Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne on Violence and War

Elizabeth Gibson circa 1911
Elizabeth Gibson

The poet and writer Elizabeth Gibson, (Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne, 1869-1931) described herself as a socialist, a suffragist, and a freethinker. Her writings from the years before the First World War touch on the different kinds of violence created by social inequality and injustice. She began by being antiwar, and in December 1914 was among those suffragettes who signed an Open Letter to the Women of Germany and Austria. But as  the war continued she became more conservative and nationalistic. This is a brief selection of aphorisms and poems from her earlier work.

Added in February 2016:  ‘The Universal God Speaks in War-time’
Added in July 2018: ‘The Sacrifice’ and ‘Brothers’

See also:
‘War is a business of innumerable personal tragedies’: Wilfrid Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne, and the First World War.
Thirty Poems by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne
More on Elizabeth Gibson.
War poems by Wilfrid Gibson (Elizabeth’s brother).




Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne on Violence and War

Aphorisms

Few oppressors realise that the foregone result of oppression is revolution.
(1909, Welling of Waters)

The millionaire is responsible for the bomb-throwing of the Anarchist.
(1910, Blossoms of Peace)

Restore, O empires, your sword-stolen possessions, that the peoples need not resort to violence to restore their lands.
(1909, Welling of Waters)

Insurrection comports with liberty, and rebellion with peace.
(1909, Welling of Waters)

One bought a foot of land in a far land with the lives of many men, and his country counted him a hero.
(1904, Leaves of Life)

Wars would cease if every soldier recognised that he was a murderer.
(1909, Welling of Waters)

True patriotism is a burning shame for our country’s injustice and wrongdoing.
(1908, Sparks from the Anvil)

Patriotism is selfishness, universalism is humanness.
(1909, Welling of Waters)

He alone is free who is creedless and without nationality.
(1907, A Book of Reverie)

 

Poems

The Sacrifice

The Lion lusts for plunder: so we go
To help him hunt, and fall ourselves a prey.
At school but yesterday, we march today
To fight against a foe.

My mother keeps the cricket-badge I wore;
And mine my books; my sister feeds my birds;
And mine at evening gathers in the herds.
We shall return no more.

We come no more. Our life-blood pays the price
Of others’ glory. Homeland heath and bridge
And church, farewell! On some far mountain-ridge
Our chiefs will sacrifice.

(1907, By Many Streams)

 

Brothers

If every man would say to every man:
‘I am thy brother!’
Then wars would cease;
Then murder would kill himself;
Then envy would flee away;
Hunger would be fed;
Nakedness would be clothed;
Wisdom would hang her apples on every tree;
The stars of faith would shine brighter;
The well of peace would surge like a sea;
The sun of love would destroy no man,
By reason of its presence or absence;
The earth would bear a thousandfold,
And none should cry: ‘I want!’
If every man would say to every man:
‘I am thy brother!’

(1907, From the Shadow)

 

Paradoxes

Folk praise the Lord for all creation,
And count themselves a civilized nation;
Yet they will wipe a kingdom out
With greedy warfare’s crimson clout.

Folk spend their lives, they live and die
To ease the weakest’s misery;
And yet, they send their best-bred men
To rot on battle’s awesome fen.

If one man’s murdered in a lane,
The whole world rings, and rings again,
With shame. When hordes to murder ride,
The nations rear their heads in pride.

(1914, A Rosary)

 

Man’s Sister Upbraids Him

My brother goes, without my leave,
To join in murderous war:
His peaceful toil with seed and sheaf
Is holier and higher far.
Why should he be a brute, a beast,
To swell some monarch’s slaughter-feast?

My brother goes, without my song:
I cannot lift my voice
In prayer for stolen conquests; long
‘Twill be ere I rejoice,
Who see his friends and foes lie spread –
A horrid mass of butchered dead.

My brothers, O my brothers dear,
Of kingly, or peasant, breed,
Your country needs your labour here,
To build, to clothe, to feed.
Desert not peace and human ways,
For savage warfare’s tarnished praise.

(1914, A Rosary)

 

An Accident

I hold it but an accident
That you were born on foreign soil,
And I, to earn my family’s bread,
In sea-girt England pray and toil.

I will not strike a dastard blow
To kill you: we are both free men,
And cannot fight, against our will,
For any tongue, or any pen.

(1914, A Rosary)

 

The Universal God Speaks in War-time

Man, O man, I pray you, forsake your tribal god, and worship only Me,
For I am your everlasting Redeemer.
As you have need of Me, so I have need of you:
Therefore, man, O man, have mercy upon me!

Though I am deathless, I am not immune to pain;
And every evil that is done on earth hurts Me;
Every shot that is fired passes through Me;
The wound of every man wounded is My wound;
Every cruelty that is perpetrated is perpetrated upon Me;
Whatever is stolen is stolen from Me;
All the blood, that is shed, is My blood;
When any man is burned, I am burned;
When women and children are affronted and ravished, I am affronted and ravished;
When the earth is defiled with slaughter,
My garden is laid waste.
Man, O man, have mercy upon me!

(1914, Litanies)

 

God Supplicates His Son

My Son, O my Son, Man, why hast thou forsaken Me?
I have taught thee the alphabet of the book of peace;
I have helped thee to read its shining chapters;
I have shown thee the inner meaning of its holy secrets;
I have set before thee its heavenly pictures, painted by the prophets, who are from everlasting to everlasting:
But now thou hast torn and trampled upon the book of peace;
Thou hast spat upon some of its pages, and thou hast burned others of them;
Thou hast cursed the book and the writers of the book;
And it will take Me and My prophets a thousand years to make another book of peace;
And, in those years, thou wilt die millions of times, for want of the healing wisdom, that is written in the book of peace.
My Son, O my Son, Man, why hast thou forsaken Me?

(1914, Litanies)

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