The Fantasy of War

There are those who teach only the sweet lessons of peace and safety,
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.

In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Hear my fife!—I am a recruiter;
Recruit! Recruit!
Come, who will join my troop?

War-suggesting trumpets I hear you,
And you I hear beating, you chorus of small and large drums.
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through the doors—burst like a force of ruthless men,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, plowing his field or gathering his grain;

Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses? no sleepers must sleep in those beds.

Far, far off the daybreak call—hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind—
With sound of trumpet,
The first clarion-peal which put the advance of these masses on the march.
With ominous hum our hive at daybreak pour’d out its myriads,
To the drum-taps prompt, the young men falling in and arming,
The acclaim of the multitude on their departure.
The tearful parting, the mother kisses her son, the son kisses his mother,
Loth is the mother to part, yet not a word does she speak to detain
A soldier strong and full for great campaigns to come.

The blood of the city up—arm’d! arm’d! the cry everywhere,
The welcome for battle, no turning away,
War! an arm’d race is advancing!
War! be it weeks, months, or years, an arm’d race is advancing to welcome it.
Swift! to the head of the army!—swift! spring to your places,
Discarding peace over all the sea and land.

I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear liberty!
The unpent enthusiasm, the wild cheers of the crowd for their favorites,
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches and from all the public buildings and stores,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping;
The populace sprang, at the first tap of the drum, to arms—not for gain, nor even glory, nor to repel invasion—but for an emblem, a mere abstraction—for the life, the safety of the flag.

I love to look on the stars and stripes,
I see but you, O warlike pennant!
Ah to sing the song of you.
Walk supreme to the heavens mighty symbol—run up above them all.
Ah my silvery beauty—ah my woolly white and crimson!
O banner so broad, with stripes, I sing you only,
Flag of stars! thick-sprinkled bunting!
Flag like the eyes of women,

Delicate cluster! dense-starr’d flag of teeming life!

Flag of death! Angry cloth I saw there leaping!
(The flag of peace quick-folded,)
Warlike flag of the great idea,
I sing you over all,
Songs of the rapid arming and the march.
Raise the fang’d and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon’d mistress,
I’ll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of volition, full of joy,
(The great poet is the most deadly force of the war.)

Arm’d regiments arrive every day,
Torrents of men pass through the city, and embark from the wharves,
How good they look as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their brown faces and their clothes and knapsacks cover’d with dust!
Pass, pass, ye proud brigades, with your tramping sinewy legs,
With your shoulders young and strong, with your knapsacks and your muskets;
How elate I watch you.

It’s O for a manly life in the camp,
O to resume the joys of the soldier!
To hear the bugles play (the slender bugle note) and the drums beat!
Do you hear the officers giving their orders?
Do you hear the clank of the muskets?
The troops are but drilling, they are yet surrounded with smiles,
Around them at hand the well-drest friends and the women.

To go to battle,
To hear the rifle crack, the crash of artillery—
The thunder-cracking guns arouse me with the proud roar I love,
The round-mouth’d guns out of the smoke and smell I love,
Thunder on! stride on! strike with vengeful stroke!
To see the glittering of the bayonets and musket-barrels in the sun!
How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops,
with erect head, pressing ever in front, bearing a bright sword!

To feel the presence of a brave commanding officer! to feel his sympathy!
To behold his calmness! to be warmed in the rays of his smile!
To gloat so over the wounds and deaths of the enemy,
To taste the savage taste of blood! to be so devilish!

I hear the tramp of armies,
Marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks—
O to hear the tramp, tramp, tramp, of a million answering men.
We may be terror and carnage, and are so now,
Through the battle, through defeat, cheerfully risking bloody death,
Moving yet and never stopping.

Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come?
Then upon the march we fittest die.
O to die advancing on! to see men fall and die and not complain!
The people, of their own choice, fighting, dying for their own idea,
An idea only, yet furiously fought for.

Many a comrade, perhaps a brother, sun-struck, staggering out, dying, by the roadside, of exhaustion,
Even his nearest friends wept not,
Their hearts were not sad, but joyful,
The flag he died for, wrapped his coffin—
And he was lowered in that native earth whose boast is that she has nurtured such brave defenders as himself.

Soon and sure the gap is fill’d,
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill’d;
The soldier drops, sinks like a wave—but the ranks of the ocean eternally press on—
On and on the compact ranks,
Through the battle, through defeat, the great bulk bearing steadily on,
Cheery enough, hollow-bellied from hunger, but sinewy with unconquerable resolution.

I take part, I see and hear the whole,
What war does to develop and strengthen and make more energetic and agile humanity—
The rapid march, the life of the camp,
The hot contention of opposing fronts, the long manoeuvre,
The stimulus, the suspense, the strong terrific game,
The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for well-aim’d

Cavalry with sabres drawn and glistening, and carbines by their thighs,
Ah my brave horsemen!
What life, what joy and pride, with all the perils, were yours,
Fighting to the last in sternest heroism.

Bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-color’d rockets,
And ever the sound of the cannon far or near,
The round-mouth’d guns out of the smoke and smell I love spit their salutes.
Amid the roar of cannon, curses, shouts, crash of falling buildings,
The perfume strong, the smoke, the deafening noise,
Rousing a devilish exultation and mad joy in the depths of my soul.

I waited the bursting forth of the pent fire,
But now I no longer wait, I have witness’d the true lightning.
Lo, Libertad, dazzling and fierce,
With war’s flames and the lambent lightnings playing,
Your foot on the neck of the menacing one, the scorner utterly crush’d beneath you,
The menacing arrogant one, today a carrion dead and damn’d, the despised of all the earth,
An offal rank, to the dunghill maggots spurn’d—
I am fully satisfied, I am glutted.

Away with your life of peace! your joys of peace!
I have lived to behold man burst forth warlike—
Many the hardships, few the joys, yet I was content.
Give me my old wild battle-life!

NEXT: The Reality of War