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Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet?

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

British writers on peace and war

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti
From The One Hope

When vain desire at last and vain regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet, –
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?

Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown, –
Ah! let none other alien spell soe’er
But only the one Hope’s one name be there,-
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.

***

From The Cloud Confines

What of the heart of hate
That beats in thy breast, O Time?
Red strife from the furthest prime,
And anguish of fierce debate;
War that shatters her slain,
And peace that grinds them as grain,
And eyes fix’d ever in vain
On the pitiless eyes of Fate.
Still we say as we go,
“Strange to think by the way,
Whatever there is to know,
That shall we know one day.”

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Alfred Lord Tennyson: When shall universal peace lie like light across the land?

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Lord Tennyson: The brazen bridge of war

Alfred Tennyson: Ring out the thousand wars of old, ring in the thousand years of peace

Tennyson: Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d

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Alfred Lord Tennyson
From The Golden Year

“When wealth no more shall rest in mounded heaps,
But smit with freer light shall slowly melt
In many streams to fatten lower lands,
And light shall spread, and man be liker man
Thro’ all the season of the golden year.

“Fly happy happy sails and bear the Press;
Fly happy with the mission of the Cross;
Knit land to land, and blowing havenward
With silks, and fruits, and spices, clear of toll,
Enrich the markets of the golden year.

“But we grow old! Ah! when shall all men’s good
Be each man’s rule, and universal Peace
Lie like a shaft of light across the land,
And like a lane of beams athwart the sea,
Thro’ all the circle of the golden year?”

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Alfred Lord Tennyson: The brazen bridge of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Tennyson: Ring out the thousand wars of old, ring in the thousand years of peace

Tennyson: Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d

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Alfred Lord Tennyson

From Love Though thy Land, with Love for Brought

O, yet, if Nature’s evil star
Drive men in manhood, as in youth,
To follow flying steps of Truth
Across the brazen bridge of war –

If New and Old, disastrous feud,
Must ever shock, like armed foes,
And this be true, till Time shall close
That Principles are rain’d in blood;

Not yet the wise of heart would cease
To hold his hope thro’ shame and guilt,
But with his hand against the hilt,
Would pace the troubled land, like Peace…

***

From Audley Court

“Oh! who would fight and march and countermarch,
Be shot for sixpence in a battle-field,
And shovell’d up into some bloody trench
Where no one knows? but let me live my life.”

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

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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

Milton: Without ambition, war, or violence

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John Milton
From Sonnet 15

For what can war but endless war still breed?
      Till Truth and Right from Violence be freed,
And Public Faith clear’d from the shameful brand
      Of Public Fraud. In vain doth Valour bleed
      While Avarice and Rapine share the land.
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Percy Bysshe Shelley: The soldiers dreamed that they were blacksmiths

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From The Witch of Atlas

The soldiers dreamed that they were blacksmiths, and
Walked out of quarters in somnambulism;
Round the red anvils you might see them stand
Like Cyclopses in Vulcan’s sooty abysm,
Beating their swords to ploughshares…

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Jean Ingelow: Methought the men of war were even as gods

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

British writers on peace and war

Jean Ingelow: And the dove said, “Give us peace!”

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Jean Ingelow
From A Parson’s Letter to a Young Poet

“Methought the men of war were even as gods
The old men of the ages. Now mine eyes
Retrieve the truth from ruined city walls
That buried it; from carved and curious homes
Full of rich garments and all goodly spoil,
Where having burned, battered, and wasted them,
They flung it. Give us, give us better gods
Than these that drink with blood upon their hands,
For I repent me that I worshipped them.
O that there might be yet a going up!
O to forget — and to begin again!”

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George Meredith: War wife, as good as widowed

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: Bellona’s mad halloo

George Meredith: The Olive Branch

George Meredith: On the Danger of War

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George Meredith
From Earth and a Wedded Woman

Ah, what is Marriage, says each pouting maid,
When she who wedded with the soldier hides
At home as good as widowed in the shade,
A lighthouse to the girls that would be brides:
Nor dares to give a lad an ogle, nor
To dream of dancing, but must hang and moan,
Her husband in the war,
And she to lie alone.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: War with its million horrors shall live but in the memory of time

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Queen Mab

‘The child,
Ere he can lisp his mother’s sacred name,
Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts
His baby-sword even in a hero’s mood.
This infant arm becomes the bloodiest scourge
Of devastated earth; whilst specious names,
Learnt in soft childhood’s unsuspecting hour,
Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims
Bright reason’s ray and sanctifies the sword
Upraised to shed a brother’s innocent blood.’

***

‘Success has sanctioned to a credulous world
The ruin, the disgrace, the woe of war.’

***

‘War with its million horrors, and fierce hell,
Shall live but in the memory of time,
Who, like a penitent libertine, shall start,
Look back, and shudder at his younger years.’

***

‘Even the minutest molecule of light,
That in an April sunbeam’s fleeting glow
Fulfils its destined though invisible work,
The universal Spirit guides; nor less
When merciless ambition, or mad zeal,
Has led two hosts of dupes to battle-field,
That, blind, they there may dig each other’s graves
And call the sad work glory, does it rule
All passions…’

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George Meredith: Bellona’s mad halloo

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: The Olive Branch

George Meredith: On the Danger of War

George Meredith: War wife, as good as widowed

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George Meredith
Progress

In Progress you have little faith, say you:
Men will maintain dear interests, wreak base hates,
By force, and gentle women choose their mates
Most amorously from the gilded fighting crew:
The human heart Bellona’s mad halloo
Will ever fire to dicing with the Fates.
‘Now at this time,’ says History, ‘those two States
Stood ready their past wrestling to renew.
They sharpened arms and showed them, like the brutes
Whose haunches quiver. But a yellow blight
Fell on their waxing harvests. They deferred
The bloody settlement of their disputes
Till God should bless them better.’ They did right.
And naming Progress, both shall have the word.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: The unholy song of war

May 29, 2017 2 comments

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

British writers on peace and war

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selections on war

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Percy Bysshe Shelley
From Queen Mab

‘Palmyra’s ruined palaces!
Behold where grandeur frowned!
Behold where pleasure smiled!
What now remains? – the memory
Of senselessness and shame.
What is immortal there?
Nothing – it stands to tell
A melancholy tale, to give
An awful warning; soon
Oblivion will steal silently
The remnant of its fame.
Monarchs and conquerors there
Proud o’er prostrate millions trod –
The earthquakes of the human race;
Like them, forgotten when the ruin
That marks their shock is past…’

***

There an inhuman and uncultured race
Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God;
They rushed to war, tore from the mother’s womb
The unborn child – old age and infancy
Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms
Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends!
But what was he who taught them that the God
Of Nature and benevolence had given
A special sanction to the trade of blood?

***

‘O dear and blessèd Peace,
Why dost thou shroud thy vestal purity
In penury and dungeons? Wherefore lurkest
With danger, death, and solitude; yet shun’st
The palace I have built thee? Sacred Peace!
Oh, visit me but once, – but pitying shed
One drop of balm upon my withered soul!’

‘Spirit! ten thousand years
Have scarcely passed away,
Since in the waste, where now the savage drinks
His enemy’s blood, and, aping Europe’s sons,
Wakes the unholy song of war…’

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Robert Browning: Selections on peace and war

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Robert Browning: Peace, in whom depths of wealth lie

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Browning: Selections on peace and war

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Robert Browning
From Aristophanes’ Apology

Peace, you advocate,
And war would fain abolish from the land…
‘Peace’ the theme?
‘Peace, in whom depths of wealth lie, – of the blest
Immortals beauteousest, -‘

****

What imbecile has dared to formulate
“Love war, hate peace, become a litigant!” –
And so preach on, reversing rule of right
Because he quarrels, combats, goes to law?

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Robert Browning: The devil’s doctrine, the paraded shame of war

May 18, 2017 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Robert Browning: Selections on peace and war

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Robert Browning
From Saviour of Society

Still, so the dry-rot had been nursed into
Blood, bones and marrow, that, from worst to best,
All, – clearest brains and soundest hearts, save here, –
All had this lie acceptable for law
Plain as the sun at noonday – “War is best.
Peace is worst; peace we only tolerate
As needful preparation for new war:
War may be for whatever end we will –
Peace only as the proper help thereto.
Such is the law of right and wrong for us
Hohenstiel-Schwangau: for the other world,
As naturally, quite another law.
Are we content? The world is satisfied.
Discontent? Then the world must give us leave
Strike right and left to exercise our arm
Torpid of late through overmuch repose,
And show its strength is still superlative
At somebody ‘s expense in life or limb:
Which done, – let peace succeed and last a year!’
Such devil’s-doctrine was so judged God’s law…

****

Understand! – war for war’s sake, war for the sake
O’ the good war gets you as war’s sole excuse,
Is damnable and damned shall be. You want
Glory? Why so do I, and so does God.
Where is it found, – in this paraded shame, –
One particle of glory? Once you warred
For liberty against the world, and won:
There was the glory. Now, you fain would war
Because the neighbour prospers overmuch, –
Because there has been silence half-an-hour.

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Joseph Cottle: Know you their crimes on whom you warfare wage?

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Joseph Cottle
From War, A Fragment

Is man on man for ever doom’d to prey?
Shall he for ever passively obey
The voice which Discord thunders from afar?
Exulting wield the infuriate scourge of war?
Shall never Reason whisper in the ear
Of him who lights the torch, or hurls the spear,
“Know you their crimes on whom you warfare wage?
“For whom you feel resentment’s deadly rage?
“Has never the obtruding thought arose,
“What is the cause, for which I flay my foes?
“Have they deceiv’d their friends? from justice swerv’d?
“Betray’d their country? and their fates deserv’d?
“Or have they not, mid clashing interest’s cry,
“Ventur’d their lives, like me. unknowing why?”

****

If such the ills of war, by Heaven abhorr’d!
What are your crimes, ye Guardians of the sword,
At whose decision countless scabbards fly,
And murders fill the earth, and groans the sky?
What are your crimes, if, sway’d by wealth or power,
Ye loose your “war-dogs” in ambition’s hour?
Contented view your subjects bleed and groan,
To add some bauble to a burthen’d throne ?
Or, that when Death ten thousand eyes has chain’d,
Courtiers may shout some glorious feather gain’d?
Sins so stupendous, here but seldom find.
That signal wrath of heaven which waits behind;
Too foul such terpitude for moral woe!
Too huge such crimes for cognizance below!

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Mother’s Day

May 14, 2017 1 comment

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Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Philip Massinger: Mustn’t change ploughshares into swords

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

British writers on peace and war

Philip Massinger: Famine, blood, and death, Bellona’s pages

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Philip Massinger
From The Maid of Honour

Let other monarchs
Contend to be made glorious by proud war,
And, with the blood of their poor subjects, purchase
Increase of empire, and augment their cares
In keeping that which was by wrongs extorted,
Gilding unjust invasions with the trim
Of glorious conquests; we, that would be known
The father of our people, in our study
And vigilance for their safety, must not change
Their ploughshares into swords, and force them from
The secure shade of their own vines, to be
Scorch’d with the flames of war; or, for our sport,
Expose their lives to ruin.

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Joseph Cottle: Torn from their cots to wield the murderer’s blade

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Joseph Cottle
From War, A Fragment

What countless pangs to such have owed their birth!
What blood and murder stain’d the smiling earth!
To grant these Tyrants unexplor’d domain,
How many a fruitful clime has desert lain!
To please these monsters in their lordly pride,
How many an eye hath wept, and bosom sigh’d!
Shepherds, unskill’d in war’s infernal trade,
Torn from their cots to wield the murderer’s blade;
Peasants, with hearts revolting at the fight,
Compell’d to sack the town, and dare the fight;
Till War’s malignant deeds, and wizard spell
Transform them, saints of light, to fiends of hell.

****

Yet let him know, and those who wars admire,
Whose music charms them, or whose garbs inspire,
On the red plain, where putrid thousands lie,
Each leaves a friend to heave the pitying sigh,
With grief as poignant, as the pangs that wait
The proud funereal honors of the great.
Each carcase by the carrion worms carest,
Felt as we feel, ere slept his throbbing breast;
A rapid survey cast on friends afar;
And, whilst Destruction roll’d his scithed car,
Curst, in his pangs, the murderers of mankind.
And dropt the tear for those he left behind.

 

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Joseph Cottle: Warn mankind to shun the hostile spear

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Joseph Cottle
From War, A Fragment

“I see the wolves, that once like lambs did bleat,
“I see the serpents coiling at my feet,
“Whose soft persuasive words, and fatal craft,
“Led me from home to drink this bitter draught:
“Mark you the cause that laid me bleeding here,
“And warn mankind to shun the hostile spear;
“Rais’d but to please some haughty Lordling’s pride,
“Made but to pierce the harmless Peasant’s side.”

****

That time shall also come, nor slowly creep.
When Justice, starting from her couch of sleep,
Shall seize her long-neglected sword of fate,
And call to vengeance earth’s devouring Great;
Terror shall then the Conqueror’s brow o’ercast.
The war-delighting Monarch stand aghast;
Dismay corrode the darting Despot’s breast,
When doom’d to meet the Ghosts his chains oppress’d.

****

Scourgers of earth, and Heralds of dismay,
Pests of mankind, and whirlwinds of their day;
From whose example blushing History rakes
Her nest of Scorpions, and her brood of Snakes;
Who, plac’d on thrones like these, like these have hurl’d
War’s wafting firebrands o’er a suff’ring world.

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Alfred Austin: The White Pall 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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Alfred Austin
The White Pall of Peace

Over the peaceful veldt,
Silently, snowflakes fall!
Silently, slow, unfelt.
Cover the Past with a pall!

Brave brother Boers, let us hie
To your and our brothers dead;
Over the spot where they lie
Tears, yours and ours, be shed!

Underneath turf, cross, and stone
Combat and discord be husht!
Blest be the heroes unknown,
Blest be their deeds and dust.

Now that the war-clamours cease,
And silently snowflakes fall,
Give we the kiss of Peace,
And one Flag be the Flag of us all!

****

Forgiveness

Now bury with the dead years conflicts dead
And with fresh days let all begin anew.
Why longer amid shrivelled leaf-drifts tread,
When buds are swelling, flower-sheaths peeping through?
Seen through the vista of the vanished years.
How trivial seem the struggle and the crown,
How vain past feuds, when reconciling tears
Course down the channel worn by vanished frown.
How few mean half the bitterness they speak!
Words more than feelings keep us still apart,
And, in the heat of passion or of pique.
The tongue is far more cruel than the heart.
Since love alone makes it worth while to live,
Let all be now forgiven, and forgive.

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Joseph Cottle: War’s noxious breath fills earth with discord, dread, and death

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Joseph Cottle
From War, A Fragment

“Say, bleeding Youth, what urg’d thee thus to stray
“Far from thy kindred and thy coast away
“To dare the fight with indignation blind,
“To lift the spear against thy fellow kind?
“Know’st thou the cause for which the crimson tide
“Deserts thine heart, and oozes from thy side?
“Perchance some statesman’s pique, some shrine profan’d,
“A flag insulted, or a skiff detain’d;
“These blow the blasts of war – whose noxious breath
“Fills the wide earth with discord, dread, and death.
“Speak; gently speak, that some may mark thy grave,
“And flee from blood, the nurture tyrants crave.”

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William Morris: No man knew the sight of blood

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

British writers on peace and war

William Morris: Protecting the strong from the weak, selling each other weapons to kill their own countrymen

William Morris: War abroad but no peace at home

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William Morris
From The Life and Death of Jason

Alas! for Saturn’s days of gold,
Before the mountain men were bold
To dig up iron from the earth
Wherewith to slaughter health and mirth,
And bury hope far underground.
When all things needful did abound
In every land; nor must men toil,
Nor wear their lives in strife to foil
Each other’s hands, for all was good,
And no man knew the sight of blood.

 

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Joseph Cottle: Plant the seeds of universal peace

May 1, 2017 1 comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Joseph Cottle: Selections on war

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Joseph Cottle
From John the Baptist

Of whom I speak, soon shall you see him near.
No flaming God to rouze his creature’s fear,
No potent Chief victorious arms to guide,
Born to controul and nurs’d in royal pride ;
But in the promis’d seed, with aspect mild,
Your eyes shall greet the spirit of a child,
‘Tis not to grasp the laurels of the great
Your Saviour comes, to blaze in regal state,
Kingdoms invade, and conquest’s curses shower,
Nations to scourge or fruitful climes devour;

Peasants unwrong’d inspire with ardour dread.
To rob some distant peasants of their bread;
But to condemn ambition’s ruthless sway,
To tell mankind no more on man to prey,
To teach humility, bid discord cease,
And plant the seeds of universal peace.

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Matthew Arnold: New Age. Uphung the spear, unbent the bow.

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

British writers on peace and war

Matthew Arnold: Man shall live in peace, as now in war

Matthew Arnold: Tolstoy’s commandments of peace

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Matthew Arnold

From Bacchanalia: Or the New Age

The epoch ends, the world is still,
The age has talk’d and work’d its fill –
The famous orators have shone,
The famous poets sung and gone,
The famous men of war have fought,
The famous speculators thought,
The famous players, sculptors, wrought,
The famous painters fill’d their wall,
The famous critics judged it all.
The combatants are parted now –
Uphung the spear, unbent the bow,
The puissant crown’d, the weak laid low.
And in the after-silence sweet,
Now strifes are hush’d, our ears doth meet,
Ascending pure, the bell-like fame
Of this or that down-trodden name
Delicate spirits, push’d away
In the hot press of the noon-day.
And o’er the plain, where the dead age
Did its now silent warfare wage –
O’er that wide plain, now wrapt in gloom,
Where many a splendour finds its tomb,
Many spent fames and fallen mights –
The one or two immortal lights
Rise slowly up into the sky
To shine there everlastingly,
Like stars over the bounding hill.
The epoch ends, the world is still.

****

From Lines Written in Kensington Gardens

From I, on men’s impious uproar hurl’d,
Think often, as I hear them rave,
That peace has left the upper world
And now keeps only in the grave.

Yet here is peace for ever new!
When I who watch them am away,
Still all things in this glade go through
The changes of their quiet day.

Then to their happy rest they pass!
The flowers upclose, the birds are fed,
The night comes down upon the grass,
The child sleeps warmly in his bed.

Calm soul of all things! make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, and cannot mar.

The will to neither strive nor cry,
The power to feel with others give!
Calm, calm me more! nor let me die
Before I have begun to live.

****

From Stanzas from The Grande Chartreuse

We are like children rear’d in shade
Beneath some old-world abbey wall,
Forgotten in a forest-glade,
And secret from the eyes of all.
Deep, deep the greenwood round them waves,
Their abbey, and its close of graves!

But, where the road runs near the stream,
Oft through the trees they catch a glance
Of passing troops in the sun’s beam –
Pennon, and plume, and flashing lance!
Forth to the world those soldiers fare,
To life, to cities, and to war!

And through the wood, another way,
Faint bugle-notes from far are borne,
Where hunters gather, staghounds bay,
Round some fair forest-lodge at morn.
Gay dames are there, in sylvan green;
Laughter and cries – those notes between!

The banners flashing through the trees
Make their blood dance and chain their eyes
That bugle-music on the breeze
Arrests them with a charm’d surprise.
Banner by turns and bugle woo:
Ye shy recluses, follow too!

O children, what do ye reply? –
“Action and pleasure, will ye roam
Through these secluded dells to cry
And call us? – but too late ye come!
Too late for us your call ye blow,
Whose bent was taken long ago.

“Long since we pace this shadow’d nave;
We watch those yellow tapers shine,
Emblems of hope over the grave,
In the high altar’s depth divine;
The organ carries to our ear
Its accents of another sphere.

“Fenced early in this cloistral round
Of reverie, of shade, of prayer,
How should we grow in other ground?
How can we flower in foreign air?
– Pass, banners, pass, and bugles, cease;
And leave our desert to its peace!”

****

From Merope, a Tragedy

Peace, who tarriest too long;
Peace, with delight in thy train;
Come, come back to our prayer!
Then shall the revel again
Visit our streets, and the sound
Of the harp be heard with the pipe,
When the flashing torches appear
In the marriage-train coming on,
With dancing maidens and boys –
While the matrons come to the doors,
And the old men rise from their bench,
When the youths bring home the bride.

Not condemn’d by my voice
He who restores thee shall be,
Not unfavour’d by Heaven.
Surely no sinner the man,
Dread though his acts, to whose hand
Such a boon to bring hath been given.
Let her come, fair Peace! let her come!
But the demons long nourish’d here,
Murder, Discord, and Hate,
In the stormy desolate waves
Of the Thracian Sea let her leave,
Or the howling outermost main!

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Matthew Arnold: Man shall live in peace, as now in war

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

British writers on peace and war

Matthew Arnold: New Age. Uphung the spear, unbent the bow.

Matthew Arnold: Tolstoy’s commandments of peace

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Matthew Arnold
From Balder Dead

“For I am long since weary of your storm
Of carnage, and find, Hermod, in your life
Something too much of war and broils, which make
Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood.
Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail;
Mine ears are stunn’d with blows, and sick for calm.
Inactive therefore let me lie, in gloom,
Unarm’d, inglorious; I attend the course
Of ages, and my late return to light,
In times less alien to a spirit mild,
In new-recover’d seats, the happier day.”
He spake; and the fleet Hermod thus replied: –
“Brother, what seats are these, what happier day?
Tell me, that I may ponder it when gone.”
And the ray-crowned Balder answer’d him: –
“Far to the south, beyond the blue, there spreads
Another Heaven, the boundless – no one yet
Hath reach’d it; there hereafter shall arise
The second Asgard, with another name.
Thither, when o’er this present earth and Heavens
The tempest of the latter days hath swept,
And they from sight have disappear’d, and sunk,
Shall a small remnant of the Gods repair;
Hoder and I shall join them from the grave.
There re-assembling we shall see emerge
From the bright Ocean at our feet an earth
More fresh, more verdant than the last, with fruits
Self-springing, and a seed of man preserved,
Who then shall live in peace, as now in war…”

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Christopher Marlowe: Parricide and filicide. While lions war, poor lambs perish.

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

British writers on peace and war

Christopher Marlowe: Accurs’d be he that first invented war!

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Christopher Marlowe
From The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke

Enter a Souldier with a dead man in his arms.

Sould. It blowes the wind that profits no bodie,
This man that I haue slaine in fight to daie,
Maie be possessed of some store of crownes,
And I will search to find them if I can.
But stay. Me thinkes it is my fathers face,
Oh I tis he who I haue slaine in fight,
From London was I prest out by the king,
My father he came on the part of Yorke.
And in this conflict I haue slaine my father:
Oh pardon God, I knew not what I did,
And pardon father, for I knew thee not.

Enter an other Souldier with a dead man.

2 Soul. Lie there thou who foughtst with me so stoutly,
Now let me see what store of gold thou haste,
But staie, me thinkes this is no famous face:
Oh no it is my sonne that I haue slaine in fight.
Oh monstrous times begetting such euents,
How cruel, bloudy, and ironious,
The deadly quarrell dailie doth beget,
Poore boy thy father gaue thee lif too late,
And hath bereau’d thee of thy life too sone.

King. Wo aboue wo, griefe more then common griefe,
Whilst Lyons war and battaile for their dens,
Poore lambs do feel the rigour of their wraths;
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatall colours of our striuing houses,
Wither one rose, and let the other flourish,
For if you striue, ten thousand liues must perish.

1 Sould. How will my mother for my fathers death,
Take on with me and nere be satisfide?

2 Soul. How will my wife for slaughter of my son,
Take on with me and nere be satisfide?

King. How will the people now misdeeme their king,
Oh would my death their mindes could satisfie.

1 Sould. Was euer son so rude his fathers bloud to spil?

2 Soul. Was euer father so vnnaturall his son to kill?

King. Was euver king thus greeued and vexed still?

1 Sould. Ile beare thee hence from this accursed place,
For wo is me to see my fathers face. [Exit with his father.]

2 Soul. Ile beare thee hence & let them fight that wil,
For I haue murdered where I should not kill. [Exit with his sonne.]

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William Shakespeare: Works of poetry outlast the works of war

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

British writers on peace and war

Shakespeare: So inured to war that mothers smile as their children are slain

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William Shakespeare
Sonnet LV

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

****

Sonnet CVII

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

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Robert Buchanan: The moon gleamed on the dreadful drifts of dead

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

British writers on peace and war

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Robert Buchanan
From The Changeling

Into the tent where the warrior slept,
She saw on his hand a blood-red stain.
And she kissed the stain again and again
With her cold pure lips, but it would not go!

The Battle-Field

One night she walked with a foot of snow
Thro’ a battle-field; and the Moon on high
Swam thro’ the film of a starry sky,
And the breath of the Moon, like hoar-frost shed,
Gleamed on the dreadful drifts of dead.
Then she saw him standing amid it all
Living and bloody, ghastly and tall,
With a hand on his moaning horse’s mane!
And his face was awful with hate and pain,
And his eyes were mad for beneath him lay,
Quivering there in the pale moonray,
A wounded foe while with red right hand
He held in the air a bloody brand
To cleave him down!
Before his look
One moment the Spirit Mother shook;
He could not hear her, he could not see,
But she shriek’d aloud in her agony!
He glared all round him like one in dread
Of a voice from heaven or a ghost from the dead,
And he sheathed his sword with a shudder soon,
Alone in the light of the lonely Moon . . .
O Moon! immortal Moon!

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Algernon Charles Swinburne: Death made drunk with war

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

British writers on peace and war

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A gospel of war and damnation for the bestial by birth

Algernon Charles Swinburne: There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
From the Epilogue to Songs Before Sunrise

Out where the breath of war may bear,
Out in the rank moist reddened air
That sounds and smells of death, and hath
No light but death’s upon its path
Seen through the black wind’s tangled hair,
I send you past the wild time’s wrath
To find his face who bade you bear
Fruit of his seed to faith and love,
That he may take the heart thereof.

***

In this black wind of war they fly
Now, ere that hour be in the sky
That brings back hope, and memory back,
And light and law to lands that lack;
That spiritual sweet hour whereby
The bloody-handed night and black
Shall be cast out of heaven to die;
Kingdom by kingdom, crown by crown,
The fires of darkness are blown down.

Yet heavy, grievous yet the weight
Sits on us of imperfect fate.
From wounds of other days and deeds
Still this day’s breathing body bleeds;
Still kings for fear and slaves for hate
Sow lives of men on earth like seeds
In the red soil they saturate;
And we, with faces eastward set,
Stand sightless of the morning yet.

