As we wrap-up our week-long Mother’s Day observance at WVFC, we decided that Poetry Friday belonged to the poem that started it all: the proclamation written in 1870 by Julia Ward Howe in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Howe was already famous as the woman who wrote the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but as the Franco-Prussian War dominated the headlines, Howe decided that the mothers who had lost so much in the war needed to refuse to offer their sons to any new battles. This week, military families and supporters from all over the country are echoing Howe—some from Military Families Speak Out, others holding vigils in Maine, California and Lafayette Park across from the White House. They serve to remind us all of two things: that young people are still being killed every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that children are not a renewable resource.

“I truly believe women, organized and mobilized, can be a formidable, powerful force in the movement toward a world free of war,” Cynthia Benjamin, a nurse from rural New York whose son is currently serving in Iraq, told a reporter last week. “So this Mother’s Day, I’ll be in Lafayette Park in D.C. to work toward a truly just and peaceful future.”

Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:

“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God—

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

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  • Mother’s Day Poetry Friday at WVFC « Elizabeth Willse May 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

    […] Day Poetry Friday at WVFC Read Julia Ward Howe’s poem at Women’s Voices For Change. Julia Ward Howe’s protest of the Franco-Prussian war resonates […]