PART 6: other wars
|O Come Love These Warring Armies by Dave Cunliffe
Come join in the angels naked march.
Each bearing truly special gifts of
precious fruit, prayer-beads, love-chimes,
wooden dolls & brightly coloured masks.
O come love these savage warring armies
& scatter rose-petals upon their tanks.
Come carrying giant mandal banners,
inscribed with messages of universal love.
Chanting endless mantric poems & softly
beating drums with gentle mudra fingers clasped.
O come love these fearful warring armies
& plant tulips deep inside their guns.
Come ready armed with flowers, bibles, buddhas
& protect each other with kindly thoughts.
Seek out each aggressor to invite him to
smoke with you the magic weed of peace.
O come love these trembling warring armies
& drop upon them tender psychedelic bombs.
This poem was published at the end of the 1960s.
'fruit, prayer-beads...': associated with the followers of ancient Eastern beliefs, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Such beliefs were attractive to the 'hippies' of the late 1950s and 1960s
'mandal': a mandala is a pictorial symbol of the universe, consisting of a circle filled with images and designs.
'mantric': a mantra is a series of symbolic sounds or words intoned by someone meditating, to help concentration.
'mudra': ritual hand movements in Hindu religious dancing
'buddhas': images of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism
'smoke with you...': Native Americans traditionally smoked a pipe together to symbolise peace after a conflict had been resolved; the 'magic weed' is marijuana
'psychedelic': a term describing a state of heightened perception, sometimes achieved by using hallucinatory drugs, but also expressed through dazzling and imaginative light-shows and patterns of moving colour. These were popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, and were subtle and inventive - unlike the strobe-lights of today. Here, the poet means to stress not just the visual pleasures of explosions of light and colour, but also the fact that such explosions do not kill or maim.
|The swinging sixties: in the west, they began in the late 1950s and ended in the early 1970s. The Cold War and the war in Vietnam were part of life, and brought new words and phrases into the English language: 'body count'; 'cluster bomb'; 'compassion fatigue'; 'confrontation' meaning hostility; CS gas and defoliation, Minuteman and neutron bomb, defoliation, non-proliferation, nuke and gunship; 'surgical strike', and hawks.
But this was also the decade of peace marches and demonstrations, love-ins and sit-downs, peaceniks and flower people, freedom rides, Hare Krishna, kaftans, Afghan coats, love beads, and doves. And the Beatles, of course.
Like Dave Cunliffe, the writer of this poem, many people turned to eastern religions and practices to dissociate themselves from war.
The founder of Buddhism, born over 2,600 years ago in India, was a prince, but at the age of 30 gave up the luxuries of court life and the pleasures of marriage to become a hermit. After years of what the modern world calls 'the simple life', he came to the conclusion that meditation and contemplation were the way to enlightenment. He also preached the pacifist and nonviolent doctrine of 'ahimsa': doing no harm to living creatures.
Love of that all-embracing kind seemed (and still seems) to many people to be the only answer to aggression, confrontation and war. 'Make love not war' could be taken further: 'Make war against war'.
One poet remembered that 10 years back, in 1957, a brother poet 'was challenging poets to react to nuclear warfare, inviting us to resist our rulers. I remember at the time thinking - "well, I am reacting in my poems". Then I thought - "and nobody knows it".' In the 1960s poets of America and Britain stood up, declared their war on war, and were counted.
What some poets said in the 1960s: