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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: I have not a warlike nature nor warlike tastes

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

German writers on peace and war

Goethe: “O wisdom, thou speakest as a dove!”

Goethe: Withdraw hands from your swords

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cited by Georg Brandes in his Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature
Translator unidentified

The bodies of his fallen countrymen did not inspire the poet with odes….

Such instances as these give us some impression of the attitude of aloofness which Goethe as a poet maintained towards the events of his day. But we must not overlook the fine side of his refusal to write patriotic war-songs during the struggle with Napoleon. “Would it be like me to sit in my room and write war-songs? In the night bivouacs, when we could hear the horses of the enemy’s outpost neighing, then I might possibly have done it. But it was not my life, that, and not my affair; it was Theodor Körner’s. Therefore his war-songs become him well. I have not a warlike nature nor warlike tastes, and war-songs would have been a mask very unbecoming to me. I have never been artificial in my poetry.”

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Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville: The Peacemakers

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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

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Peacemakers

We do not fight with swords,
Red iron, explosive fire,
And on no battle-field
Urge we our soul’s desire. –
Nay, but our bitter might.
Silent and shod like Peace,
Shall set your homes alight
In the fullness of your ease.
Strike us, we strike not back.
But o’er the bloodless sod
Come thundering on our track
The batteries of God.

We slay you with a thought;
We wound you with a word;
We stab you to the heart
Who have abjured the sword.
Your strength has trampled down
Our weakness underfoot;
The king has saved his crown.
The scaffold bears its fruit;
Our lips are silenced – yet
The word we spoke lives on;
The thing ye would forget
Is the thing already done.

Oh! victors have ye bound
Our bodies? This is good.
But ye seek to bind in vain
The thought not understood.
Not this year or the next
Shall we be justified;
Enough that we perplexed
Your minds before we died.
This shall suffice our need,
That one swift word once said
Shall later be your creed:
And other men lie dead.

II

Who knows but on these fields,
These sowing-grounds of death,
Whence stern and dreadful springs
Harvest of wrath and flame,
This thought some comfort yields
To the crushed dead beneath:
They for the selfsame things
Fight by some other name.

Not armed are we – we go
Naked and ill at ease,
Mocked at, derided, spurned;

Men pass us in the street.
Because the common foe
Insults the name of peace,
We noiselessly have turned
His triumph to defeat.

Ye for men’s comfort give
Your willing blood – your pain;
Daily ye strive and fall
Nor pause to count your dead.
We do not die but live
Lest ye shall die in vain;
Not yours alone the call,
To us, too, was it said: –

The dream which men forget
Shall mingle with the deed;
Strike one with sword and one
With thought – till all men see
That sword and word have met
And all the earth is freed;
But till that union
Shall none alive be free.

 

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Paul Fort: The Complaint of the Soldiers

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

French writers on war and peace

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Paul Fort
The Complaint of the Soldiers
Translated by John Strong Newberry

When they were come back from the wars their heads were seamed
with bleeding scars,
their hearts betwixt clenched teeth they gripped, in rivulets their
blood had dripped,
when they were come back from the wars, the blue, the red, the sons
of Mars,
they sought their snuff-boxes so fine, their chests, their sheets all spotless showing,
they sought their kine, their grunting swine, their wives and sweethearts at their sewing,
their roguish children, like as not crowned with a shining copper pot,
they even sought their homes, poor souls…they only found the worms and moles.

The carrion raven clamored o’er them. – They spat their broken hearts before them.

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Margaret Sackville: So quietly and evenly they walked these million gentle dead

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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

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Return

Last night, within our little town
The Dead came marching through;
In a long line, like living men,
Just as they used to do.

Only, so long a line it seemed
You’d think the Judgment Day
Had dawned, to see them slowly pass,
With faces turned one way.

They walked no longer foe and foe
But brother bound to brother;
Poor men, common men they walked
Friendly to one another.

Just as in life they might have done
Who stabbed and slew instead….
So quietly and evenly they walked
These million gentle dead.

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Margaret Sackville: The Pageant of War

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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

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
The Pageant of War

Shrilly, exultant, from afar
I heard, and rushing down,
Beheld amazed
The pageant of triumphant War
Come trampling through the town.

It was a day
In early Spring; the cold
Gaunt houses stood enhazed
In a shimmer of pure gold,
And every way
The sun’s suffused heat
Seemed the very breath of May
Filling the street.
Such soft and kindly weather
Was as a magic link – a thread
By which were earth and heaven wed
In holy bonds together.

And down the street, and down the empty street
I heard the slow, monotonous, heavy beat
Of a million and a million feet.

Also I saw how starkly white
The long road gleamed in the sun-light,
And marvelled what had made the road so white.

Then through the roar
Of trumpets, bugles, heralding his name
Came War: –
Magnificently down the white road he came.

The sun was laughing through a golden haze
And all the city
Shone; it was the first of the Spring days.

But in the warm Spring light
The white road shone too white – too white
As though in some unnatural light.

The crowd’s discordant voices shrilled his name,
Then fell, then ceased; down the white road he came.

He was like Death sitting astride
A pale and neighing horse,
Only he swayed from side to side
Like one glutted in every sense;
His lids were coarse
And overhanging eyes glassy with pride;
There was no trace
Of laughter, tears or pity
In his blue-veined, swollen face,
And so perforce
He had to wear a mask, lest seeing
That obscene countenance too near,
The heart of every human being
Should shrink in loathing and in fear,
And turn upon this thing and slay it there.

And after him with measured tread
Came sweeping on in long defile,
Marching together without word or smile,
Gesture or turn of head,
The pitiful, bright army of the dead.
The sun in which they had no share
Fell on their brows, reddened their hair,
Shone in their eyes,
In which was neither memory nor surmise.
Their even feet
Beat without wrath or heat,
As the world’s heart might beat;
Treading their solemn, calm, heroic measure
Of death – even as it were for pleasure;
Whose sight grown dim
With the great splendour of their fate,
Saw not, or saw too late,
The face of him
To whom so willingly they sacrificed,
And who had come to them disguised
In the garb sometimes of Peace, sometimes of Christ.

But sombre, darker,
I saw following after these,
A troop of shadows, silent, pale;
Each, lest her tears should mark her,
Wrapped her head close beneath her veil.
Those others
Had drunk their burning death and left the lees
For the pale lips of their mothers.
But the long line
So shadowy showed in the sunshine,
You only saw War’s panoply displayed
Brighter still against the shade.

And ever to my aching sight
The road shone whiter and more white;
I marvelled how a road might show so white.

And others still there were who followed after,
High-priests of War, crafty and keen,
With greedy hands and heavy-hanging chin,
And down-cast eyes which veiled their laughter.
These underneath
Their arms clasped bursting money-bags,
Hid from the prying eyes
Of those who would disturb their privacies,
In tawdry, many-coloured flags.
For these the sword
Was sign and symbol of a great reward.

These, having gorged their fill,
Strove yet more perfectly to serve the will
And do the business of their lord.
But their chief care
Was evermore that none might see the bare
Face of their master, and their ceaseless task
Was with the form and colour of his mask.

(Emissaries
Were here from every land,
Who whilst they made
Equal oblation
To War and kissed his hand,
Yet at the same time paid
All homage and respect to Peace,
Being betrayed,
Unwillingly to follow War – they said
Through the dissimulation
And lust of every other nation.)

Brightly on crest and banner the sun shone,
My eyes were tired.
The panoply flashed on.

I heard the crowd give voice,
They saw the flashing crests and did rejoice.
The crowd exulted with one voice.

And still the pageant trampled on,
Never done – ah! never done!
Once more my eyes, dazed by the sun,
Turned earthwards .
Marvelling at the white
Road, that a road could be so white.

I looked again at the white stones;
I saw.
The dust was trampled bones.
‘Twas they that made the road so white.

There were bones of children, bones of men,
Trampled in since the world began,
Road of triumph – road of glory!
This road conceived by men and then
Built from the ruins of man.

Road which every land has trod
Since the beginning of its story,
And called in turn the road of God;
Road of myriads vowed to rape,
Destruction, mutilation, wrath,
Since there was no escape
And this road their only path!

Behold! since the world began,
This shining road – man’s gift to man.

The bones which make it are so light
(Children’s bones weigh very little)
You would think the surface of this white
Shining road must be too brittle
To bear the heavy loads which go
Trampling upon it to and fro;
But no –

These bones are ground to such fine dust,
So fine, so firm they form a crust
As firm, as thick as the earth’s crust,
Which all who will may safely tread.
They have no ghosts, these dead!
They are but children, peasants of the soil,
And women – ravished, torn
And murdered at their toil.
It is for this that they were born.

Since the crowd shouts in its delight
To see along the road so white
The pageant pass in the sunlight.

I will forget the road, the stones
Are less than nothing – dust and bones:
And what has life to do with bones?

Unless they should rise up, these bones!

Meanwhile
They are silent – let them so remain,
These very humble folk, these quiet slain,
And let the living smile –
Until they too shall suffer the same pain.
Whilst the long pageant stretches mile on mile –
As though these innocents had died in vain.

Shrilly, exultant, from afar
I heard, and rushing down
Beheld amazed,
The pageant of triumphant War
Come trampling through the town.

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Tacitus: When war bursts on us, innocent and guilty alike perish

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Tacitus: The robbery, slaughter and plunder that empire calls peace

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Tacitus
From Annals
Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb

“In peace,” he [Caecina] said, “the merits of a man’s case are carefully weighed; when war bursts on us, innocent and guilty alike perish.”

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Mankind in the earliest age lived for a time without a single vicious impulse, without shame or guilt, and, consequently, without punishment and restraints. Rewards were not needed when everything right was pursued on its own merits; and as men desired nothing against morality, they were debarred from nothing by fear. When however they began to throw off equality, and ambition and violence usurped the place of self-control and modesty, despotisms grew up and became perpetual among many nations.

…laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt.

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With profound meaning was it often affirmed by the greatest teacher of philosophy that, could the minds of tyrants be laid bare, there would be seen gashes and wounds; for, as the body is lacerated by scourging, so is the spirit by brutality, by lust and by evil thoughts.

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Victor Hugo: The history of war and the history of peace

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

In this old method of history, – the only authorized method up to 1789, and classic in every acceptation of the word, – the best narrators, even the honest ones (there are few of them), even those who think themselves free, place themselves mechanically in drill, stitch tradition to tradition, submit to accepted custom, receive the pass-word from the antechamber, accept, pell-mell with the crowd, the stupid divinity of coarse personages in the foreground, – kings, “potentates,” “pontiffs,” soldiers, – and, all the time thinking themselves historians, end by donning the livery of historiographers, and are lackeys without knowing it….Nothing can be insignificant that relates to war, the warrior, the prince, the throne, the court. He who is not endowed with grave puerility cannot be a historian….

Knowing so many things, it is quite natural that it should be ignorant of others. If you are so curious as to ask the name of the English merchant who in 1612 first entered China by the north; of the worker in glass who in 1663 first established in France a manufactory of crystal; of the citizen who carried out in the States General at Tours, under Charles VIII.: the sound principle of elective magistracy (a principle which has since been adroitly obliterated); of the pilot who in 1405 discovered the Canary Islands; of the Byzantine lutemaker who in the eighth century invented the organ and gave to music its grandest voice; of the Campanian mason who invented the clock by establishing at Rome on the temple of Quirinus the first sundial; of the Roman lighterman who invented the paving of towns by the construction of the Appian Way in the year 312 B.C.; of the Egyptian carpenter who devised the dove-tail, one of the keys of architecture, which may be found under the obelisk of Luxor; of the Chaldean keeper of flocks who founded astronomy by his observation of the signs of the zodiac, the starting-point taken by Anaximenes; of the Corinthian calker who, nine years before the first Olympiad, calculated the power of the triple lever, devised the trireme, and created a tow-boat anterior by two thousand six hundred years to the steamboat; of the Macedonian ploughman who discovered the first gold mine in Mount Pangæus, – history, does not know what to say to you: those fellows are unknown to history. Who is that, – a ploughman, a calker, a shepherd, a carpenter, a lighterman, a mason, a lutemaker, a sailor, and a merchant? History does not lower itself to such rabble.

Let a man have “cut to pieces” other men; let him have “put them to the sword;” let him have made them “bite the dust,” – horrible expressions, which have become hideously familiar, – and if you search history for the name of that man, whoever he may be, you will find it. But search for the name of the man who invented the compass, and you will not find it.

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Therefore, every one to his right place. Right about face! and let us now regard the centuries in their true light. In the first rank, minds; in the second, in the third, in the twentieth, soldiers and princes. To the warrior the darkness, to the thinker the pedestal. Take away Alexander, and put in his place Aristotle. Strange thing, that up to this day humanity should have read the Iliad in such a manner as to annihilate Homer under Achilles!

****

There is in Moses three glories, – the captain, the legislator, the poet. Of these three men contained in Moses, where is the captain to-day? In the shadow, with brigands and murderers. Where is the legislator? Amidst the waste of dead religions. Where is the poet? By the side of Æschylus.

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Joris-Karl Huysmans: An Apocalypse of wars

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

French writers on war and peace

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Joris-Karl Huysmans
From St. Lydwine of Schiedam
Translated by Agnes Hastings

It is none the less true that the miserable faithful who lived during all the horror of those unspeakable years, believed that all righteousness was crumbling away; and indeed battlefields surrounded them whichever way they turned.

In the South, in the Christian Orient, the Greeks, the Mongols, and the Turks were exterminating each other; in the North, Russians and Tartars, Swedes and Danes, were springing at each other’s throats; and if looking further afield, across the ravaged territories of Europe, their gaze travelled as far as the line of her frontiers, the faithful seemed to see the end of the world drawing near and the menaces of the Apocalypse about to be realized.

The boundaries of the Christian world are marked out in fire upon a lurid sky; villages on the borders of the heathen countries are in flames, and the zone of the demons is lighted up. Attila is alive again, and the invasion of the barbarians renewed. Like a whirlwind the janissaries of Bajazet, the Amir of the Ottomans, pass along, sweeping the countryside like a cyclone and laying waste the towns. He throws himself on Nicopolis, against the allied Catholic forces, and annihilates them; the chair of St. Peter is in peril, and all seems to be over for the Christians of the East, when another victor, the Mongol Tamarlane, celebrated for the pyramid of 90,000 skulls which he erected on the ruins of Babylon, arrives with lightning rapidity from the steppes of Asia, falls upon Bajazet, and carries him off after having defeated his hordes in a sanguinary battle.

Europe, aghast, looked on at the meeting of two waterspouts, whose breaking inundated the onlookers as in a rain of blood.

****

The proverb, ‘happiness leads to egoism,’ is only too true; you do not begin to experience compassion for others till you have been yourself in want; well-being and strength sterilize you, and you only perform acts which are vaguely correct, till you are lamed or reduced to poverty.”

****

Besides, if GOD always loaded the good with rewards and the evil with ills, there would no longer be either merit or profit in faith, for, from the moment Providence became visible, virtue would become nothing but an affair of commerce, and the conversion which resulted in it, nothing but a servile fear. This would be the very negation of virtue, since it would make it neither generous, nor disinterested, nor gratuitous, but a sort of whitened cowardice, a chapel of ease for vice.

****

“Help me to love you! You are miserable when you do not feel love already flowing in you, but indeed, to weep because you do not love is to love already!”

****

To other visitors who’ were not touched in their bodies or in their means of subsistence, but came to her, mad with grief, because they had seen the death of a husband, child, or other being whom they had adored; to those men who, after the obsequies of their wives, confessed to her their temptation to throw themselves into the Meuse, she would, after some consoling words, put this question:

“Will you affirm that she for whom you weep is with the elect in Paradise? Your answer is ‘No,’ is it not?

“For, without denying her virtues, you must believe that, according to the ordinary rule, she has to pass through a probationary state of waiting, that she must sojourn for a space, the duration of which is known to God alone, in Purgatory.

“Do you not understand that your prayers and your grief can draw souls from thence? What they have not had the chance to suffer themselves, so as to purge themselves here below, you will suffer in their stead; you will substitute yourself for them and finish what they could not end. You will pay your grief in ransom, and the more sharp your pain, the sooner will the debt of her you loved be paid.

“Who knows, indeed, if the Lord, touched by the goodwill and supplications of a husband, will not give credit to the wife on the capital of his mourning and yield her deliverance at once?

“You will then be paid in return for your pain; your wife will make herself the accomplice of time: she will soothe the acuteness of your wounds; she will deaden the regret of her loss, and will only leave you a gentle memory, distant and sweet. Do not talk then of suicide, for, besides the loss of your soul, it would be the negation, entire and absolute, of your love; it would be abandoning her whom you pretend to love at the moment when she finds herself in peril, plunging her back into the abyss of Purgatory, when she had already mounted to the top; and depriving yourself of the hope of ever seeing her again.”

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Pierre Nicole: Scripture obliges us to seek and desire the peace of the whole world

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

French writers on war and peace

Pierre Nicole: Peacemakers warrant highest title men are capable of

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Pierre Nicole
From Concerning the Way of Preserving Peace With Men
Translated by John Locke

The Scripture, that requires us to seek the peace of that city where God hath placed us, means equally all these several sorts of cities: i. e. it obliges us to seek and desire the peace of the whole world; of our own country; of the place of our dwelling; of our society; and of ourselves. But since we have more power to procure it in some, than in others of these, we ought to apply ourselves to it in a different manner.

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‘Tis not enough for the preservation of peace, to avoid giving offence to others: but we must also avoid taking offence ourselves, when they fail, on their side, in anything towards us.

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‘Tis a dangerous thing to be in credit with others; to have an influence upon their minds; and to be able to give them what impressions one pleases. For this tempts us to communicate the mistakes we are possessed with; and the rash opinions we have taken up of others. Whereas, those who are not in such esteem, stand clear of that danger.

****

There are a thousand little conveniences of life, which are not the commodities of trade; are never bought, nor sold; but are always given: They are the peculiar traffic of kindness; and love alone can purchase them. Besides, communities are made up of particular persons, who are all full of love and esteem of themselves; and if others endeavour not a little to satisfy and sooth those inclinations, societies will prove but herds of malcontents, and hardly hold together. There is need therefore of mutual kindness and respect. Which being of themselves invisible, men have by consent established certain duties, to pass as the marks and pledges of them.

****

A Confidant is very little distant from a Counsellor. He that opens his mind to us, does as it were ask our advice: And we cannot afterwards talk with him, without interesting ourselves in his conduct. For our discourse must necessarily have a respect to those thoughts, those passions, he has discovered to us; and cannot choose but make impression on a mind, which by its very laying itself open, was prepared to receive it.

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Cicero: Even war’s victories should be forgotten

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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

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

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Cicero
From De Inventione
Translated by H. M. Hubbell

For when I ponder the troubles in our commonwealth, and run over in my mind the ancient misfortunes of mighty cities, I see no little part of the disasters was brought about by men of eloquence. When, on the other hand, I begin to search in the records of literature for events which occurred before the period which our generation can remember, I find that many cities have been founded, that the flames of a multitude of wars have been extinguished, and that the strongest alliances and most sacred friendships have been formed not only by the use of reason but also more easily by the help of eloquence.

****

Certainly only a speech at the same time powerful and entrancing could have induced one who had great physical strength to submit to justice without violence, so that he suffered himself to be put on a par with those among whom he could excel, and abandoned voluntarily a most agreeable custom, especially since this custom had already acquired through lapse of time the force of a natural right.

****

It was a nearly universal custom among the Greeks when they fought with one another that the victors should set up a trophy in the country to commemorate the victory, but only for the time being, not that the record of the war might remain forever.

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Victor Hugo: The inkstand is to destroy the sword

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

Veracious history, real history, definitive history henceforth charged with the education of the royal infant, – namely, the people, – will reject all fiction, will fail in complaisance, will logically classify phenomena, will unravel profound causes, will study philosophically and scientifically the successive commotions of humanity, and will take less account of the great strokes of the sword than of the grand strokes of the idea. The deeds of light will pass first; Pythagoras will be a much greater event than Sesostris. We have just said it, – heroes, men of the twilight, are relatively luminous in the darkness; but what is a conqueror beside a sage? What is the invasion of kingdoms compared with the opening up of intellects? The winners of minds efface the gainers of provinces. He through whom we think, he is the true conqueror. In future history, the slave Æsop and the slave Plautus will have precedence over kings; and there are vagabonds who will weigh more than certain victors, and comedians who will weigh more than certain emperors.

****

Idiotic despots, a multitude, are the mob of the purple; but above them, beyond them, by the immeasurable distance which separates that which radiates from that which stagnates, – there are the despots of genius; there are the captains, the conquerors, the mighty men of war, the civilizers of force, the ploughmen of the sword.

These we have just named. The truly great among them are called Cyrus, Sesostris, Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Charlemagne, Napoleon; and, with the qualifications we have laid down, we admire them.

But we admire them on the condition of their disappearance. Make room for better ones! Make room for greater ones!

Those greater, those better ones, are they new? No. Their series is as ancient as the other; more ancient, perhaps, for the idea has preceded the act, and the thinker is anterior to the warrior. But their place was taken, taken violently. This usurpation is about to cease; their hour comes at last; their predominance gleams forth. Civilization, returned to the true light, recognizes them as its only founders; their series becomes clothed in light, and eclipses the rest; like the past, the future belongs to them; and henceforth it is they whom God will perpetuate.

****

The former king of Westphalia, who was a witty man, was looking one day at an inkstand on the table of some one we know. The writer, with whom Jerome Bonaparte was at that moment, had brought home from an excursion among the Alps, made some years before in company with Charles Nodier, a piece of steatitic serpentine carved and hollowed in the form of an inkstand, and purchased of the chamois-hunters of the Mer de Glace. It was this that Jerome Bonaparte was looking at “What is this?” he asked. “It is my inkstand,” said the writer; and he added, “it is steatite. Admire how Nature with a little dirt and oxide has made this charming green stone.” Jerome Bonaparte replied, “I admire much more the men who out of this stone made an inkstand.”

That was not badly said for a brother of Napoleon, and due credit should be given for it; for the inkstand is to destroy the sword. The decrease of warriors, – men of brutal force and of prey; the undefined and superb growth of men of thought and of peace; the re-appearance on the scene of the true colossals, – in this is one of the greatest facts of our great epoch. There is no spectacle more pathetic and sublime, – humanity delivered from on high, the powerful ones put to flight by the thinkers, the prophet overwhelming the hero, force routed by ideas, the sky cleaned, a majestic expulsion.

****

Bossuet writes without hesitation, though palliating facts here and there, the frightful legend of those old thrones of antiquity covered with crimes, and, applying to the surface of things his vague theocratic declamation, satisfies himself by this formula: “God holds in his hand the hearts of kings.” That is not the case, for two reasons, – God has no hand, and kings have no heart.

We are only speaking, of course, of the kings of Assyria.

****

No; the people have not the right to throw indefinitely the fault upon governments. The acceptation of oppression by the oppressed ends in becoming complicity. Cowardice is consent whenever the duration of a bad thing, which presses on the people, and which the people could prevent if they would, goes beyond the amount of patience endurable by an honest man; there is an appreciable solidarity and a partnership in shame between the government guilty of the evil and the people allowing it to be done. To suffer is worthy of veneration; to submit is worthy of contempt.

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Victor Hugo: The poet outlives the man of war

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Unknown translator

The man of war is formidable while alive; he stands erect, the earth is silent, siluit; he has extermination in his gesture; millions of haggard men rush to follow him, – a fierce horde, sometimes a ruffianly one; it is no longer a human head, it is a conqueror, it is a captain, it is a king of kings, it is an emperor, it is a dazzling crown of laurels which passes, throwing out lightning flashes, and allowing to be seen in starlight beneath it a vague profile of Cæsar. All this vision is splendid and impressive; but let only a gravel come in the liver, or an excoriation to the pylorus, – six feet of ground, and all is said. This solar spectrum vanishes. This tumultuous life falls into a hole; the human race pursues its way, leaving behind this nothingness. If this man hurricane has made some lucky rupture, like Alexander in India, Charlemagne in Scandinavia, and Bonaparte in ancient Europe, that is all that remains of him. But let some passer-by, who has in him the ideal, let a poor wretch like Homer throw out a word in the darkness, and die, – that word burns up in the gloom and becomes a star.

“All ends under six feet of earth”? No; everything commences there. No; everything germinates there. No; everything flowers in it, and everything grows in it, and everything bursts forth from it, and everything proceeds from it! Good for you, men of the sword, are these maxims!

Lay yourselves down, disappear, lie in the grave, rot. So be it.

During life, gildings, caparisons, drums and trumpets, panoplies, banners to the wind, tumults, make up an illusion. The crowd gazes with admiration on these things. It imagines that it sees something grand. Who has the casque! Who has the cuirass? Who has the sword-belt? Who is spurred, morioned, plumed, armed? Hurrah for that one! At death the difference becomes striking. Juvenal takes Hannibal in the hollow of his hand.

****

When one arrives in England, the first thing that he looks for is the statue of Shakespeare. He finds the statue of Wellington.

Wellington is a general who gained a battle, having chance for his partner.

If you insist on seeing Shakespeare’s statue you are taken to a place called Westminster, where there are kings, – a crowd of kings: there is also a corner called “Poets’ Corner.” There, in the shade of four or five magnificent monuments where some royal nobodies shine in marble and bronze, is shown to you on a small pedestal a little figure, and under this little figure, the name, “WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.”

In addition to this, statues everywhere; if you wish for statues you may find as many as you can wish. Statue for Charles, statue for Edward, statue for William, statues for three or four Georges, of whom one was an idiot. Statue of the Duke of Richmond at Huntley; statue of Napier at Portsmouth; statue of Father Mathew at Cork; statue of Herbert Ingram, I don’t know where. A man has well drilled the riflemen, – he gets a statue; a man has commanded a manœuvre of the Horse Guards, – he gets a statue. Another has been a supporter of the past, has squandered all the wealth of England in paying a coalition of kings against 1789, against democracy, against light, against the ascending movement of the human race, – quick! a pedestal for that; a statue to Mr. Pitt. Another has knowingly fought against truth, in the hope that it might be vanquished, and has found out one fine morning that truth is hard-lived, that it is strong, that it might be intrusted with forming a cabinet, and has then passed abruptly over to its side, – one more pedestal; a statue for Mr. Peel. Everywhere, in every street, in every square, at every step, gigantic notes of admiration in the shape of columns, – a column to the Duke of York, which should really take the form of points of interrogation; a column to Nelson, pointed at by the ghost of Caracciolo; a column to Wellington, already named: columns for everybody. It is sufficient to have played with a sword somewhere. At Guernsey, by the seaside, on a promontory, there is a high column, similar to a lighthouse, – almost a tower; this one is struck by lightning; Æschylus would have contented himself with it. For whom is this? – for General Doyle. Who is General Doyle? – a general. What has this general done? – he has constructed roads. At his own expense? – no, at the expense of the inhabitants. He has a column. Nothing for Shakespeare, nothing for Milton, nothing for Newton; the name of Byron is obscure. That is where England is, – an illustrious and powerful nation.

****

False rights contrive very easily to put in movement true armies. There are murdered Polands looming in the future.

****

Offers of amnesty miscarry when it is the victim who alone should have the right to grant pardon.

****

This drama is stern. In it truth doubts, sincerity lies. Nothing can be more immense, more subtile. In it man is the world, and the world is zero. Hamlet, even full of life, is not sure of his existence. In this tragedy, which is at the same time a philosophy, everything floats, hesitates, delays, staggers, becomes discomposed, scatters, and is dispersed.

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Victor Hugo: Peace will supersede war, perhaps sooner than people think

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Translator unknown

Some day, sooner perhaps than some people think, the charge with the bayonet will be itself superseded by peace, at first European, by-and-by universal, and then a whole science – the military science – will vanish away. For that science, its improvement lies in its disappearance.

****

Greece did not colonize without civilizing, – an example that more than one modern nation might follow. To buy and sell is not everything.

This civilization by poetry and art had such a mighty force that sometime it subdued even war. The Sicilians – Plutarch relates it in speaking of Nicias – gave liberty to the Greek prisoners who sang the verses of Euripides.

****

That which Isaiah made a reproach of in his day – idolatry, pride, war, prostitution, ignorance – still exists. Isaiah is the eternal contemporary of vices which turn valets, and crimes which exalt themselves into kings.

****

Faith is an ignorance which professes to know, and which, in certain cases, knows perhaps more than Science.

The dread of genius is the first step toward taste.

Humanity developing itself from the interior to the exterior is, properly speaking, civilization. Human intelligence becomes radiance, and step by step, wins, conquers, and humanizes matter. Sublime domestication!

A poet must at the same time, and necessarily, be a historian and a philosopher.

Art has, like the Infinite, a Because superior to all Why’s?

God creates by intuition; man creates by inspiration, strengthened by observation. This second creation, which is nothing else but divine action carried out by man, is what is called genius.

Types are cases foreseen by God: genius realizes them…Types go and come firmly in art and in Nature. They are the ideals realized. The good and the evil of man are in these figures. From each of them results, in the eyes of the thinker, a humanity.

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Victor Hugo: Common-sense opposition to war

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From William Shakespeare
Translator unknown

Common-sense is not a virtue; it is the eye of interest. It would have encouraged Themistocles and dissuaded Aristides. Leonidas has no common-sense; Regulus has no common-sense; but in the face of egotistical and ferocious monarchies dragging poor peoples into wars undertaken for themselves, decimating families, making mothers desolate, and driving men to kill each other with all those fine words, – military honour, warlike glory, obedience to discipline, etc., – it is an admirable personification, that common-sense coming all at once and crying to the human race, “Take care of your skin!”

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On the desecration of a bust of Miguel de Cervantes in San Francisco

Vandalizada la estatua de Cervantes en San Francisco : es

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky on Don Quixote: This saddest of all books man will not forget to take along with him to the Lord’s last judgment. He will point to the very deep and fatal mystery of man and of mankind revealed in it. He will show that the most sublime beauty of man, his loftiest purity, chastity, naïveté, gentleness, courage, and finally, the greatest are often – alas, much too often – reduced to naught….
Diary of a Writer
****
Victor Hugo: Cervantes, as poet, has the three sovereign gifts, – creation, which produces types, and clothes ideas with flesh and bone; invention, which hurls passions against events, makes man flash brightly over destiny, and brings forth the drama; imagination, sun of the brain, which throws light and shade everywhere, and, giving relievo, creates life.
William Shakespeare
****
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Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve: Théophile Gautier, lover 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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Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
From Nouveaux Lundis
Théophile Gautier
Translator unknown

A lover of peace, with a shuddering horror of the barbarism and sacrilege of war, he lived through that last French reign of terror, but the shock mentally and physically was too great for him to bear. He never recovered from it. His last glance was doomed to rest upon France, the land of his love and pride and glory, conquered, humiliated, and at the mercy of a foreign foe. He died of hypertrophy of the heart. Neither himself nor his friends dreamed that his last hour was so near. The loving cares of his family smoothed his pathway to the grave. “He was all to us, – he was our entire universe,” said his sister to Ernest Feydeau. He had his faults and weaknesses, but never was man better loved by his friends.

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Dance of death

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Ragtime

A minx in khaki struts the limelit boards:
With false moustache, set smirk and ogling eyes
And straddling legs and swinging hips she tries
To swagger it like a soldier, while the chords
Of rampant ragtime jangle, clash, and clatter;
And over the brassy blare and drumming din
She strains to squirt her squeaky notes and thin
Spirtle of sniggering lascivious patter.

Then out into the jostling Strand I turn,
And down a dark lane to the quiet river,
One stream of silver under the full moon,
And think of how cold searchlights flare and burn
Over dank trenches where men crouch and shiver.
Humming, to keep their hearts up, that same tune.

****

The Dancers

All day beneath the hurtling shells
Before my burning eyes
Hover the dainty demoiselles –
The peacock dragon-flies.

Unceasingly they dart and glance
Above the stagnant stream –
And I am fighting here in France
As in a senseless dream.

A dream of shattering black shells
That hurtle overhead,
And dainty dancing demoiselles
Above the dreamless dead.

****

The Quiet

I could not understand the sudden quiet –
The sudden darkness – in the crash of fight,
The din and glare of day quenched in a twinkling
In utter starless night.

I lay an age and idly gazed at nothing,
Half-puzzled that I could not lift my head;
And then I knew somehow that I was lying
Among the other dead.

****

The Light-Ship

Stretched on the foam-white deck, taking their ease,
The crew were basking on the Summer day,
We passed the anchored light-ship on our way;
Running all out before a following breeze
When, sighting us, those men who have lived to keep
Watch over the dark treachery of the deep,
Lighting the shoals that lurk beneath the seas,
Arose and leaning on the bulwarks, hailed
Our little yawl; and as we Northward sailed
We kept on thinking of the friendly crew –
That friend crew – although we little knew
That in a few short months their living light
Would be for ever quenched when brutally
A bomber swooping out of the black night
Should sink their helpless vessel in the sea
Whose peril that had beaconed faithfully
Through fog and storm above the shifting shoals –
For ever quenched – nay, but the memory
Of that brave vessel and those friendly  souls
Basking in sunshine ‘mid the treachery
And malice of war’s tempest burns more bright,
With quenchless courage beaconing the night.

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Voltaire: Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie, therefore those cruel arms lay by

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
On Peace Concluded in 1736
Translated by Tobias Smollett

Aetna within its cavern dire,
Thunder conceals and liquid fire;
On earth the fiery torrent pours,
And its inhabitants devours,
Your steps, afflicted Dryads, turn
From dreary plains which always burn;
Those caverns where hell seems to breathe
In fire and sulphur from beneath;
Those gulfs which to Tartarus bend,
Their furious floods incessant send.

More fierce and terrible the Po
Makes its fierce stream its banks o’erflow;
Pours through the plain its furious waves,
Foams, and with dreadful uproar raves:
It spreads destruction through the plain,
Fright, terror, death, compose its train;
And through Ferrara’s fire conveys
The spoils of nations to the seas.

This war where elements contend,
Which heaven’s expanse with fury rend;
These shocks from which all nature quakes,
With which earth’s solid basis shakes:
Scourges of heaven which oft appear
To hang o’er this sad hemisphere;

Are all disasters much less dire,
Than statesmen who too high aspire;
From them less desolation springs,
Than from the dangerous feuds of kings.

From India’s verge to Gallia’s shore,
One family the sun rolls o’er:
O’er this love only still should reign,
And union amongst all maintain.
Mortals, you’re bound by sacred tie,
Therefore those cruel arms lay by;
Can you advantage gain by fight?
Can you in havoc find delight?
When you’re sunk in death’s dismal gloom,
What bliss expect you in the tomb?

Those soldiers well deserve applause,
Who combat in their country’s cause;
But you for hire your lives expose,
You’re paid to combat others’ foes:
You die to prop some tyrant’s throne,
Some tyrant to your eyes unknown;
You are hired assassins to defend
Lords, who ill pay you in the end.

Such are those greedy birds of prey,
Those animals which man obey,
Who can their native fierceness tame,
And teach them to pursue their game.
The sounding horn excites their rage,
And makes them ardent to engage;
They headlong pour upon the game,
Not led by interest, choice, or fame;
The victory they strive to gain,
Although no prize they can obtain.

Italy, climate of delight,
How much you suffered by the fight!
With desolation covered o’er,
You’re Europe’s garden now no more!
An army of confederate powers,
With greediness your crops devours;
Although the cursed, destructive band,
Vowed to avenge your injured land:
Ravaged and desolate you fight
To assert a foreign master’s right.

Let kings be armed, yet discords cease,
Let them all reign like gods of peace;
Let them the thunder bear on high,
But never launch it through the sky.
The faithful shepherd, who befriends
His flock, and with due care attends;
By care and diligence obtains
The applause of all the neighboring swains:
Unpitied may that shepherd die,
Who lets his flocks neglected lie,
Who can his fleecy care expose,
To perish by the wolves, their foes.

In that king’s fame, can I take part,
Whose frenzy stabs me to the heart:
A king, at whose capricious will,
My heart’s blood I’m obliged to spill?

When I’m by indigence oppressed,
Diseased, deprived of needful rest;
Say, shall my lot more blessed appear,
When I our prince’s glories hear;
Shall my distresses all be o’er,
If German plains are drenched in gore?
Colbert, whose praises we resound,
Who planted arts on Gallic ground,
France shall revere you as a sage;
Posterity in every age
Shall own you born the land to bless.
And Louvois be applauded less,
Louvois, who with ambition dire,
Set the Palatinate on fire;
And Holland to destroy aspired,
Had with his fury fate conspired.

Let Louis, even in decline,
Still as the greatest monarch shine:
But may he wisely fame acquire,
Not to the conqueror’s wreath aspire;
Louis in peace claims just applause,
His subjects all revere his laws;
Their happiness from
Louis springs –
Louis, the greatest, best of kings.

Categories: Uncategorized

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

Categories: Uncategorized

Frederic Manning: War poems

Categories: Uncategorized

Clinton Scollard: The Winds of God

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

American writers on peace and against war

Clinton Scollard: Selections on war and peace

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Clinton Scollard
The Winds Of God

Across the azure spaces,
Athwart the vasts of sky,
With winnowings of mighty wings
The winds of God go by.

Above the meres and mountains,
With unseen sandals shod,
Above the plains, with choric strains,
Sweep by the winds of God.

“Peace! in His name!” they murmur;
“Peace – in His name!” they cry –
Oh, men, give ear! do ye not hear
The winds of God go by?

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Nine O’Clock News

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Nine O’clock News

‘Only just one plane lost” – the suave announcer
broadcasts the news of the successful raid;
and the lone mother knitting by the hearthstone
Trembles, afraid,
As in her anguished sight
In flame a bomber crashes through the night.

‘Only one plane was lost” – just five words spoken
glibly – and through the quiet of the room
she hears them as an iron clangour sounding
the knell of doom,
and sees within the fire
a broken body on a blazing pyre.

****

Hit

Out of the sparkling sea
I drew my tingling body clear, and lay
On a low ledge the livelong summer day,
Basking, and watching lazily
White sails in Falmouth Bay.

My body seemed to burn
Salt in the sun that drenched it through and through,
Till every particle glowed clean and new
And slowly seemed to turn
To lucent amber in a world of blue…

I felt a sudden wrench –
A trickle of warm blood –
And found that I was sprawling in the mud
Among the dead men in the trench.

****

Fire

In each black tile a mimic fire’s aglow,
And in the hearthlight old mahogany,
Ripe with stored sunshine that in Mexico
Poured like gold wine into the living tree
Summer on summer through a century,
Burns like a crater in the heart of night:
And all familiar things in the ingle-light
Glow with a secret strange intensity.

And I remember hidden fires that burst
Suddenly from the midnight while men slept,
Long-smouldering rages in the darkness nursed
That to an instant ravening fury leapt,
And the old terror menacing evermore
A crumbling world with fiery molten core.

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Edmund Blunden: A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder

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

British writers on peace and war

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Edmund Blunden
A Reminiscence

Triumph! how strange, how strong had triumph come
On weary hate of foul and endless war,
When from its grey gravecloths awoke anew
The summer day. Among the tumbled wreck
Of fascined lines and mounds the light was peering,
Half-smiling upon us, and our new-found pride; –
The terror of the waiting night outlived;
The time too crowded for the heart to count
All the sharp cost in friends killed on the assault.
No sap of all the octopus had held us,
Here stood we trampling down the ancient tyrant.
So shouting dug we among the monstrous pits.

Amazing quiet fell upon the waste,
Quiet intolerable, to those who felt
The hurrying batteries beyond the masking hills
For their new parley setting themselves in array
In crafty fourms unmapped –
No, these, smiled faith,
Are dumb for the reason of their overthrow.
They move not back, they lie among the crews
Twisted and choked, they’ll never speak again.
Only the copse where once might stand a shrine
Still clacked and suddenly hissed its bullets by.

The War would end, the Line was on the move,
And at a bound the impassable was passed.
We lay and waited with extravagant joy.
Now dulls the day and chills; comes there no word
From those who swept through our new lines to flood
The lines beyond but little comes, and so
Sure as a runner time himself’s accosted.
And the slow moments shake their heavy heads,
And croak, ‘They’re done, they’ll none of them get through.”
They’re done, they’ve all died on the entanglements,
The wire stood up like an unplashed hedge, and thorned
With giant spikes – and there they’ve paid the bill.

Then comes the black assurance, then the sky’s
Mute misery lapses into trickling rain,
That wreathes and swims and soon shuts in our world.
And those distorted guns, that lay past use,
Why – miracles not over! – all a firing,
The rain’s no cloak from their sharp eyes. And you,
Poor signaller, you I passed by this emplacement,
You whom I warned, poor dare-devil, waving your flags,
Among this screeching I pass you again and shudder
At the lean green flies upon the red flesh madding.
Runner, stand by a second. Your message. – He’s gone,
Falls on a knee, and his right hand uplifted
Claws his last message from his ghostly enemy,
Turns stone-like. Well I liked him, that young runner,
But there’s no time for that. O now for the word
To order us flash from these drowning roaring traps
And even hurl upon that snarling wire
Why are our guns so impotent? The grey rain,
Steady as the sand in an hourglass on this day,
Where through the window the red lilac looks
And all’s so still, the chair’s odd click is noise,
The rain is all heaven’s answer, and with hearts
Past reckoning we are carried into night,
And even sleep is nodding here and there.

The second night steals through the shrouding rain,
We in our numb thought crouching long have lost
The mockery triumph, and in every runner
Have urged the mind’s eye see the triumph to come,
The sweet relief, the straggling out of hell
Into whatever burrows may be given
For life’s recall. Then the fierce destiny speaks.
This was the calm, we shall look back for this.
The hour is come; come, move to the relief.
Dizzy we pass the mule-strewn track where once
The ploughman whistled as he loosed his team;
And where he turned home-hungry on the road
The leaning pollard marks us hungrier turning.
We crawl to save the remnant who have torn
Back from the tentacled wire, those whom no shell
Has charred into black carcasses – Relief
They grate their teeth until we take their room,
And through the churn of moonless night and mud
And flaming burst and sour gas we are huddled
Into the ditches where they bawl sense awake
And in a frenzy that none could reason calm
(Whimpering some, and calling on the dead)
They turn away; as in a dream they find
Strength in their feet to bear back that strange whim
Their body.

At the noon of the dreadful day
Our trench and death’s is on a sudden stormed
With huge and shattering salvoes, the clay dances
In founts of clods around the concrete sties
Where still the brain devises some last armour
To live out the poor limbs. This wrath’s oncoming
Found four of us together in a pillbox,
Skirting the abyss of madness with light phrases,
White and blinking, in false smiles grimacing.
The demon grins to see the game, a moment
Passes, and – still the drum-tap dongs my brain
To a whirring void – through the great breach above
The light comes in with icy shock and the rain
Horridly drips. Doctor, talk, talk – if dead
Or stunned I know not; the stinking powdered concrete
The lyddite turns me sick – my hair’s all full
Of this smashed concrete. O I’ll drag you, friends,
Out of the sepulchre into the light of day:
For this is day, the pure and sacred day.
And while I squeak and gibber over you,
Out of the wreck a score of field-mice nimble,
And tame and curious look about them.
(These calmed me, on these depended my salvation.)

There comes my serjeant, and by all the powers
The wire is holding to the right battalion
And I can speak – but I myself first spoken
Hear a known voice now measured even to madness
Call me by name: “For God’s sake send and help us,
Here in a gunpit, all headquarters done for,
Forty or more, the nine-inch came right through.
All splashed with arms and legs, and I myself
The only one not killed, not even wounded.
You’ll send – God bless you.” The more monstrous fate
Shadows our own, the mind droops doubly burdened,
Nay all for miles our anguish groans and bleeds,
A whole sweet countryside amuck with murder,
Each moment puffed into a year with death.

Still wept the rain, roared guns,
Still swooped into the swamps of flesh and blood
All to the drabness of uncreation sunk,
And all thought dwindled to a moan, – Relieve.
But who with what command can now relieve
The dead men from that chaos, or my soul?

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Voltaire: Must Europe never cease to be in arms?

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

French writers on war and peace

Voltaire: Selections on war

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Voltaire
To The Queen Of Hungary
Translated by Tobias Smollett
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Princess, descended from that noble race
Which still in danger held the imperial throne,
Who human nature and thy sex dost grace,
Whose virtues even thy foes are forced to own.

The generous French, as fierce as they’re polite,
Who to true glory constantly aspire;
Whilst obstinately they against thee fight,
Thy virtue and great qualities admire.

The French and Germans leagued by wondrous ties,
Make Christendom one dismal scene of woe;
And from their friendship greater ills arise,
Than e’er did from their longest quarrels flow.

Thus from the equator and the frozen pole,
The impetuous winds drive on with headlong force
Two clouds, which as they on each other roll,
Forth from their sable skirts the thunder force.

Do virtuous kings such ruin then ordain?
A calm they promise, but excite a storm:
Felicity we hope for from their reign,
Whilst they with slaughter dire the earth deform.

Oh! Fleury, wise and venerable sage,
Whom good ne’er dazzles, danger ne’er alarms;
Who dost exceed the ancient Nestor’s age:
Must Europe never cease to be in arms?

Would thou couldst hold with prudent, steady hand,
Europa’s balance, shut up Janus’ shrine;
Make feuds and discords cease at thy command,
And bring from heaven Astrea, maid divine.

Would France’s treasures were dispersed no more,
But prudently within the realm applied;
Opulence to our cities to restore,
And make them flourishing on every side.

You arts from heaven, and from the muses sprung,
Whom Louis brought triumphant into France;
Too long your hands are idle, lyres unstrung,
‘Tis time to start from so profound a trance.

Your labors are of lasting glory sure,
Whilst warlike pomps, the triumphs of a day,
Blaze for a moment, never long endure,
But soon like fleeting shadows pass away.

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Robert Whitaker: Whence Cometh War?

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Robert Whitaker
Whence Cometh War?

Whence cometh war?
Bring the foul thing to bar.

Out of the hatreds of the ages long;
Out of the greed and blood-lust of the strong;
Out of the strutting swagger of the proud;
Out of the mad hysterias of the crowd;
Out of the lying honor of the State;
Out of the coward meanness of the great;
Out of the toll that profit takes from toil,
Of surplus spoil, piled up on surplus spoil,
Choking to idleness the workman’s wheel,
Or raping all the earth with ruthless steel;
Out of a devil’s smoke-screen of defense,
That turns to foolishness the things of sense,
Makes virtue’s garden a vast swamp of vice,
And sells the Son of Man at Judas’ price,
Nor has the grace to cast away the pelf
But makes of God an infidel himself.

Whence cometh war? we know the truth too well –
Out of the mouth of hell!

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Frederic Manning: Grotesque

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

British writers on peace and war

Frederic Manning: War poems

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Frederic Manning
Grotesque

These are the damned circles Dante trod,
Terrible in hopelessness,
But even skulls have their humour,
An eyeless and sardonic mockery:
And we,
Sitting with streaming eyes in the acrid smoke,
That murks our foul, damp billet,
Chant bitterly, with raucous voices
As a choir of frogs
In hideous irony, our patriotic songs.

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Victor Hugo: From fratricide to fraternity

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From Memoirs
Translated by John W. Harding

December 11 (1870). – Rostan came to see me. He has his arm in a sling. He was wounded at Creteil. It was at night. A German soldier rushed at him and pierced his arm with a bayonet. Rostan retaliated with a bayonet thrust in the German’s shoulder. Both fell and rolled into a ditch. Then they became good friends. Rostan speaks a little broken German.

“Who are you?”

“I am a Wurtembergian. I am twenty-two years old. My father is a clockmaker of Leipsic.”

They remained in the ditch for three hours, bleeding, numb with cold, helping each other. Rostan, wounded, brought the man who wounded him back as a prisoner. He goes to see him at the hospital. These two men adore each other. They wanted to kill each other, and now they would die for each other.

Eliminate kings from the dispute!

****

January 2 – Daumier and Louis Blanc lunched with us. Louis Koch gave to his aunt as a New Year gift a couple of cabbages and a brace of living partridges!

This morning we lunched on wine soup. The elephant at the Jardin des Plantes has been slaughtered. He wept. He will be eaten.

The Prussians continue to send us 6,000 bombs a day,

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Thomas Curtis Clark: Bugle Song of 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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Thomas Curtis Clark
Bugle Song of Peace
A Prophecy for Memorial Day

Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.
Blow, blow, blow!
The fearful night is past;
The prophets realize their dreams.
Lo! in the east the glory gleams.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.

Blow, bugle, blow!
The soul of man is free.
The rod and sword of king and lord
Shall no more honored be;
For God alone shall govern men,
And Love shall come to earth again.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The soul of man is free.

Blow, bugle, blow!
Though rivers run with blood,
All greed and strife, and lust for life,
Are passing with the flood.
The gory beast of war is cowed;
The world’s great heart with grief is bowed.
Blow, bugle, blow!
The day has dawned at last.

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Oles Honchar: Orchards of peace

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

Ukrainian writers on war

Oles Honchar: The ponderous, stupefying word “War”

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Oles Honchar
From Mikita Bratus
Translated V. Scheerson

I share my dream with Orishka:

“We reached the sun by the heavenly highway, walked right through it and came out on the other side…It must have been visible from down below – imagine you and I slipping into the sun just like that.”

“Was it shining on the other side?” Orishka asked earnestly.

“Certainly! And it was warm too. It’s the function of the sun to shed warmth and light on all the four winds. You should have seen the life they lead there! It’s summer all the year round, there’s eternal peace, and the orchards bear fruit from January to December.”

****

Gardening is a job that knows no let-up, but it’s an honorable profession, a peaceful profession. I would say that ours is not just a peaceful calling, it symbolizes man’s peaceful activity and his striving for beauty and abundance. Those who think in terms of blood and destruction never bother about orchards: they have no time for them. We often say: the dove of peace! And to my mind we should add to the dove and the olive branch on the peace emblem a cherry, apple or oak sapling. Without troubling anyone the sapling takes root and stretches to the sun – peaceful, calm and gentle. And yet it has great strength, capacity for growth and development; and these qualities make it formidable against the scorching winds, dust-storms, and other scourges.

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: He who killed men in foreign lands bore my name

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Back

They ask me where I’ve been,
And what I’ve done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn’t I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands…
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.

****

Bacchanal

Into the twilight of Trafalgar Square
They pour from every quarter, banging drums
And tootling penny trumpets: to a blare
Of tin mouth-organs, while a sailor strums
A solitary banjo, lads and girls,
Locked in embraces, in a wild dishevel
Of flags and streaming hair, with curdling skirls
Surge in a frenzied, reeling, panic revel.

Lads who so long have looked death in the face,
Girls who so long have tended death’s machines,
Released from the long terror shriek and prance:
And watching them, I see the outrageous dance,
The frantic torches and the tambourines
Tumultuous on the midnight hills of Thrace.

****

Breakfast

We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
That Hull United would beat Halifax
When Jimmy Strainthorpe played full-back instead
Of Billy Bradford. Ginger raised his head
And cursed, and took the bet; and dropped back dead.
We ate our breakfast lying on our backs,
Because the shells were screeching overhead.

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Francois Mauriac: The Bloody Dawn 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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Francois Mauriac
From The Bloody Dawn of Peace
Le Figaro
August 11, 1945

The dawn of peace is too bloody for us to celebrate with hymns and apotheosis. May this peace having intervened before the end of the world stir within us the determination to observe attentively and with a critical mind the rivalries between what are called the “great” powers, for there exists but one greatness before which we should consent to bow, the grandeur of empires that will not only give us a precarious peace to mankind overburdened with suffering, but will once again also give us hope. It will revive a hope covered by a thick layer of burning ashes, buried under so much rubble. It will give us, then, reasons to believe that all that was only a nightmare…and that the reign of murderers has ended.

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Robert Freeman: Peace on Earth

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

American writers on peace and against war

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Robert Freeman
Peace on Earth

The men of earth said: “We must war
As the men of the earth have warred;
‘Tis ours to wield on the battlefield
The unrelenting sword.”
But they who had seen the valiant die,
The fathers of men, they answered, “Why?”

The men of earth said: “We must arm,
For so we would reveal
The nobler part of the human heart,
The love of the nation’s weal.”
But they who had sung their lullaby,
The mothers of the men, they answered, “Why?”

Then men of the earth said: “We must fight,
For so the fit survive;
By the jungle law of fang and claw
The strong are kept alive.”
But a crippled, cankered progeny,
The sons of the culls, they answered, “Why?”

The men of the earth said: “We must fall,
And falling build the road
O’er which the race with quickening pace
Can find its way to God.”
But down from a cross uplifted high,
The Saviour of men, He answered, “Why?”

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Pierre Nicole: Peacemakers warrant highest title men are capable of

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

French writers on war and peace

Pierre Nicole: Scripture obliges us to seek and desire the peace of the whole world

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Pierre Nicole
Moral Essays
Translator unknown

Temporal wars have so strange consequences, and work so sad effects even on souls themselves that we cannot be too apprehensive of them.

****

Jesus Christ so loved peace, that of the eight Beatitudes he proposes in the Gospel he thereof made two. Blessed, said he, are the meek for they shall possess the Earth; this comprehends the tranquility of this and the repose of the other life. Blessed are, says he again, the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God, which is the highest title men are capable of, and which is therefore due only to the highest virtue. St. Paul has made an express law concerning peace in commanding it to be kept as much as possible with all men whatsoever: cum omnibus hominibus pacem habentes quod uestrum est.

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Edmund Blunden: Harsher screamed the condor war

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: How silver clear against war’s hue and cry each syllable of peace the gods allowed

Edmund Blunden: We stood estranged with the ghosts of war between

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Edmund Blunden
War Autobiography
Written in Illness

Heaven is clouded, mists of rain
Stream with idle motion by;
Like a tide the trees’ refrain
Wearies me where pale I lie,
Thinking of sunny times that were
Even in shattered Festubert;
Stubborn joys that blossomed on
When the small golden god was gone

Who tiptoe on his spire surveyed
Yser north from Ypres creeping,
And, how many a sunset! made
A longed-for glory amid the weeping.
In how many a valley of death
Some trifling thing has given me breath,
And when the bat-like wings brushed by
What steady stars smiled in the sky!

War might make his worst grimace
And still my mind in armour good
Turned aside in every place
And saw bright day through the black wood:
There the lyddite vapoured foul,
But there I got myself a rose;
By the shrapnelled lock I’d prowl
To see below the proud pike doze.

Like the first light ever streamed
New and lively past all telling,
What I dreamed of joy I dreamed,
The more opprest the more rebelling;
Trees ne’er shone so lusty green
As those in Hamel valley, eyes
Did never such right friendship mean
As his who loved my enterprise.

Thus the child was born again
In the youth, the toga’s care
Flung aside -desired, found vain,
And sharp as ichor grew the air:
But the hours passed and evermore
Harsher screamed the condor war,
The last green tree was scourged to nothing,
The stream’s decay left senses loathing,

The eyes that had been strength so long
Gone, or blind, or lapt in clay,
And war grown twenty times as strong
As when I held him first at bay;
Then down and down I sunk from joy
To shrivelled age, though scarce a boy,
And knew for all my fear to die
That I with those lost friends should lie.

Now in slow imprisoned pain
Lie I in the garret bed
With this crampt and weighted brain
That scarce has power to wish me fled
To burst the vault and soar away
Into the apocalypse of day,
And so regain that tingling light
That twice has passed before my sight.

****

A Farm Near Zillebeke

Black clouds hide the moon, the amazement is gone;
The morning will come in weeping and rain;
The Line is all hushed – on a sudden anon
The fool bullets clack and guns mouth again.

I stood in the yard of a house that must die,
And still the black hame was stacked by the door,
And harness still hung there, and the dray waited by.
Black clouds hid the moon, tears blinded me more.

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Alphonse de Lamartine: Mercenaries, taking others’ lives for hire

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

French writers on war and peace

Lamartine: The republic of peace

Lowell on Lamartine: Highest duty of man, to summon peace when vulture of war smells blood

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Alphonse de Lamartine
From Life of Great Men
William Tell

His [the Swiss’s] virtues are tarnished by one vice alone – a vice inherent to poverty – covetousness; avarice contracts his hand and his heart. He is willing to sell anything, even his blood, to introduce a little gold into his country, which produces none. Naturally brave and faithful, he traffics with his children, and lets them out for a vile stipend to any prince or nation who engages to pay them. Indifferent as to the cause for which he pledges his life, he becomes the acknowledged mercenary of courts and camps…[He] takes away the life of another, or exposes his own, for hire. Free at home, abroad he lends his arms to sovereigns that they may subjugate their people. No sooner has his period of service expired than he passes to another, with the indifference of the gladiator of the circus, or of elephants trained to combats, who fight with equal valour for the Persians or the Romans…

 

****

Life of Great Men (Vie des Grands Hommes)
Madame de  Sévigné
What is this mystery? Its explanation lies in a few words. It is that the interest created by human occurrences is not found in the greatness of situations or events, but in the emotions of the mind by which they are re-echoed, and which is to them, be they great or small, what air is to sound, the medium of resonance. You may strike powerful blows upon the most sonorous metal, but if air is wanting, or even too rarefied, silence alone will be your answer, the echo is mute: without air there cannot be sound, without sensibility there can be no impression; thus there is also no interest and no glory: it is the secret of the human heart, that it can only be moved by coincidence with something that has been moved before.
There are many minds concealed from the world far in advance of their period, and possessing deeper tones than the age in which Providence has placed them, as it casts echoes into the profound recesses of forests and caves; they are never seen, and only heard when the woodcutter fells the trees and time crumbles the rocks into dust. These speaking souls, vehicles which convey to us the impressions of their own hearts and of their period, interpose themselves irresistibly by their fine and vibrating nature between us and the world, and compel us to think and feel in them and through them, while we vainly struggle to escape from their influence. They form the sensible element, the sympathetic centre (if we may be permitted to use a material simile), reflected by which we behold all the past, the present, and often our own selves. Thus it is that by the sport of fortune, reputation and literary glory are attained; they reach beings unappreciated by their contemporaries, men dwelling in retirement, women concealed by obscurity. Many anonymous writers, such as the author of the ‘ Imitation of Jesus Christ,’ are in reality greater and more immortal than their entire age; and while other men who deeply
fathom humanity, who overturn empires, who control sceptres, who lead great assemblies, and who administer public affairs, endeavour to create a grand and enduring halo round the name they leave behind them, they are surpassed in fame by an individual upon whom they would not have deigned to cast a glance amidst the crowd at their feet, by a poor dreamer like St. Augustine, by an insignificant monk such as the anonymous writer of the ‘ Imitation,’ or by an obscure female such as Madame de  Sévigné. Posterity can with difficulty remember the names of the pretended great politicians, poets, orators, and authors, who monopolized the renown of their age; but after the lapse of centuries it listens with avidity to the most secret palpitations of the hearts of these unlearned beings, as though their emotions comprised the sublimest events in the history of human nature; and this in truth they are, for circumstance is nothing: the human heart is everything in man. Fame herself knows this, therefore she selects her dearest and most immortal favourites not from those who seek to shine with commanding brilliancy, but amidst such as have poured forth the most pathetic confessions of the soul.
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Frederic Manning: The very mask of God, broken

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

British writers on peace and war

Frederic Manning: War poems

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Frederic Manning
The Face

Out of the smoke of men’s wrath,
The red mist of anger,
Suddenly,
As a wraith of sleep,
A boy’s face, white and tense,
Convulsed with terror and hate,
The lips trembling…

Then a red smear, falling…
I thrust aside the cloud, as it were tangible,
Blinded with a mist of blood.
The face cometh again
As a wraith of sleep:
A boy’s face delicate and blonde,
The very mask of God,
Broken.

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Gilbert Waterhouse: “This is the last of wars – this is the last!”

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

British writers on peace and war

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Gilbert Waterhouse
“This is the Last”

Coming in splendor thro’ the golden gate
Of all the days, swift passing, one by one,
O silent planet, thou has gazed upon
How many harvestings dispassionate?
Across the many furrowed fields of Fate,
Wrapt in the mantle of oblivion,
The old, gray, wrinkled Husbandman has gone;
The blare of trumpets, rattle of the drum,
Disturb him not at all – he sees,
Between the hedges of the centuries,
A thousand phantom armies go and come,
While reason whispers as each marches past,
“This is the last of wars – this is the last!”

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: The Conscript

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
The Conscript

Indifferent, flippant, earnest, but all bored,
The doctors sit in the glare of electric light
Watching the endless stream of naked white
Bodies of men for whom their hasty award
Means life or death maybe, or the living death
Of mangled limbs, blind eyes, or a darkened brain;
And the chairman, as his monocle falls again,
Pronounces each doom with easy indifferent breath.

Then suddenly I shudder as I see
A young man stand before them wearily,
Cadaverous as one already dead;
But still they stare untroubled as he stands
With arms outstretched and drooping thorn-crowned head,
The nail-marks glowing in his feet and hands.

****

The Fear

I do not fear to die
‘Neath the open sky,
To meet death in the fight
Face to face, upright.
But when at last we creep
Into a hole to sleep,
I tremble, cold with dread,
Lest I wake up dead.

****

In the Ambulance

Two rows of cabbages,
Two of curly-greens
Two rows of early peas,
Two of kidney beans.

That’s what he keeps muttering,
Making such a song,
Keeping other chaps awake
The whole night long.

Both his legs are shot away,
And his head is light,
So he keeps on muttering
All the blessed night:

Two rows of cabbages,
Two of curly-greens
Two rows of early peas,
Two of kidney beans.

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Florence Earle Coates: War

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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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Florence Earle Coates
War

The serpent-horror writhing in her hair,
And crowning cruel brows bent o’er the ground
That she would crimson now from many a wound,
Medusa-like, I seem to see her there –
War! with her petrifying eyes astare –
And can no longer listen to the sound
Of song-birds in the harvest fields around;
Such prophecies do her mute lips declare.

Evils? Can any greater be than they
That troop licentious in her brutal train?
Unvindicated honour? She brings shame –
Shame more appalling than men dare to name,
Betraying them that die and them that slay,
And making of this earth a hell of pain!

Categories: Uncategorized

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: Between The Lines

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
Between The Lines

When consciousness came back, he found he lay
Between the opposing fires, but could not tell
On which hand were his friends; and either way
For him to turn was chancy – bullet and shell
Whistling and shrieking over him, as the glare
Of searchlights scoured the darkness to blind day.
He scrambled to his hands and knees ascare,
Dragging his wounded foot through puddled clay,
And tumbled in a hole a shell had scooped
At random in a turnip-field between
The unseen trenches where the foes lay cooped
Through that unending-battle of unseen,
Dead-locked, league-stretching armies; and quite spent
He rolled upon his back within the pit,
And lay secure, thinking of all it meant –
His lying in that little hole, sore hit,
But living, while across the starry sky
Shrapnel and shell went screeching overhead –
Of all it meant that he, Tom Dodd, should lie
Among the Belgian turnips, while his bed…
If it were he, indeed, who’d climbed each night,
Fagged with the day’s work, up the narrow stair,
And slipt his clothes off in the candle-light,
Too tired to fold them neatly in a chair
The way his mother’d taught him – too dog-tired
After the long day’s serving in the shop,
Inquiring what each customer required,
Politely talking weather, fit to drop…

And now for fourteen days and nights, at least,
He hadn’t had his clothes off, and had lain
In muddy trenches, napping like a beast
With one eye open, under sun and rain
And that unceasing hell-fire…

It was strange
How things turned out – the chances! You’d just got
To take your luck in life, you couldn’t change
Your luck.

And so here he was lying shot
Who just six months ago had thought to spend
His days behind a counter. Still, perhaps…
And now, God only knew how he would end!

He’d like to know how many of the chaps
Had won back to the trench alive, when he
Had fallen wounded and been left for dead,
If any!…

This was different, certainly,
From selling knots of tape and reels of thread
And knots of tape and reels of thread and knots
Of tape and reels of thread and knots of tape,
Day in, day out, and answering “Have you got”‘s
And “Do you keep”‘s till there seemed no escape
From everlasting serving in a shop,
Inquiring what each customer required,
Politely talking weather, fit to drop,
With swollen ankles, tired…

But he was tired
Now. Every bone was aching, and had ached
For fourteen days and nights in that wet trench –
Just duller when he slept than when he waked –
Crouching for shelter from the steady drench
Of shell and shrapnel…

That old trench, it seemed
Almost like home to him. He’d slept and fed
And sung and smoked in it, while shrapnel screamed
And shells went whining harmless overhead –
Harmless, at least, as far as he…

But Dick –
Dick hadn’t found them harmless yesterday,
At breakfast, when he’d said he couldn’t stick
Eating dry bread, and crawled out the back way,
And brought them butter in a lordly dish –
Butter enough for all, and held it high,
Yellow and fresh and clean as you would wish –
When plump upon the plate from out the sky
A shell fell bursting…Where the butter went,
God only knew!…

And Dick…He dared not think
Of what had come to Dick…or what it meant –
The shrieking and the whistling and the stink
He’d lived in fourteen days and nights. ‘T was luck
That he still lived…And queer how little then
He seemed to care that Dick…perhaps ‘t was pluck
That hardened him – a man among the men –
Perhaps…Yet, only think things out a bit,
And he was rabbit-livered, blue with funk!
And he’d liked Dick…and yet when Dick was hit
He hadn’t turned a hair. The meanest skunk
He should have thought would feel it when his mate
Was blown to smithereens – Dick, proud as punch,
Grinning like sin, and holding up the plate –
But he had gone on munching his dry hunch,
Unwinking, till he swallowed the last crumb.
Perhaps ‘t was just because he dared not let
His mind run upon Dick, who’d been his chum.
He dared not now, though he could not forget.

Dick took his luck. And, life or death, ‘t was luck
From first to last; and you’d just got to trust
Your luck and grin. It wasn’t so much pluck
As knowing that you’d got to, when needs must,
And better to die grinning…

Quiet now
Had fallen on the night. On either hand
The guns were quiet. Cool upon his brow
The quiet darkness brooded, as he scanned
The starry sky. He’d never seen before
So many stars. Although, of course, he’d known
That there were stars, somehow before the war
He’d never realised them – so thick-sown,
Millions and millions. Serving in the shop,
Stars didn’t count for much; and then at nights
Strolling the pavements, dull and fit to drop,
You didn’t see much but the city lights.
He’d never in his life seen so much sky
As he’d seen this last fortnight. It was queer
The things war taught you. He’d a mind to try
To count the stars – they shone so bright and clear.

One, two, three, four…Ah, God, but he was tired…
Five, six, seven, eight…

Yes, it was number eight.
And what was the next thing that she required?
(Too bad of customers to come so late,
At closing time!) Again within the shop
He handled knots of tape and reels of thread,
Politely talking weather, fit to drop…

When once again the whole sky overhead
Flared blind with searchlights, and the shriek of shell
And scream of shrapnel roused him. Drowsily
He stared about him, wondering. Then he fell
Into deep dreamless slumber.

*

He could see
Two dark eyes peeping at him, ere he knew
He was awake, and it again was day –
An August morning, burning to clear blue.
The frightened rabbit scuttled…

Far away,
A sound of firing…Up there, in the sky
Big dragon-flies hung hovering…Snowballs burst
About them…Flies and snowballs. With a cry
He crouched to watch the airmen pass – the first
That he’d seen under fire. Lord, that was pluck –
Shells bursting all about them – and what nerve!
They took their chance, and trusted to their luck.
At such a dizzy height to dip and swerve,
Dodging the shell-fire…

Hell! but one was hit,
And tumbling like a pigeon, plump…

Thank Heaven,
It righted, and then turned; and after it
The whole flock followed safe – four, five, six, seven,
Yes, they were all there safe. He hoped they’d win
Back to their lines in safety. They deserved,
Even if they were Germans…’T was no sin
To wish them luck. Think how that beggar swerved
Just in the nick of time!

He, too, must try
To win back to the lines, though, likely as not,
He’d take the wrong turn: but he couldn’t lie
Forever in that hungry hole and rot,
He’d got to take his luck, to take his chance
Of being sniped by foes or friends. He’d be
With any luck in Germany or France
Or Kingdom-come, next morning…

Drearily
The blazing day burnt over him, shot and shell
Whistling and whining ceaselessly. But light
Faded at last, and as the darkness fell
He rose, and crawled away into the night.

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Margaret Sackville: Nostra Culpa

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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

Margaret Sackville: Selections on peace and war

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Margaret Sackville
Nostra Culpa

We knew, this thing at least we knew, – the worth
Of life: this was our secret learned at birth.
We knew that Force the world has deified,
How weak it is. We spoke not, so men died.
Upon a world down-trampled, blood-defiled,
Fearing that men should praise us less, we smiled.

We knew the sword accursed, yet with the strong
Proclaimed the sword triumphant. Yea, this wrong
Unto our children, unto those unborn
We did, blaspheming God. We feared the scorn
Of men; men worshipped pride; so where they led,
We followed. Dare we now lament our dead?

Shadows and echoes, harlots! We betrayed
Our sons; because men laughed we were afraid.
That silent wisdom which was ours we kept
Deep-buried; thousands perished; still we slept.
Children were slaughtered, women raped, the weak
Down-trodden. Very quiet was our sleep.

Ours was the vision, but the vision lay
Too far, too strange; we chose an easier way.
The light, the unknown light, dazzled our eyes –
O sisters, in our choice were we not wise?
When all men hated, could we pity or plead
For love with those who taught the Devil’s creed?

Reap we with pride the harvest! it was sown
By our own toil. Rejoice! it is our own.
This is the flesh we might have saved – our hands,
Our hands prepared these blood-drenched, dreadful lands.
What shall we plead? That we were deaf and blind?
We mothers and we murderers of mankind.

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Edmund Blunden: We stood estranged with the ghosts of war between

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

British writers on peace and war

Edmund Blunden: How silver clear against war’s hue and cry each syllable of peace the gods allowed

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Edmund Blunden
Reunion in War

The windmill in his smock of white
Stared from his little crest,
Like a slow smoke was the moonlight
As I went like one possessed.