***

One light, one law, that burns up strife,
And one sufficiency of life.
Self-stablished, the sufficing soul
Hears the loud wheels of changes roll,
Sees against man man bare the knife,
Sees the world severed, and is whole;
Sees force take dowerless fraud to wife,
And fear from fraud’s incestuous bed
Crawl forth and smite his father dead:

Sees death made drunk with war, sees time
Weave many-coloured crime with crime,
State overthrown on ruining state,
And dares not be disconsolate.
Only the soul hath feet to climb,
Only the soul hath room to wait,
Hath brows and eyes to hold sublime
Above all evil and all good,
All strength and all decrepitude.

***

We that see wars and woes and kings,
And portents of enormous things,
Empires, and agonies, and slaves,
And whole flame of town-swallowing graves;
That hear the harsh hours clap sharp wings
Above the roar of ranks like waves,
From wreck to wreck as the world swings;
Know but that men there are who see
And hear things other far than we.

By the light sitting on their brows,
The fire wherewith their presence glows,
The music falling with their feet,
The sweet sense of a spirit sweet
That with their speech or motion grows
And breathes and burns men’s hearts with heat;
By these signs there is none but knows
Men who have life and grace to give,
Men who have seen the soul and live.

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Algernon Charles Swinburne: There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won

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

British writers on peace and war

Algernon Charles Swinburne: Death made drunk with war

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A gospel of war and damnation for the bestial by birth

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
From A Year’s Burden

Fire and wild light of hope and doubt and fear,
Wind of swift change, and clouds and hours that veer
As the storm shifts of the tempestuous year;
Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

Hope sits yet hiding her war-wearied eyes,
Doubt sets her forehead earthward and denies,
But fear brought hand to hand with danger dies,
Dies and is burnt up in the fire of fight.

From shores laid waste across an iron sea
Where the waifs drift of hopes that were to be,
Across the red rolled foam we look for thee,
Across the fire we look up for the light.

From days laid waste across disastrous years,
From hopes cut down across a world of fears,
We gaze with eyes too passionate for tears,
Where faith abides though hope be put to flight.

There shall be no more wars nor kingdoms won,
But in thy sight whose eyes are as the sun
All names shall be one name, all nations one,
All souls of men in man’s one soul unite.

O sea whereon men labour, O great sea
That heaven seems one with, shall these things not be?
O earth, our earth, shall time not make us free?
Cry wellaway, but well befall the right.

***

From A Marching Song

O nations undivided,
O single people and free,
We dreamers, we derided,
We mad blind men that see,
We bear you witness ere ye come that ye shall be.

Ye sitting among tombs,
Ye standing round the gate,
Whom fire-mouthed war consumes,
Or cold-lipped peace bids wait,
All tombs and bars shall open, every grave and grate.

The locks shall burst in sunder,
The hinges shrieking spin,
When time, whose hand is thunder,
Lays hand upon the pin,
And shoots the bolts reluctant, bidding all men in.

***

From A Song of Italy

When his wind shakes them and his waters whelm
Who rent thy robe and realm,
When they that poured thy dear blood forth as wine
Pour forth their own for thine,
On these, on these have mercy; not in hate,
But full of sacred fate,
Strong from the shrine and splendid from the god,
Smite, with no second rod.
Because they spared not, do thou rather spare;
Be not one thing they were.
Let not one tongue of theirs who hate thee say
That thou wast even as they.
Because their hands were bloody, be thine white;
Show light where they show night:
Because they are foul, be thou the rather pure;
Because they are feeble, endure;
Because they had no pity, have thou pity.

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George Meredith: The Olive Branch

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

British writers on peace and war

George Meredith: Bellona’s mad halloo

George Meredith: On the Danger of War

George Meredith: War wife, as good as widowed

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George Meredith
The Olive Branch

A dove flew with an Olive Branch;
It crossed the sea and reached the shore,
And on a ship about to launch
Dropped down the happy sign it bore.

‘An omen’ rang the glad acclaim!
The Captain stooped and picked it up,
‘Be then the Olive Branch her name,’
Cried she who flung the christening cup.

The vessel took the laughing tides;
It was a joyous revelry
To see her dashing from her sides
The rough, salt kisses of the sea.

And forth into the bursting foam
She spread her sail and sped away,
The rolling surge her restless home,
Her incense wreaths the showering spray.

Far out, and where the riot waves
Run mingling in tumultuous throngs,
She danced above a thousand graves,
And heard a thousand briny songs.

Her mission with her manly crew,
Her flag unfurl’d, her title told,
She took the Old World to the New,
And brought the New World to the Old.

Secure of friendliest welcomings,
She swam the havens sheening fair;
Secure upon her glad white wings,
She fluttered on the ocean air.

To her no more the bastioned fort
Shot out its swarthy tongue of fire;
From bay to bay, from port to port,
Her coming was the world’s desire.

And tho’ the tempest lashed her oft,
And tho’ the rocks had hungry teeth,
And lightnings split the masts aloft,
And thunders shook the planks beneath,

And tho’ the storm, self-willed and blind,
Made tatters of her dauntless sail,
And all the wildness of the wind
Was loosed on her, she did not fail;

But gallantly she ploughed the main,
And gloriously her welcome pealed,
And grandly shone to sky and plain
The goodly bales her decks revealed;

Brought from the fruitful eastern glebes
Where blow the gusts of balm and spice,
Or where the black blockaded ribs
Are jammed ’mongst ghostly fleets of ice,

Or where upon the curling hills
Glow clusters of the bright-eyed grape,
Or where the hand of labour drills
The stubbornness of earth to shape;

Rich harvestings and wealthy germs,
And handicrafts and shapely wares,
And spinnings of the hermit worms,
And fruits that bloom by lions’ lairs.

Come, read the meaning of the deep!
The use of winds and waters learn!
’Tis not to make the mother weep
For sons that never will return;

’Tis not to make the nations show
Contempt for all whom seas divide;
’Tis not to pamper war and woe,
Nor feed traditionary pride;

’Tis not to make the floating bulk
Mask death upon its slippery deck,
Itself in turn a shattered hulk,
A ghastly raft, a bleeding wreck.

It is to knit with loving lip
The interests of land to land;
To join in far-seen fellowship
The tropic and the polar strand.

It is to make that foaming Strength
Whose rebel forces wrestle still
Thro’ all his boundaried breadth and length
Become a vassal to our will.

It is to make the various skies,
And all the various fruits they vaunt,
And all the dowers of earth we prize,
Subservient to our household want.

And more, for knowledge crowns the gain
Of intercourse with other souls,
And Wisdom travels not in vain
The plunging spaces of the poles.

The wild Atlantic’s weltering gloom,
Earth-clasping seas of North and South,
The Baltic with its amber spume,
The Caspian with its frozen mouth;

The broad Pacific, basking bright,
And girdling lands of lustrous growth,
Vast continents and isles of light,
Dumb tracts of undiscovered sloth;

She visits these, traversing each;
They ripen to the common sun;
Thro’ diverse forms and different speech,
The world’s humanity is one.

O may her voice have power to say
How soon the wrecking discords cease,
When every wandering wave is gay
With golden argosies of peace!

Now when the ark of human fate,
Long baffled by the wayward wind,
Is drifting with its peopled freight,
Safe haven on the heights to find;

Safe haven from the drowning slime
Of evil deeds and Deluge wrath;—
To plant again the foot of Time
Upon a purer, firmer path;

‘Tis now the hour to probe the ground,
To watch the Heavens, to speak the word,
The fathoms of the deep to sound,
And send abroad the missioned bird,

On strengthened wing for evermore,
Let Science, swiftly as she can,
Fly seaward on from shore to shore,
And bind the links of man to man;

And like that fair propitious Dove
Bless future fleets about to launch;
Make every freight a freight of love,
And every ship an Olive Branch.

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Alfred Noyes: War, hypocritical word for universal murder

February 25, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
The Torch-Bearers
The Last Voyage

“Not long ago
They only laughed at Lister…”
“He has joined
Those other voices now, beyond the storm.
How many lives has Lister saved since then?”
“In eighteen-seventy, armies rotted to death
For lack of what he taught us; and the knife
Sent more than half its victims to the grave.
So, Lister, whom we sneered at, must have saved
Some fifty million lives throughout the world,
Men, women, children. – ”
“More than thrice the number
That fifteen nations, slaughtering night and day,
For those five years of glorious war…”

***

The voice of Science was now on the air
To save that child; but, also on the air,
Blind voices from the dens of state-craft rose,
Threatening war, their hypocritical word
For universal murder; and in the name
Of Science, planned new deaths for half mankind.

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Alfred Noyes: Medicine driven back in defeat by the nightmare chaos of war

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
The Torch-Bearers
The Last Voyage

Delayed by folly, baffled and beaten again
By lethargy, in man’s own sleep-walking world,
Driven back in defeat by the nightmare chaos of war
But finding new light, even there, on that blood-red road;
The struggle went on; each age with a broken cry,
Ars longa, vita brevis, re-echoing still
The cry of Hippocrates, Galen and Harvey in turn,
But flinging the deathless fire with a dying hand
To youth that should follow and conquer….

“We grieve when we look on an exquisite tapestry torn,
A picture disfigured, a Parian masterpiece wrecked,
A desecrate shrine; yet – yet – with our wars and our sins
What havoc we make of God’s image….”

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Gerard Manley Hopkins: What pure peace allows alarms of wars?

February 20, 2017 2 comments

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

British writers on peace and war

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Gerard Manley Hopkins
Peace

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

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Alfred Noyes: Mars and Urania

February 18, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From The Torch-Bearers
Watchers of the Sky

Wars we have sung. The blind, blood-boltered kings
Move with an epic music to their thrones.
Have you no song, then, of that nobler war?
Of those who strove for light, but could not hope
Even of this victory that they helped to win,
Silent discoverers, lonely pioneers,
Prisoners and exiles, martyrs of the truth
Who handed on the fire, from age to age;
Of those who, step by step, drove back the night
And struggled, year on year, for one more glimpse
Among the stars, of sovran law, their guide;
Of those who searching inward, saw the rocks
Dissolving into a new abyss, and saw
Those planetary systems far within.
Atoms, electrons, whirling on their way
To build and to unbuild our solid world;
Of those who conquered, inch by difficult inch,
The freedom of this realm of law for man;
Dreamers of dreams, the builders of our hope,
The healers and the binders up of wounds,
Who, while the dynasts drenched the world with blood,
Would in the still small circle of a lamp
Wrestle with death like Heracles of old To save one stricken child.

Their magic fleet came foaming into port.
Whereat old senators, wagging their white beards.
And plucking at golden chains with stiff old claws
Too feeble for the sword-hilt, squeaked at once:
“This glass will give us great advantages In time of war.”

War, war, O God of love,
Even amidst their wonder at Thy world,
Dazed with new beauty, gifted with new powers,
These old men dreamed of blood. This was the thought
To which all else must pander, if he hoped
Even for one hour to see those dull eyes blaze
At his discoveries.

“Wolves,” he called them, “wolves”…

***

War was the thought
That filmed those old men’s eyes. They did not hear
My father, when he hinted at his hope
Of opening up the heavens for mankind
With that new power of bringing far things near.

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Byron: War’s a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

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Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Don Juan

O, Wellington!…
You are ‘the best of cut-throats:’ – do not start;
The phrase is Shakspeare’s, and not misapplied:
War’s a brain-spattering, windpipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
If you have acted once a generous part,
The world, not the world’s masters, will decide,
And I shall be delighted to learn who,
Save you and yours, have gain’d by Waterloo?

I am no flatterer – you ‘ve supp’d full of flattery:
They say you like it too -‘t is no great wonder.
He whose whole life has been assault and battery,
At last may get a little tired of thunder;
And swallowing eulogy much more than satire, he
May like being praised for every lucky blunder,
Call’d ‘Saviour of the Nations’ – not yet saved,
And ‘Europe’s Liberator’ – still enslaved.

***

To you the unflattering Muse deigns to inscribe
Truths, that you will not read in the Gazettes,
But which ‘t is time to teach the hireling tribe
Who fatten on their country’s gore, and debts,
Must be recited…

***

O ye! or we! or he! or she! reflect,
That one life saved, especially if young
Or pretty, is a thing to recollect
Far sweeter than the greenest laurels sprung
From the manure of human clay, though deck’d
With all the praises ever said or sung:
Though hymn’d by every harp, unless within
Your heart joins chorus, Fame is but a din.

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Byron: Just ponder what a pious pastime war is

February 16, 2017 Leave a comment

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

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Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Don Juan

Now back to thy great joys, Civilisation!
And the sweet consequence of large society,
War, pestilence, the despot’s desolation,
The kingly scourge, the lust of notoriety,
The millions slain by soldiers for their ration…

Here War forgot his own destructive art
In more destroying Nature; and the heat
Of carnage, like the Nile’s sun-sodden slime,
Engender’d monstrous shapes of every crime.

***

All that the mind would shrink from of excesses;
All that the body perpetrates of bad;
All that we read, hear, dream, of man’s distresses;
All that the devil would do if run stark mad;
All that defies the worst which pen expresses;
All by which hell is peopled, or as sad
As hell – mere mortals who their power abuse –
Was here (as heretofore and since) let loose.

If here and there some transient trait of pity
Was shown, and some more noble heart broke through
Its bloody bond, and saved perhaps some pretty
Child, or an aged, helpless man or two –
What ‘s this in one annihilated city,
Where thousand loves, and ties, and duties grew?
Cockneys of London! Muscadins of Paris!
Just ponder what a pious pastime war is.

Think how the joys of reading a Gazette
Are purchased by all agonies and crimes:
Or if these do not move you, don’t forget
Such doom may be your own in aftertimes.

