To die with the echo that floats on the sea.

For, dove-like, the angel has passed o’er the waters.
And wept when he saw but a deluge of blood;
His olive-branch waved o’er the scene of the slaughters,
And Peace spread her “bow” on the face of the flood.

Then sing! for the ark safely rests on the mountain.
The crimson-dyed waters haste, blushing, away;
The sun gilds afresh both the stream and the fountain,
And man hails with rapture the the smile of the day.

Then join the loud chorus! unfurl the gay banners!
Let peace be the watchword the universe o’er;
Unite, all ye nations, in lofty hosannahs!
And sing, “Peace our glory!” and “Peace evermore!”

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John Whitehouse: Ode to War

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

British writers on peace and war

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John Whitehouse
Ode to War

Dread Offspring of Tartarian birth,
Whose nodding crest is stain’d with gore,
Whom to some giant-son of Earth,
Strife in strong pangs of childbed bore;
O War! fierce monster, homicide,
Who marchest on with hideous stride,
Shaking thy spear distilling blood;
Bellona thee, in angry mood,
Taught proud Ambition’s spoils to win,
Amidst the loud, conflicting din
Of arms, where Discord’s gorgon-featured form
High shakes her flaming torch amidst the martial storm.

Stern God! wolf-hearted, and accursed,
Foster’d by Power, by Rapine nursed,
Oppression ever in thy train,
For hapless man prepares her chain:
A thousand vulture-forms beside
Stalk on before thee; bloated Pride,
Thick-eyed Revenge, his soul on fire,
And Slaughter breathing threatenings dire,
Tumult, and Rage, and Fury fell,
And Cruelty, the imp of hell,
Her heart of adamant! and arm’d her hand
With iron hooks, and cords, and Desolation’s brand.

There, where the Battle loudest roars,
Where wide the impurpled deluge pours,
And ghastly Death, his thousands slain,
Whirls his swift chariot o’er the plain,
Rapt in wild Horror’s frantic fit,
‘Midst the dire scene thou lov’st to sit,
To catch some wretch’s parting sigh,
To mark the dimly-glazing eye,
The face into contortions thrown,
Convuls’d: the deep, deep-lengthening groan,
The frequent sob, the agonizing smart,
And nature’s dread release, the pang that rends the heart.

Avaunt, from Albion’s isle! not there
Thy arms, and maddening car prepare,
Nor bid thy crimson banners fly
Terrific, through the troubled sky;
But stay thee in thy wild career;
Lay by thy glittering shield and spear,
Thy polished casque, and nodding crest,
And let thy sable steeds have rest:
At length, the work of slaughter close,
And give to Europe’s sons repose,
Bid the hoarse clangors of the trumpet cease,
And smooth thy wrinkled front to meet the smiles of Peace.

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William Stokes: Invocation to the Spirit of Peace

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

British writers on peace and war

William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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William Stokes
Invocation to the Spirit of Peace

Come over the mountain, come over the sea,
Thou First-born of heaven, thou Pride of the free!
Come fresh on the morning, with wings of the dove,
And strew in thy passage the blessings of love.

Appear in thy radiance, thou Angel of lights
And chase from creation the gloom of the night ;
Disperse the thick shadows that over us spread,
And be to all nations as life from the dead.

Drive back to their caverns the dark hosts of death,
And scatter the forces of war with thy breath ;
Proclaim to the world a new era begun.
And let it be lasting as light from the sun.

In broad open day shew the scroll of the dead,
And let it by heroes and monarchs be read;
And give them to blush for the guilt of the hour.
That made war and bloodshed the “balance of power.”

Array to their vision the souls of the slain,
With heart-broken widows and orphans in train:
Tear off the disguise from their “glory” and pride,
And ask what they shew for the men who have died?

Before them display, in its ruin and fire,
Some Kertch or Canton, with the woe of the sire;
Then, pointing to wealth spent in battle and flame,
Demand what they give in return – but a name.

Proclaim that the Judge of the quick and the dead
Will “make inquisition for blood” they have shed;
Yet turn far away heavy judgments in store.
If, mourning their folly, they “learn war no more.”

Thus come, gentle Peace, fix thy reign upon earth.
And bring the glad day of the world’s second birth:
“The bow in the cloud,” when dark thunder-storms cease.
Be thou to creation, sweet Spirit of Peace.

