Peace Unweaponed Conquers Every Wrong

Union Soldiers From Company I of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment During the Civil War in Fredericksburg, Virginia 1862.

“A Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me.”

Abraham Lincoln in response to General Mclellan in 1862.

Disarmament

by John Greenleaf Whittier

“Put up the sword!” The voice of Christ once more
Speaks, in the pauses of the cannon’s roar,
O’er fields of corn by fiery sickles reaped
And left dry ashes; over trenches heaped
With nameless dead; o’er cities starving slow
Under a rain of fire; through wards of woe
Down which a groaning diapason runs
From tortured brothers, husbands, lovers, sons
Of desolate women in their far-off homes
Waiting to hear the step that never comes!

O men and brothers! let that voice be heard.
War fails, try peace; put up the useless sword!

Fear not the end. There is a story told
In Eastern tents, when autumn nights grow cold,
And round the fire the Mongol shepherds sit
With grave responses listening unto it:
Once, on the errands of his mercy bent,
Buddha, the holy and benevolent,
Met a fell monster, huge and fierce of look,
Whose awful voice the hills and forests shook,
“O son of peace!” the giant cried, “thy fate
Is sealed at last, and love shall yield to hate.”
The unarmed Buddha looking, with no trace
Of fear and anger, in the monster’s face,
In pity said, “Poor fiend, even thee I love.”
Lo! as he spake the sky-tall terror sank
To hand-breadth size; the huge abhorrence shrank
Into the form and fashion of a dove
And where the thunder of its rage was heard,
Circling above him sweetly sang the bird:
“Hate hath no harm for love,” so ran the song,
“And peace unweaponed conquers every wrong!


By the fall of 1862, the Union Army was struggling.   Both sides had suffered massive losses in the Battles at Shiloh, Harper’s Ferry, Antietam and Friedricksburg, just to name a few.  Lincoln replaced General McClellan, frustrated by his slow response and lack of success, with Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside as the first in command of the Union Army. However, Burnside’s forces were soon defeated in a series of attacks against entrenched Confederate forces at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Burnside was himself promptly replaced with General Joseph Hooker by November of 1862.
Whittier’s poetry tried vainly to bring some level of gallantry to what was a lose/lose scenario for both sides during the 1862 campaigns.  Short term victories on one side were quickly replaced by complex loses and declining morale of soldiers on both sides.  The north was frustrated by elusive ability of Confederate soldiers who could retreat into the south, making it difficult for Union forces to build upon short term gains, resulting in an entrenched expensive stalemate during this period of the war.  It’s no surprise given the desperate nature of the conflict that even the best poetry of this period feels stale and unsatisfying.  

The Battle Autumn of 1862

by John Greenleaf Whittier
 

The flags of war like storm-birds fly,
The charging trumpets blow;
Yet rolls no thunder in the sky,
No earthquake strives below.

And, calm and patient, Nature keeps
Her ancient promise well,
Though o’er her bloom and greenness sweeps
The battle’s breath of hell.

And still she walks in golden hours
Through harvest-happy farms,
And still she wears her fruits and flowers
Like jewels on her arms.

What mean the gladness of the plain,
This joy of eve and morn,
The mirth that shakes the beard of grain
And yellow locks of corn?

Ah! eyes may well be full of tears,
And hearts with hate are hot;
But even-paced come round the years,
And Nature changes not.

She meets with smiles our bitter grief,
With songs our groans of pain;
She mocks with tint of flower and leaf
The war-field’s crimson stain.

Still, in the cannon’s pause, we hear
Her sweet thanksgiving-psalm;
Too near to God for doubt or fear,
She shares the eternal calm.

She knows the seed lies safe below
The fires that blast and burn;
For all the tears of blood we sow
She waits the rich return.

She sees with clearer eye than ours
The good of suffering born,—
The hearts that blossom like her flowers,
And ripen like her corn.

Oh, give to us, in times like these,
The vision of her eyes;
And make her fields and fruited trees
Our golden prophecies!

Oh, give to us her finer ear!
Above this stormy din,
We too would hear the bells of cheer
Ring peace and freedom in.

Published by

A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations. I am pleased to offer Fourteenlines as an ad and cookie free poetry resource, to allow the poetry to be presented on its own without distractions. Fourteenlines is a testament to the power of the written word, for anyone wanting a little more poetry in their life.

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