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Alfred Noyes: The Victory Ball

February 15, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
The Victory Ball

The cymbals crash,
And the dancers walk,
With long white stockings
And arms of chalk,
Butterfly skirts,
And white breasts bare,
And shadows of dead men
Watching ’em there.

Shadows of dead men
Stand by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.
They do not reproach,
Because they know,
If they’re forgotten
It’s better so.

Under the dancing
Feet are the graves.
Dazzle and motley,
In long white waves,
Brushed by the palm-fronds
Grapple and whirl
Ox-eyed matron,
And slim white girl.

Fat wet bodies
Go waddling by,
Girdled with satin,
Though God knows why:
Gripped by satyrs
In white and black,
With a fat wet hand
On the fat wet back.

See, there’s one child
Fresh from school,
Learning the ropes
As the old hands rule.
God! how the dead men
Chuckle again,
As she begs for a dose
Of the best cocaine.

[Alternate lines:
God, how that dead boy
Gapes and grins
As the tom-toms bang
And the shimmy begins.]

“What do you think
We should find”, said the shade,
“When the last shot echoed
And peace was made?”
“Christ,” laughed the fleshless
Jaws of his friend,
“I thought they’d be praying
For worlds to mend,

“And making earth better
Or something silly
Like white-washing hell
Or Picca-damn-dilly.
They’ve a sense of humour,
These women of ours,
These exquisite lilies,
These fresh young flowers!”

“Pish”, said a statesman
Standing near,
I’m glad they keep busy
Their thoughts elsewhere!
We mustn’t reproach ‘em,
They’re young you see.”
“Ah”, said the dead men,
“So were we!”

Victory! Victory!
On with the dance!
Back to the jungle
The new beasts prance!
God, how the dead men
Grin by the wall,
Watching the fun
Of the Victory Ball.

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Byron: All ills past, present and to come yield to the true portrait of one battle-field

February 13, 2017 Leave a comment

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

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Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Don Juan

Mortality! thou hast thy monthly bills;
Thy plagues, thy famines, thy physicians, yet tick,
Like the death-watch, within our ears the ills
Past, present, and to come; – but all may yield
To the true portrait of one battle-field.

There the still varying pangs, which multiply
Until their very number makes men hard
By the infinities of agony,
Which meet the gaze whate’er it may regard –
The groan, the roll in dust, the all-white eye
Turn’d back within its socket, – these reward
Your rank and file by thousands, while the rest
May win perhaps a riband at the breast!

Yet I love glory; – glory’s a great thing: –
Think what it is to be in your old age
Maintain’d at the expense of your good king:
A moderate pension shakes full many a sage,
And heroes are but made for bards to sing,
Which is still better; thus in verse to wage
Your wars eternally, besides enjoying
Half-pay for life, make mankind worth destroying.

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Byron: The drying up a single tear has more of honest fame than shedding seas of gore

February 11, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Don Juan

O blood and thunder! and oh blood and wounds!
These are but vulgar oaths, as you may deem,
Too gentle reader! and most shocking sounds:
And so they are; yet thus is Glory’s dream
Unriddled, and as my true Muse expounds
At present such things, since they are her theme,
So be they her inspirers! Call them Mars,
Bellona, what you will – they mean but wars.

***

History can only take things in the gross;
But could we know them in detail, perchance
In balancing the profit and the loss,
War’s merit it by no means might enhance,
To waste so much gold for a little dross,
As hath been done, mere conquest to advance.
The drying up a single tear has more
Of honest fame, than shedding seas of gore.

***

The night was dark, and the thick mist allow’d
Nought to be seen save the artillery’s flame,
Which arch’d the horizon like a fiery cloud,
And in the Danube’s waters shone the same –
A mirror’d hell! the volleying roar, and loud
Long booming of each peal on peal, o’ercame
The ear far more than thunder; for Heaven’s flashes
Spare, or smite rarely – man’s make millions ashes!

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William Lisle Bowles: As War’s black trump pealed its terrific blast

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Lisle Bowles: Selections on war and peace

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William Lisle Bowles
From The Missionary

With murmured prayer, when Mercy stood aghast,
As War’s black trump pealed its terrific blast,
And o’er the withered earth the armed giant passed!
Ye, who his track with terror have pursued,
When some delightful land, all blood-imbrued,
He swept; where silent is the champaign wide,
That echoed to the pipe of yester-tide,
Save, when far off, the moonlight hills prolong
The last deep echoes of his parting gong;
Nor aught is seen, in the deserted spot
Where trailed the smoke of many a peaceful cot,
Save livid corses that unburied lie,
And conflagrations, reeking to the sky…

***

When the trump echoed to the quiet spot,
He thought upon the world, but mourned it not;
Enough if his meek wisdom could control,
And bend to mercy, one proud soldier’s soul…

When will the turmoil of earth’s tempests cease?
Father, I come to thee for peace – for peace!

Such is the conqueror’s dread path: the grave
Yawns for its millions where his banners wave;
But shall vain man, whose life is but a sigh,
With sullen acquiescence gaze and die?

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Byron: Gore and glory seen in hell alone

February 7, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Don Juan

I pass each day where Dante’s bones are laid:
A little cupola, more neat than solemn,
Protects his dust, but reverence here is paid
To the bard’s tomb, and not the warrior’s column.

With human blood that column was cemented,
With human filth that column is defiled,
As if the peasant’s coarse contempt were vented
To show his loathing of the spot he soil’d:
Thus is the trophy used, and thus lamented
Should ever be those blood-hounds, from whose wild
Instinct of gore and glory earth has known
Those sufferings Dante saw in hell alone.

***

This is the patent age of new inventions
For killing bodies, and for saving souls,
All propagated with the best intentions;
Sir Humphry Davy’s lantern, by which coals
Are safely mined for in the mode he mentions,
Tombuctoo travels, voyages to the Poles,
Are ways to benefit mankind, as true,
Perhaps, as shooting them at Waterloo.

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Alfred Noyes: Turning wasteful strength of war to accomplish large and fruitful tasks of peace

February 6, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Alfred Noyes: Selections on war

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Alfred Noyes
From Drake

[U]plifting hands
Of rapture to the blinding new-born light
In heaven, a light which though from age to age
Clouds may obscure it, grows and still shall grow
Until that nobler commonwealth be born,
That Union which draws nigher with every day,
That turning of the wasteful strength of war
To accomplish large and fruitful tasks of peace,
A gathering up of one another’s loads
Whereby the weak are strengthened and the strong
Made stronger in the increasing good of all.

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William Lisle Bowles: Selections on war and peace

February 4, 2017 Leave a comment
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Byron: I loathe all war and warriors

February 1, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Sardanapalus

Why, child, I loathe all war, and warriors;
I live in peace and pleasure: what can man
Do more?