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Elizabeth Bentley: On the return of celestial peace

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Elizabeth Bentley: Terror-striking War shalt be banish’d far

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Elizabeth Bentley

From Welcome to Peace

The meek-eyed angel Peace descends,
To this low world her course she bends,
Child of celestial love!
With Plenty, of co-equal birth,
In mercy to the sons of earth,
Commission’d from above.

***

On The Return of Peace and Plenty
(1801)

Lo! what descending cherub, robed in light,
With dazzling beams o’erwhelms the sight?
Is it a Genius of th’ etherial spheres?
Or Angel from before th’ Almighty’s face,
His errand fraught with blessings to our race
Lo! yet more near the heav’nly guest appears:

Ah! no, ’tis Peace hail beauteous queen!
Too long on earth a stranger hast thou been,
By crimes of mortals banish’d from below;
While clanging trumpets pierced the ear,
And War high-wav’d his sanguine spear,
And bade th’ affrighted world his empire know.

With pitying eye the God of mercy view’d,
Where slaughter’s sword in reeking gore imbrued,
Spread desolation o’er th’ unpeopled land;
He will’d his creatures’ punishment should cease,
And thus to thee, celestial Peace, –
Proclaim’d his high command:

“No more let earth thy absence mourn,
“Go, heal the wounds by Discord torn,
“With gentler thoughts inspire the vengeful mind;
“Go, bid War’s crimson streams forbear to flow,
“And round the hero’s laurel’d brow
“Thy olive chaplet bind.

“Hark! ’tis thy sister Plenty’s voice,
“Already bids the fields rejoice,
“Scattering with bounteous hand her golden store;
“Go, meet her on yon favour’d isle,
“From thence united beam the gladdening smile,
“And on mankind your genial blessings pour.”

And see, they come: O welcome lovely pair!
Famine avaunt! and blank Despair
For ever veil’d in nightly shades remain;
While Plenty binds her yellow sheaves,
And wreaths of triumph Concord weaves,
And o’er the world resumes her lasting reign.

Too long the fiend destructive War,
Has whirl’d o’er earth his flaming car,
The trembling realms no more shall dread his ire;
The cannon shuts its death-denouncing throat,
While the harsh trumpet’s brazen note,
In dulcet strains expire.

Now Peace explores the well-fought field,
Where bleeding Valour scorn’d to yield,
The clashing jar of arms resounds no more;
Changed by the magic of her word,
The useful plough-share rises from the sword,
And tills those plains it drench’d in blood before.

Too long pale Avarice, brooding o’er
His fast accumulating store,
Had seal’d his ear ‘gainst Pity’s gentle call;
Whate’er his greedy eye survey’d,
The vulture Rapine swift convey’d
Amid his gloomy walls.

At length for others’ woe he feels,
Self-love no more his bosom steels,
Soften’d by Plenty’s stream which largely flows;
By Heav’n’s benignant sun-shine warm’d,
His heart no more of ice is form’d,
Diffusive gifts his liberal hand bestows.

To greet their much-loved native home,
See Albion’s conquering sons in triumph come,
Who bade remotest climes her pow’r obey;
May inward factions ne’er her peace molest,
But loyalty pervade each honest breast,
And o’er our minds firm fix our Monarch’s sway.

In vain Britannia’s threatening foe
Sought o’er her Isle the vengeful shaft to throw,
Forbade by Heav’n’s all-ruling King,
To whom the sounds of praise shall rise,
With grateful accents penetrate the skies,
While seraphs thence to earth shall future blessings bring.

***

The Hour of Peace

Hail! silent hour of peace serene,
No busy din disturbs the scene;
The sons of toil their labours close,
And taste the sweets of sound repose;
Pent within their safe retreat,
The slumb’ring sheep no longer bleat,
While round the field, with half-shut eye,
Cumbent the drowsy cattle lie:
The buzzing bee has sought her home,
Fraught with sweets to store the comb.
There’s not a breeze to curl the rill,
And e’en the aspen leaf is still;
The sun himself seems sunk to rest,
His last faint gleam has streak’d the west;
The birds have sung their farewell lay,
Pour’d sweet to his departing ray;
And last of all the merry train,
The redbreast too has ceas’d his strain.
Hail! hour of Peace the happy time,
To meditate on themes sublime;
In union with the tranquil scene,
The mind is sooth’d to thoughts serene;
The soul now feels her heav’nly birth,
Disdains the trivial joys on earth,
And pants to gain her promised rest,
“Mid the pure spirits of the blest.

