Protest

It seems that every weekend there’s a march or a protest at this point. There’s a lot to be upset about, and plenty of people want to make themselves heard. Scheduling marches and protests is a very public and often effective way to voice concerns that are being ignored by those in power.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, an American poet of the late 1800s and early 1900s, understood the importance of protest as a vehicle for change. Although not a particularly critically acclaimed poet, Wilcox was a popular and much beloved poet during her time, and evidence of her accessible and direct style can be found in “Protest.”

Protest
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance, and lust,
The inquisition yet would serve the law,
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle. Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills;
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and childbearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.

Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee,
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the land of freedom.

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The Next War

Despite the devastating evolution of war and its ever-increasing ability to destroy more and more lives in less and less time, there are many who still consider war to be a game. Global leaders wager with the lives of others in a deadly gambit.

This attitude is one that is cultivated from a young age, as Robert Graves points out in his poem “The Next War.” Graves, who served and was injured in World War I, had suffered the atrocities of war firsthand. As his poem implies, is it any wonder that so many regard war flippantly, as an obvious consequence of international diplomacy, when virtually from the womb we are encouraged to indoctrinate ourselves in its cult of glory?

The Next War
by Robert Graves

You young friskies who today
Jump and fight in Father’s hay
With bows and arrows and wooden spears,
Playing at Royal Welch Fusiliers,
Happy though these hours you spend,
Have they warned you how games end?
Boys, from the first time you prod
And thrust with spears of curtain-rod,
From the first time you tear and slash
Your long-bows from the garden ash,
Or fit your shaft with a blue jay feather,
Binding the split tops together,
From that same hour by fate you’re bound
As champions of this stony ground,
Loyal and true in everything,
To serve your Army and your King,
Prepared to starve and sweat and die
Under some fierce foreign sky,
If only to keep safe those joys
That belong to British boys,
To keep young Prussians from the soft
Scented hay of father’s loft,
And stop young Slavs from cutting bows
And bendy spears from Welsh hedgerows.
Another War soon gets begun,
A dirtier, a more glorious one;
Then, boys, you’ll have to play, all in;
It’s the cruellest team will win.
So hold your nose against the stink
And never stop too long to think.
Wars don’t change except in name;
The next one must go just the same,
And new foul tricks unguessed before
Will win and justify this War.
Kaisers and Czars will strut the stage
Once more with pomp and greed and rage;
Courtly ministers will stop
At home and fight to the last drop;
By the million men will die
In some new horrible agony;
And children here will thrust and poke,
Shoot and die, and laugh at the joke,
With bows and arrows and wooden spears,
Playing at Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Spring in War Time

It’s Good Friday, and it’s a beautiful sunny spring day here in Los Angeles, but all around me there is talk of war: bombs in Syria; bombs in Afghanistan; bombs in North Korea. Sara Teasdale, an American poet of the early 20th century, noted this irony in her “Spring in War Time.”

Spring in War Time
by Sara Teasdale

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

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

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

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

The New Noah

Adonis (sometimes written as “Adunis”) is the pen name of Ali Ahmad Said Esber, a Syrian poet, essayist, and translator. He has long been opposed to the brutal regime of the Assad family, since well before the recent opposition that led to the current civil war. A prolific and controversial writer, Adonis is considered to be one of the greatest living poets in the Arab world.

The New Noah
by Adonis

                         1
We travel upon the Ark, in mud and rain,
Our oars promises from God.
We live—and the rest of Humanity dies.
We travel upon the waves, fastening
Our lives to the ropes of corpses filling the skies.
But between Heaven and us is an opening,
A porthole for a supplication.
“Why, Lord, have you saved us alone
From among all the people and creatures?
And where are you casting us now?
To your other Land, to our First Home?
Into the leaves of Death, into the wind of Life?
In us, in our arteries, flows a fear of the Sun.
We despair of the Light,
We despair, Lord, of a tomorrow
In which to start Life anew.
If only we were not that seedling of Creation,
Of Earth and its generations,
If only we had remained simple Clay or Ember,
Or something in between,
Then we would not have to see
This World, its Lord, and its Hell, twice over.”
                         2
If time started anew,
and waters submerged the face of life,
and the earth convulsed, and that god
rushed to me, beseeching, “Noah, save the living!”
I would not concern myself with his request.
I would travel upon my ark, removing
clay and pebbles from the eyes of the dead.
I would open the depths of their being to the flood,
and whisper in their veins
that we have returned from the wilderness,
that we have emerged from the cave,
that we have changed the sky of years,
that we sail without giving in to our fears—
that we do not heed the word of that god.
Our appointment is with death.
Our shores are a familiar and pleasing despair,
a gelid sea of iron water that we ford
to its very ends, undeterred,
heedless of that god and his word,
longing for a different, a new, lord.