***

I pray you note,
That there are worse things betwixt earth and heaven
Than him who ruleth many and slays none;
And, hating not himself, yet he loves his fellows
Enough to spare even those who would not spare him…

***

I am content: and, trusting in my cause,
Think we may yet be victors and return
To peace the only victory I covet.
To me war is no glory conquest no
Renown. To be forced thus to uphold my right
Sits heavier on my heart than all the wrongs
These men would bow me down with. Never, never
Can I forget this night, even should I live
To add it to the memory of others.
I thought to have made mine inoffensive rule
An era of sweet peace ‘midst bloody annals,
A green spot amidst desert centuries,
On which the future would turn back and smile,
And cultivate, or sigh when it could not
Recall Sardanapalus’ golden reign.
I thought to have made my realm a paradise,
And every moon an epoch of new pleasures.

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Arthur Hugh Clough: For an impalpable odour of honour armies shall bleed

February 1, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Arthur Hugh Clough: Ye vulgar dreamers about peace

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Arthur Hugh Clough

From The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich

What! for a mite, for a mote, an impalpable odour of honour,
Armies shall bleed; cities burn; and the soldier red from the storming
Carry hot rancour and lust into chambers of mothers and daughters:
What! would ourselves for the cause of an hour encounter the battle,
Slay and be slain; lie rotting in hospital, hulk, and prison:
Die as a dog dies; die mistaken perhaps, and dishonoured.

***

From Dipsychus

[O]ne would drudge
And do one’s petty part, and be content
In base manipulation, solaced still
By thinking of the leagued fraternity,
And of cooperation, and the effect
Of the great engine. If indeed it work,
And is not a mere treadmill! which it may be.
Who can confirm it is not? We ask action,
And dream of arms and conflict; and string up
All self-devotion’s muscles; and are set
To fold up papers. To what end? we know not.

***

From The Bothie of Tober-na-vuolich

Grace is given of God, but knowledge is bought in the market;
Knowledge needful for all, yet cannot be had for the asking.
There are exceptional beings, one finds them distant and rarely,
Who, endowed with the vision alike and the interpretation,
See, by the neighbours’ eyes and their own still motions enlightened,
In the beginning the end, in the acorn the oak of the forest,
In the child of to-day its children to long generations,
In a thought or a wish a life, a drama, an epos.
There are inheritors, is it? by mystical generation
Heiring the wisdom and ripeness of spirits gone by; without labour
Owning what others by doing and suffering earn; what old men
After long years of mistake and erasure are proud to have come to,
Sick with mistake and erasure possess when possession is idle.

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William Lisle Bowles: Oh, when will the long tempestuous night of warfare and of woe be rolled away!

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

William Lisle Bowles: Selections on war and peace

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William Lisle Bowles
East Wind

Shouts, and the noise of war!
Far o’er the land hath been my flight,
O’er many a forest dark as night,
O’er champaigns where the Tartar speeds,
O’er Wolga’s wild and giant reeds,
O’er the Carpathian summits hoar,
Beneath whose snows and shadows frore,
Poland’s level length unfolds
Her trackless woods and wildering wolds,
Like a spirit, seeking rest,
I have passed from east to west,
While sounds of discord and lament
Rose from the earth where’er I went.
I care not; hurrying, as in scorn,
I shook my lance, and blew my horn;
The day shows clear; and merrily
Along the Atlantic now I fly.
Who comes in soft and spicy vest,
From the mild regions of the West?
An azure veil bends waving o’er his head,
And showers of violets from his hands are shed.
‘Tis Zephyr, with a look as young and fair
As when his lucid wings conveyed
That beautiful and gentle maid
Psyche, transported through the air,
The blissful couch of Love’s own god to share.
Winter, avaunt! thy haggard eye
Will scare him, as he wanders by,
Him and the timid butterfly.
He brings again the morn of May;
The lark, amid the clear blue sky,
Carols, but is not seen so high,
And all the winter’s winds fly far away!
I cried: O Father of the world, whose might
The storm, the darkness, and the winds obey,
Oh, when will thus the long tempestuous night
Of warfare and of woe be rolled away!
Oh, when will cease the uproar and the din,
And Peace breathe soft, Summer is coming in!

***

From The Sylph of Summer

O’er sanguine fields
Now rides he, armed and crested like the god
Of fabled battles; where he points, pale Death
Strides over weltering carcases; nor leaves, –
But still a horrid shadow, step by step,
Stalks mocking after him, till now the noise
Of rolling acclamation, and the shout
Of multitude on multitude, is past:
The scene of all his triumphs, wormy earth,
Closes upon his perishable pride;
For “dust he is, and shall to dust return”!

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Samuel Rogers: War and the Great in War let others sing

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Samuel Rogers: What tho’ the iron school of War erase each milder virtue…

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Samuel Rogers
From The Voyage of Columbus

War and the Great in War let others sing.
Havoc and spoil, and tears and triumphing;
The morning-march that flashes to the sun,
The feast of vultures when the day is done;
And the strange tale of many slain for one!

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Byron: I made no wars

January 28, 2017 Leave a comment

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

British writers on peace and war

Byron: Selections on war

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Byron
From Sardanapalus

[O]f all his conquests a few columns,
Which may be his, and might be mine, if I
Thought them worth purchase and conveyance, are
The landmarks of the seas of gore he shed,
The realms he wasted, and the hearts he broke.

***

The ungrateful and ungracious slaves! they murmur
Because I have not shed their blood, nor led them
To dry into the desert’s dust by myriads,
Or whiten with their bones the banks of Ganges;
Nor decimated them with savage laws,
Nor sweated them to build up pyramids,
Or Babylonian walls.

***

Oh, thou wouldst have me doubtless set up edicts
“Obey the king – contribute to his treasure –
Recruit his phalanx spill – your blood at bidding –
Fall down and worship, or get up and toil.”
Or thus – “Sardanapalus on this spot
Slew fifty thousand of his enemies.
These are their sepulchres, and this his trophy.”
I leave such things to conquerors; enough
For me, if I can make my subjects feel
The weight of human misery less, and glide
Ungroaning to the tomb: I take no license
Which I deny to them. We all are men.

***

I hate all pain,
Given or received; we have enough within us,
The meanest vassal as the loftiest monarch,
Not to add to each other’s natural burthen
Of mortal misery, but rather lessen,
By mild reciprocal alleviation,
The fatal penalties imposed on life:
But this they know not, or they will not know.
I have, by Baal! done all I could to soothe them:
I made no wars, I added no new imposts,
I interfered not with their civic lives…

***

‘T is true I have not shed
Blood as I might have done, in oceans, till
My name became the synonyme of death,
A terror and a trophy. But for this
I feel no penitence; my life is love:
If I must shed blood, it shall be by force.
Till now, no drop from an Assyrian vein
Hath flow’d for me, nor hath the smallest coin
Of Nineveh’s vast treasures e’er been lavish’d
On objects which could cost her sons a tear:
If then they hate me, ‘t is because I hate not:
If they rebel, ‘t is because I oppress not.

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