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Elizabeth Bentley: Terror-striking War shalt be banish’d far

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

Elizabeth Bentley: On the return of celestial peace

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Elizabeth Bentley
From Ode to War

Stern Power! who long in distant lands,
Has thunder’d out thy dire commands;
And while no lenient thought thy rage restrain’d,
Hast urged thy mad destructive course,
By Fury drawn and rude resistless Force;
And arm’d with iron shield,
Too long hast joy’d thy thirsty sword to wield,
And hurl thy massy spear with blood distain’d:
And while her brazen trumpet Discord rear’d,
Whilst appall’d the nations heard,
Hast bid its jarring voice resound afar,
And vengeful bent on murderous deeds,
Hast lash’d thy fiery-breathing steeds,
And whirl’d thy dusky car:
Behind thee Dread and Horror swift advance,
And Death insatiate points his venom’d lance.
Where’er thy breath the air pollutes,
It blasts the verdure, flow’rs, and fruits
That deck’d afertile land;
Thou bid’st pale Famine in thy train appear,
With meagre arm her leaden sceptre rear,
And dash the horn from Plenty’s lib’ral hand.
Where’er thy thundering chariot wheels are roll’d,
On trembling pinions from thy presence fly,
Those natives of a purer sky,
Angelic Peace and Commerce rob’d in gold,
Nor dares Repose sustain thy threat’ning mien;
Unsated yet with human gore…

Swift from on high
Meek Peace shall fly,
And bid her olive in the wreath combine.
Then terror-striking War,
Shalt thou from earth be banish’d far,
Nor more beneath the realms of day be seen,
On Concord frowning as thy greatest foe,
Reluctant to thy native darkness go,
And hide thy horrid mien;
Or fix thy sole domain,
On some wide desart plain,
Where human eye shall ne’er thy form survey;
Where wolves and tygers nightly prowl,
Direct the hunger-prompted howl,
And seize the quivering prey.

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William Stokes: Can fields of blood redeem mankind from error?

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

British writers on peace and war

William Stokes: Selections on peace and war

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William Stokes
War in the Crimea and the Sea of Azoff

And this is progress! this the growth of nations! 
The royal training for an empty name! 
The model deed for future generations, 
To lure them on to "glory" and to fame! 

This the proud work of Christian might and treasure! 
The boon of mercy to a world depressed! 
The sacred pledge, that without stint or measure, 
Some future age with freedom shall be blest! 

For this the Saxon and the Frank united, 
Make common cause with Infidel profane! 
For freedom's sake, the Cross and Crescent plighted, 
Pour seas of blood along the Russian plain! 

Oh, vile delusion! Can the reign of terror, 
Confer true freedom on a race depraved?
Can fields of blood redeem mankind from error? 
Or burst the fetters of a land enslaved?

Will broken hearts, and widows' loud bewailing, 
With twice ten thousand orphans' piercing cries, 
Show the proud cause of liberty prevailing? 
Or give to serfdom aught that freemen prize? 

Can slaughtered hosts, with miles of martial thunder, 
The iron tempest, and the cannon's roar; 
The burning homestead, or the wholesale plunder, 
That robs the widow of her scanty store; — 

E'er prove to men how freedom is progressing, 
Or drive the Despot from his slavish work? — 
Can lust and theft convey a freeman's blessing, 
Or teach a holier faith to serf or Turk? 
Britain, go weep that deeds thus vile and savage, 
Are done by freemen in the Christian name! 
Go mourn in sackcloth that thy warriors ravage, 
The peasant's home, nor "blush to call it fame!" 

List to the cries to yonder Heavens ascending, 
The widow's wail, the orphan's heavy groan; 
Then at the feet of heaven's Avenger bending, 
Ask, — How shall Britain for this guilt atone ? 

NOTES.

