What scene is this?—is this indeed humanity—these butchers’ shambles? There they lie, in the largest, in an open space in the woods, from 200 to 300 poor fellows—the groans and screams—the odor of blood, mixed with the fresh scent of the night, the grass, the trees—that slaughter-house!
– from Specimen Days by Walt Whitman (1819–1892)
It is said that purpose of art is to comment on the human condition, love, joy, nature, sorrow, envy, greed, and yes, war. No matter what your feelings on the recent conflict in Ukraine may be, we must all agree that war is a senseless act of brutality, perpetrated by those overcome with a lust for power and a will to subjugate others for no other reason than to fulfill their own ambitions at any cost. Perhaps we thought humankind had progressed beyond the need for physical assault. Today one side fights with the trappings of the past–guns and bombs–while the other side imposes crippling sanctions. Neither is humane. It is always the people who suffer.
The art of poetry and drama has long chronicled man’s desire for power and the suffering it has caused. Here are a few of the texts that come to mind when I contemplate the “groans and screams” that are taking place not only in the Ukraine, but around the world.
A Night Battle from War Scenes, from Specimen Days set by Ned Rorem (YouTube)
Beethoven’s Fidelio, German libretto by Joseph Sonnleitner
O welche Lust! In freier Luft for chorus (YouTube)
Gott! welch Dunkel hier aria of Floristan (YouTube, IPASource)
Va, pensiero for chorus (YouTube)
Credo in un Dio crudel Jago’s monologue (YouTube, IPASource)
– Bard Suverkrop, Founder and Principal Author of IPA Source