Julia Ward Howe Composes “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1861)


Untrammelled roads admit no unbridled horses:
Violence outpaces prayer.

Apple blossoms vanish violently:
Beauty just gets blown away.

Ideally, we plant trees, not corpses;
prefer husbandry, then harvest.

But, during War, even poets shatter
into factions of lines.

The bloodiest Chaos, sung in The Iliad,
flaunts patriotic bugles, imperial flutes,

nothing peevish.
Consider blown-apart presidents:

Their carcasses torn open, their blood
suddenly enthusiastically everywhere,

no defiance of enemy guns possible;
wives instantly widows beside.

Mothers! Temper all hallucination:
The Army schemes to injure thy sons!

Vengeance directs Eternity.
Tools count less than armaments.

Massacres are gory Indulgence,
but this vice (of “civil combat”) is ours.

Unfathomable armies—
untethering slaves—

unhinge The Republic,
undo the Constitution.

[Cambridge, Massachusetts; 29 mars mmxiv]

This appeared in the December 2015 issue.

George Elliott Clarke teaches English literature at the University of Toronto.

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