“The Turkish troops were very busy pillaging the dead; an occupation which most of its were employed in, more or less. I did not, however, come across any sables in my explorations. We, however, shall have grand looting at Sebastopol, when my China experience may avail me. This is a horrible way to talk, and no doubt will shock you much; but it is one of the concomitants of grim war, and perhaps one of the most agreeable.” – From a Medical Officer in the Crimean War.

“As we approach the towns and villages, the inhabitants desert them, and as soon as we come to halt our men disperse through them in search of plunder, and such a scene you could not imagine as is to he seen here in a few minutes. Thousands of men loaded with tables, chairs, sofas, chests of drawers, pier glasses, geese, ducks, cabbages, fowls, – in fact, everything that can be imagined. Our men lie on beautiful beds and costly sofas in the open air.” – Do.

” – At Yenikale, not only did the garrison retire, but the inhabitants also, – terrible tidings of rapacity and violence had reached them. Their fears were well founded, for very soon their own town was plundered of everything moveable, and the ships of war were receptacles for the plundered property” – History of the War against Russia, vol. 2, p. 332.

“It is to be regretted that the French general in command of the place allowed the soldiers to plunder not only the houses, but the persons of the inhabitants. – Do., p 332.

Berdiansk, – “All government property was destroyed, – this included corn to the value of £60,000.Do., p. 340.

Genitschi, – “The stores and corn (destroyed) were at least worth £160,000″— Do., p. 341.

Taganrog,- ” When we arrived at Taganrog, we vented our spite upon the Russians. As for my part, I burned everything I could – in fact, anything that would catch fire, I committed to the flames.”- Do., p. 388.

Gheisk – “However, we burned all his stock, consisting of 574 large stacks of corn, besides his granaries and everything that belonged to him; his corn alone was valued at £30,000″ –

”We are still cruising about the sea, burning and destroying everything, besides what we take away. We live like fighting cocks.” – “You may depend when I come across any money, I know I can find a place for it; but it is very scarce.” – “We have in all taken fifteen vessels, burned twelve, and sent two to be sold at Constantinople, and sent one away with the Russian prisoners on board, fifty-seven in number, without compass or anything to steer by, to find the best of their way wherever chance would let them go.” – Do., p. 388.

Can anything be conceived more diabolical, more fiendish than this? To send away a vessel with fifty-seven prisoners without the means necessary for their preservation! And this by Englishmen, – and in the pay of a Christian people! If it be true, (and who can question it?) “be sure your sin will find you out,” what may not be expected as a punishment? Oh War, thou art a thou a robber and a scoundrel, all the world over!

Some of the atrocities at Kertch by our “Allies” the Turks, and others, I should be ashamed to mention. – W. S.


								
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Homer: Mars, most unjust, most odious of all the gods

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Homer: Caging the terrible Lord of War

Homer: The great gods are never pleased with violent deeds

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Homer
From The Iliad
Translated by Alexander Pope

Of lawless force shall lawless Mars complain?

Of all the gods who tread the spangled skies,
Thou most unjust, most odious in our eyes!
Inhuman discord is thy dire delight,
The waste of slaughter, and the rage of fight:
No bound, no law, thy fiery temper quells,
And all thy mother in thy soul rebels.
In vain our threats, in vain our power, we use:
She gives the example, and her son pursues.

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Jane Bowdler: War’s deadly futility

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Jane Bowdler
From Ode to Hope

The trumpet sounds to war:
Load shouts re-echo from the mountain’s side,
The din of battle thunders from afar,
The foaming torrent rolls a crimson tide;
The youthful warrior’s breast with ardour glows,
In thought he triumphs o’er ten thousand foes:
Elate with HOPE, he rushes on,
The battle seems already won,
The vanquish’d host before him fly,
His heart exults in fancied victory.
Nor heeds the flying shaft, nor thinks of danger nigh,
Methinks I see him now –
Fall’n his crest – his glory gone –
The opening laurel faded on his brow –
Silent the trump of his aspiring fame!
No future age shall hear his name,
But darkness spread around her sable gloom,
And deep oblivion rest upon his tomb.

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From On the Death of Mr. Garrick

With mournful awe I trod the sacred stones,
Where kings and heroes slept in long repose,
And trophies, mould’ring o’er the warrior’s bones,
Proclaim how frail the life which fame bestows.

