The War Prayer
by Mark Twain

The original document can be viewed by clicking here.
Greenman fountain at entryway
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of
the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway 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 invocation:

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

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 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 him 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 the victory, O Lord and God, Father and Protector of our land and

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 -- excpet 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, and
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 your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of
rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on 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 by 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 the words 'Grant us the
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 fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words.
"Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into 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 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 with the shrieks
of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a
hurricane 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 in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports
of the sun flames in 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 adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their
bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their 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.
It was a time of great and exalting excitement.  The country was up in arrns, the war was on, in
every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy
pistols poppping, 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 and young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms,
the proud fathers deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with
cyclones of applause, and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked
with happy emotion as the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors
preached devotion to flag and they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to
patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest
intervals with cyclones of applause, eloquence which moved every listener 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.
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