Watchman Willie Martin Archive


The War Prayer/Mark Twain


Fri, 18 Jan 2002 03:29:11 ‑0500


"Biophilos"<[email protected]>


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The War Prayer

Dictated by Mark Twain [Samuel Clemens] in 1904 in advance of his death in 1910.

During his writing career, he had criticized perhaps every type of person or

institution either living or dead. But this piece was just a little too hot for his family

to tolerate. Since they believed the short narrative would be regarded as sacrilege, they

urged him not to publish it. However, Sam was to have the last word, and even the word

after that. Having directed it to be published after his death, he said,

"I have told the truth in that... and only dead men can tell the truth in this


‑ William H. Huff

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great exulting and excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was

on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands

playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on

every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering

wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide

avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and

sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly

the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest

depths of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of

applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors

preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid

in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was

indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to

disapprove of the war and cast doubt upon its righteousness straight way got such a stern

and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight

and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came next day the battalions would leave for the front; the

church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams

visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the

flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce

pursuit, the surrender! then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored,

submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy,

and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the

field of honor, there to win for the flag, or failing, die the noblest of noble deaths.

The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was

said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the

house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous


"God the all‑terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy


Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for

passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was,

that an ever‑merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young

soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield

them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them

strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to

them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory An aged stranger

entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the

minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his

white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally

pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there,

waiting. With

shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at

last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us

victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside which the startled

minister did and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound

audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne bearing a message from Almighty God!" The

words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention.

"He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be

your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import that is

to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks

for more than he who utters it is aware of except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought?

Is it one prayer? No, it is two one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the

ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this

keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without

intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing

of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse

upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer the uttered part of it. I am

commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it that part which the

pastor and also you in your hearts fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly

and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us victory, O

Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into

those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory

you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory must

follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell

also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle

be Thou near them! With them in spirit we also go forth from the

sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear

their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns


shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with

hurricanes of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with

unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander

unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the

sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it for our sakes who


Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make

heavy their steps, water their way with tears, stain the white snow with the blood of

their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love,

and Who is the ever‑faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid

with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

[After a pause.] "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger

of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in

what he said.

Reference Materials