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Théophile Gautier: One could imagine oneself in the Golden Age of Peace

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

French writers on war and peace

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Théophile Gautier
From Abécédaire du Salon de 1861

His success has been great, and that reflects well upon the public, as Puvis de Chavannes does not belong to the fastidious school. His mind dwells in the highest sphere of art, and his ambition even surpasses his talent. The various aspect of his two large compositions, War and Peace, challenges the onlooker…

The subject of War is conceived in the synthetic sense, outside the contingencies of time, place, or any particularity. It is the idea itself, rendered perceptible to the senses with a singular poetic power. War has swept through a country; the work of conquest has been accomplished; three horse-borne trumpeters, impassive, similar in their poses, sound the victory fanfare, like angels sounding the call of the Last Judgment…

Peace transports us to…a vale of large green trees, irrigated by running water. The warriors have laid down their arms; they rest or exercise their horses. The women devote their leisure to the innocent industries of peace…One could imagine oneself in the Golden Age, such is the calm, the freshness, the repose of a composition so tranquil as the other is furious. Even its color is less abstract and more human…

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Susanna Blamire: When the eye sees the grief that from one battle flows, small cause of triumph can the bravest feel

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Susanna Blamire
From The Cumbrian Village

“Welcome, old soldier, welcome from the wars!
Honour the man, my lads, seam’d o’er with scars!
Come give’s thy hand, and bring the t’ other can,
And tell us all thou’st done, and seen, my man.”
Now expectation stares in every eye,
The jaw falls down, and every soul draws nigh.
With ear turn’d up, and head held all awry.
“Why, sir, the papers tell you all that’s done,
What battle’s lost, and what is hardly won.
But when the eye looks into private woes,
And sees the grief that from one battle flows,
Small cause of triumph can the bravest feel,
For never yet were brave hearts made of steel.
It happen’d once, in storming of a town,
When our bold men had push’d the ramparts down,
We found them starving, the last loaf was gone,
Beef was exhausted, and they flour had none;
Their springs we drain, to ditches yet they fly –
The stagnant ditch lent treacherous supply;
For soon the putrid source their blood distains,
And the quick fever hastens through their veins.
In the same room the dying and the dead –
Nay, sometimes, even in the self-same bed, –
You saw the mother with her children lie,
None but the father left to close the sunken eye.
In a dark corner, once myself I found
A youth whose blood was pouring through the wound;
No sister’s hand, no tender mother’s eye
To stanch that wound was fondly watching by;
Famine had done her work, and low were laid
The loving mother and the blooming maid.
He rais’d his eyes, and bade me strike the blow,
I’ve nought to lose, he cried, so fear no foe…”

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Charlotte Alington Barnard: Peace Hovers

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Charlotte Alington Barnard (Claribel)

Peace Hovers

Peace hovers, like an angel, on the vast and mighty deep,
Far o’er the ocean reaches, lying all in silver sleep;
Peace nestles ‘midst the lovely fern, around the ivy-twine;
Peace dwelleth with the primroses that blossom in the chine.
She rests on every quiet cloud that saileth o’er the sky,
She breathes in every zephyr as it passes quickly by;
And when the hush of eventide has fallen on the sea,
I fain would think, I fain would hope, Christ whispers ‘Peace’ to me.

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From Hope to the End

Hope ye when the heart’s best roses
Wither for the lack of rain,
And thy thirsty soul is empty, –
Hope ye for the shower again.

And, when on thy mid-day journey,
White-winged peace has flown afar,
Still, though all the night be cloudy,
Hope ye for the morning star.

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George Gissing: Games and war

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

British writers on peace and war

George Gissing: Selections on war

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George Gissing
From The Nether World

He carried his point, and now he was going to spend his wedding-day at the Crystal Palace

Here already was gathered much goodly company; above their heads hung a thick white wavering cloud of dust. Swing-boats and merry-go-rounds are from of old the chief features of these rural festivities; they soared and dipped and circled to the joyous music of organs which played the same tune automatically for any number of hours, whilst raucous voices invited all and sundry to take their turn. Should this delight pall, behold on every hand such sports as are dearest to the Briton, those which call for strength of sinew and exactitude of aim. The philosophic mind would have noted with interest how ingeniously these games were made to appeal to the patriotism of the throng. Did you choose to ‘shy’ sticks in the contest for cocoa-nuts, behold your object was a wooden model of the treacherous Afghan or the base African. If you took up the mallet to smite upon a spring and make proof of how far you could send a ball flying upwards, your blow descended upon the head of some other recent foeman. Try your fist at the indicator of muscularity, and with zeal you smote full in the stomach of a guy made to represent a Russian. If you essayed the pop-gun, the mark set you was on the flank of a wooden donkey, so contrived that it would kick when hit in the true spot. What a joy to observe the tendency of all these diversions! How characteristic of a high-spirited people that nowhere could be found any amusement appealing to the mere mind, or calculated to effeminate by encouraging a love of beauty.