Where the glebe path makes shortest way;
The stammering wicket swung.
I passed amid the crosses grey
Where opiate yew-boughs hung.

The bleached grass shuddered into sighs,
The dogs that knew this moon
Far up were harrying sheep, the cries
Of hunting owls went on.

And I among the dead made haste
And over flat vault stones
Set in the path unheeding paced
Nor thought of those chill bones.

Thus to my sweetheart’s cottage I,
Who long had been away,
Turned as the traveller turns adry
To brooks to moist his clay.

Her cottage stood like a dream, so clear
And yet so dark; and now
I thought to find my more than dear
And if she’d kept her vow.

Old house dog from his barrel came
Without a voice, and knew
And licked my hand; all seemed the same
To the moonlight and the dew.

By the white damson then I took
The tallest osier wand
And thrice upon her casement strook,
And she, so fair, so fond,

Looked out, and saw in wild delight
And tiptoed down to me,
And cried in silent joy that night
Beside the bullace tree.

O cruel time to take away,
And worse to bring agen;
Why slept not I in Flanders clay
With all the murdered men.

For I had changed, or she had changed,
Though true loves both had been,
Even while we kissed we stood estranged
With the ghosts of war between.

We had not met but a moment ere
War baffled joy, and cried,
“Love’s but a madness, a burnt flare;
The shell’s a madman’s bride.”

The cottage stood, poor stone and wood,
Poorer than stone stood I;
Then from her kind arms moved in a mood
As grey as the cereclothed sky.

The roosts were stirred, each little bird
Called fearfully out for day;
The church clock with his dead voice whirred
As if he bade me stay.

To trace with madman’s fingers all
The letters on the stones
Where thick beneath the twitch roots crawl
In dead men’s envied bones.

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William E. Brooks: Memorial Day

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

American writers on peace and against war

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William E. Brooks
Memorial Day

I heard a cry in the night from a far-flung host,
From a host that sleeps through the years the last long sleep,
By the Meuse, by the Marne, in the Argonne’s shattered wood,
In a thousand rose-thronged churchyards through our land.
Sleeps! Do they sleep! I know I heard their cry,
Shrilling along the night like a trumpet blast:

“We died,” they cried, “for a dream. Have ye forgot?
We dreamed of a world reborn whence wars had fled,
Where swords were broken in pieces and guns were rust,
Where the poor man dwelt in quiet, the rich in peace,
And children played in the streets, joyous and free.
We thought we could sleep content in a task well done;
But the rumble of guns rolls over us, iron upon iron
Sounds from the forge where are fashioned guns anew;

“New fleets spring up in new seas, and under the wave
Stealthy new terrors swarm, with emboweled death.
Fresh cries of hate ring out loud from the demagogue’s throat,
While greed reaches out afresh to grasp new lands.
Have we died in vain? Is our dream denied?
You men who live on the earth we bought with our woe,
Will ye stand idly by while they shape new wars,
Or will ye rise, who are strong, to fulfill our dream,
To silence the demagogue’s voice, to crush the fools
Who play with blood-stained toys that crowd new graves?
We call, we call in the night, will ye hear and heed?”

In the name of our dead will we hear? Will we grant them sleep?

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Victor Hugo: What greater aim could there be than civilization through peace?

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

French writers on war and peace

Victor Hugo: Selections on war

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Victor Hugo
From Memoirs
Translated by John W. Harding

Conversations with King Louis Philippe

“Well, this Duke of Clarence used to say to me:

‘Duke d’Orleans, a war between France and England is necessary every twenty years. History shows it.’

I would reply:

‘My dear duke, of what use are people of intelligence if they allow mankind to do the same foolish things over and over again?'”

****

“Oh! fear! Monsieur Hugo, it is a strange thing, this fear of the hubbub that will be raised outside! It seizes upon this one, then that one, then that one, and it goes the round of the table. I am not a Minister, but if I were, it seems to me that I should not be afraid. I should see the right and go straight towards it. And what greater aim could there be than civilization through peace?”

****

“What a job to govern amid this mob of bewildered Kings. They won’t force me into committing the great mistake of going to war. I am being pushed, but they won’t push me over. Listen to this and remember it: the secret of maintaining peace is to look at everything from the good side and at nothing from the bad point of view.”

****

The King said to me yesterday:

“What makes the maintenance of peace so difficult is that there are two things in Europe that Europe detests, France and myself – myself even more than France. I am talking to you in all frankness. They hate me because I am Orleans; they hate me because I am myself. As for France, they dislike her, but would tolerate her in other hands. Napoleon was a burden to them; they overthrew him by egging him on to war of which he was so fond. I am a burden to them; they would like to throw me down by forcing me to break that peace which I love.”

Then he covered his eyes with his hands, and leaning his head back upon the cushions of the sofa, remained thus for a space pensive, and as though crushed.

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Frederic Manning: Blow, wind! Drown the senseless thunder of the guns.

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

British writers on peace and war

Frederic Manning: War poems

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Frederic Manning
Wind

Blow, wind! Strip the great trees
That are like ebony against a sky of jade,
Ebony fretted and contorted.
Blow, hunt the piled clouds that lash the earth with rain;
Roar among the swayed branches; sing shrilly in the grass,
Burdening the pines with the music of pain;
For mine eyes desire the stars.

Drown the senseless thunder of the guns,
Stream on the ways of air hurrying before thee
The yellow leaves, and the tawny, and scarlet,
Till my soul dance with them,
Dance delightedly as a child or a kitten
Catching at the gay leaves laughingly,
For I would forget, I would forget and laugh again.

Sing, thou great wind; smite the harp of the wood,
For in thee the souls of slain men are singing exultant,
Now free of the air, feather-footed! Yea, they swim therein
Toward the green twilight, surging
Naked and beautiful with playing muscles,
Yea, even the naked souls of men
Whose beauty is a fierce thing, and slayeth us
Like the terrible majesty of the gods;
Blow, thou great wind, scatter the yellowing leaves.

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Nancy Byrd Turner: Let Us Have Peace

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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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Nancy Byrd Turner
Let Us Have Peace

The earth is weary of our foolish wars.
Her hills and shores were shaped for lovely things,
Yet all our years are spent in bickerings
Beneath the astonished stars.

April by April laden with beauty comes,
Autumn by autumn turns our toil to gain,
But hand at sword-hilt, still we start and strain
To catch the beat of drums.

Knowledge to knowledge adding, skill to skill,
We strive for others’ good as for our own –
And then, like cavemen snarling with a bone,
We turn and rend and kill…

With life so fair, and all too short a lease
Upon our special star! Nay, love and trust,
Not hate and violence shall redeem our dust.
Let us have peace!

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Wilfrid Wilson Gibson: The Bayonet

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

British writers on peace and war

Wilfred Wilson Gibson: Selections on war

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Wilfred Wilson Gibson
The Bayonet

This bloody steel
Has killed a man.
I heard him squeal
As on I ran.

He watched me come
With wagging head.
I pressed it home
And he was dead.

Though clean and clear
I’ve wiped the steel,
I still can hear
That dying squeal.

****

Air Raid

Night shatters in mid-heaven: the bark of guns,
The roar of planes, the crash of bombs, and all
The unshackled sky pandemonium stuns
The senses to indifference, when a fall
Of masonry near by startles awake,
Tingling wide-eyed, prick-eared, with bristling hair,
Each sense within the body crouched aware
Like some sore-hunted creature in the brake.

Yet side by side we lie in the little room,
Just touching hands, with eyes and ears that strain
Keenly, yet dream-bewildered, through tense gloom,
Listening in helpless stupor of insane
Drugged nightmare panic fantastically wild,
To the quiet breathing of our sleeping child.

****

Before Action

I sit beside the brazier’s glow,
And, drowsing in the heat,
A dream of daffodils that blow
And lambs that frisk and bleat –

Black lambs that frolic in the snow
Among the daffodils,
In a far orchard that I know
Beneath the Malvern hills.

Next year the daffodils will blow,
And lambs will frisk and bleat;
But I’ll not feel the the brazier’s glow,
Nor any cold or heat.

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Sergei Mstislavsky: Germ warfare of the future

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

Russian writers on war

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Sergei Mstislavsky
From Rook, Herald of Spring
Translated by David Skvirsky

“In Conrad Vallenrod Mickiewicz has an introductory ballad about a Moorish Almansour, who was defeated by the Spaniards and who avenged himself by infecting their camp with cholera. It proved stronger than any other weapon.

The Spaniards fled from the mountains in fright
And hosts of them fell on the way;
The dying and the dead were a horrible sight,
As the Plague took their spirits away.

“Yes, stronger than any other weapon,” the doctor agreed. “But not against the palaces. An epidemic first of all spreads to the poorest quarters and touches those whose bodies have been weakened by continual undernourishment. Death always follows the line of least resistance.”

Bauman put his hand on the doctor’s impulsively.

“That was well put. It’s very true that death always follows the line of least resistance. But when we get the upper hand death will find his match in the human race, you can be sure.”

“You think so? Unfortunately I believe (not to say bluntly that I am sure) that you and I will yet live to see germ war on the lines of your Almansour, the only essential difference being that the future Almansours will drop retorts full of germs from the air.”

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Frederic Manning: Shells hounding through air athirst for blood

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

British writers on peace and war

Frederic Manning: War poems

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Frederic Manning
Leaves

A frail and tenuous mist lingers on baffled and intricate branches;
Little gilt leaves are still, for quietness holds every bough;
Pools in the muddy road slumber, reflecting indifferent stars;
Steeped in the loveliness of moonlight is earth, and the valleys,
Brimmed up with quiet shadow, with a mist of sleep.

But afar on the horizon rise great pulses of light,
The hammering of guns, wrestling, locked in conflict
Like brute, stone gods of old struggling confusedly;
Then overhead purrs a shell, and our heavies
Answer, with sudden clapping bruits of sound,
Loosening our shells that stream whining and whimpering precipitately,
Hounding through air athirst for blood.

And the little gilt leaves
Flicker in falling, like waifs and flakes of flame.

Categories: Uncategorized