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Elizabeth Cobbold: Earth’s bosom drenching with her children’s blood

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Elizabeth Cobbold

From The Two Vanities, a Fable

When Cadmus, reeking from th’ empoison’d strife,
The serpent spoils by Pallas’ order strew’d,
The gory furrows heav’d with sudden life,
And, bursting forth, appear’d the warrior brood;
Awhile elate in hostile pride they stood:
Then mix’d in fierce exterminating fight,
Earth’s bosom drenching with her children’s blood,
And every corse defac’d with hellish spite,
Pale look’d the sun through clouds, and sicken’d at the sight.

***

From Lines Written in the Album of an Officer of the Kings
German Legion

Secure from satire’s shaft, or envy’s dart,
Here may his heart forget its every woe,

With social converse heal afflictions’ smart,
And all the sweets of home and friendship know,
Till peace with ray serene the world shall cheer,
And gild his native land and give a home more dear.

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The second horseman

The Red Horse

When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come and see!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.

(Revelation 6:3-4)

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Charlotte Richardson: Once more let war and discord cease

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Charlotte Richardson
From When Threatened With An Invasion

Almighty God, with pitying eye,
Look down upon our troubled land,
To thee alone for aid we cry,
We trust in thy all-pow’rful hand:
Once more let war and discord cease,
Restore again the joys of peace!

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Maria Abdy: May the gentle Dove of Peace extend her snowy pinions o’er us

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

British writers on peace and war

Women writers on peace and war

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Maria Abdy

From The War-Cloud

The War-Cloud hovers o’er our way;
But yield not to the spell of sorrow:
Our country’s prospects, dim to day,
Perchance may look more bright to-morrow.

***

The strife may come, but soon may cease;
Soon may the foeman flee before us;
Soon may the gentle Dove of Peace
Extend her snowy pinions o’er us.
Shadows are sent our path to shroud –
Behold them not with vain repining;
The eye of Faith shall pierce the cloud,
And bring to view its silver lining!

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From The Ruined Castle by Sunlight

What, though he view in broken heaps around,
The mournful wreck of many a noble vision,
Though Fame’s proud towers be leveled with the ground,
Though cleft the glittering temple of Ambition; –

Yet Peace, with soothing voice, and dove-like wing,
Pours her sweet music in the dwelling shattered,
Fair blossoms still among the ruin cling,
And verdure on the rugged waste is scattered.

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Mathilde Blind: All vile things that batten on disaster follow feasting in the wake of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Mathilde Blind: Reaping War’s harvest grim and gory

Mathilde Blind: Widowing the world of men to win the world

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Mathilde Blind
From The Leading of Sorrow
The Ascent of Man

Horror, horror! The fair town is burning,
Flames burst forth, wild sparks and ashes fly;
With her children’s blood the green earth’s turning
Blood-red – blood-red, too, the cloud-winged sky.
Crackling flare the streets: from the lone steeple
The great clock booms forth its ancient chime,
And its dolorous quarters warn the people
Of the conquering troops that march with time.

Fallen lies the fair old town, its houses
Charred and ruined gape in smoking heaps;
Here with shouts a ruffian band carouses,
There an outraged woman vainly weeps.
In the fields where the ripe corn lies mangled,
Where the wounded groan beneath the dead,
Friend and foe, now helplessly entangled,
Stain red poppies with a guiltier red.

There the dog howls o’er his perished master,
There the crow comes circling from afar;
All vile things that batten on disaster
Follow feasting in the wake of war.
Famine follows – what they ploughed and planted
The unhappy peasants shall not reap;
Sickening of strange meats and fever haunted,
To their graves they prematurely creep.

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