(1866 - 1912) ~ American Anarchist, Feminist, and Freethinker, With Roots in Individualism and Collectivism : Yet the ascetic also had the soul of a poet. In her poetry and even in her prose, Voltairine eloquently expressed a passionate love of music, of nature, and of Beauty. (From : The Storm!.) • "...Life cries to live, and Property denies its freedom to live; and Life will not submit." (From : Direct Action.) • "...the law makes ten criminals where it restrains one." (From : The Economic Tendency of Freethought.) • "What, then, would I have? you ask. I would have men invest themselves with the dignity of an aim higher than the chase for wealth; choose a thing to do in life outside of the making of things, and keep it in mind, --- not for a day, nor a year, but for a life-time." (From : The Dominant Idea.)
“Nature has the habit of now and then producing a type of human being far in advance of the times; an ideal for us to emulate; a being devoid of sham, uncompromising, and to whom the truth is sacred; a being whose selfishness is so large that it takes in the whole human race and treats self only as one of the great mass; a being keen to sense all forms of wrong, and powerful in denunciation of it; one who can reach into the future and draw it nearer. Such a being was Voltairine de Cleyre.”
What could be added to this splendid tribute by Jay Fox to the memory of Voltairine de Cleyre? These admirable words express the sentiments of all the friends and comrades of that remarkable woman whose whole life was dedicated to a dominant idea.
Like many other women in public life, Voltairine de Cleyre was a voluminous letter writer. Those letters addressed to her comrades, friends, and admirers would form her real biography; in them we trace her heroic struggles, her activity, her beliefs, her doubts, her mental changes—in short, her whole life, mirrored in a manner no biographer will ever be able to equal. To collect and publish this correspondence as a part of Voltairine de Cleyre’s works is impossible; the task is too big for the present undertaking. But let us hope that we will find time and means to publish at least a part of this correspondence in the near future.
The average American still holds to the belief that Anarchism is a foreign poison imported into the States from decadent Europe by criminal paranoiacs. Hence the ridiculous attempt of our lawmakers to stamp out Anarchy, by passing a statute which forbids Anarchists from other lands to enter the country. Those wise Solons are ignorant of the fact that Anarchist theories and ideas were propounded in our Commonwealth ere Proudhon or Bakunin entered the arena of intellectual struggle and formulated their thesis of perfect freedom and economic independence in Anarchy. Neither are they acquainted with the writings of Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren, Stephen Pearl Andrews, William B. Greene, or Benjamin Tucker, nor familiar with the propagandistic work of Albert R. Parsons, Dyer D. Lum, C. L. James, Moses Harman, Ross Winn, and a host of other Anarchists who sprang from the native stock and soil. To call their attention to these facts is quite as futile as to point out that the tocsin of revolt resounds in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Whitman, Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and other seers of America; just as futile as to prove to them that the pioneers in the movement for woman’s emancipation in America were permeated with Anarchist thoughts and feelings. Hardened by a fierce struggle and strengthened by a vicious persecution, those brave champions of sex-freedom defied the respectable mob by proclaiming their independence from prevailing cant and hypocrisy. They inaugurated the tremendous sex revolt among the American women—a purely native movement which has yet to find its historian.
Voltairine de Cleyre belongs to this gallant array of rebels who swore allegiance to the cause of universal liberty, thus forfeiting the respect of all “honorable citizens,” and bringing upon their heads the persecution of the ruling class. In the real history of the struggle for human emancipation, her name will be found among the foremost of her time. Born shortly after the close of the Civil War, she witnessed during her life the most momentous transformation of the nation; she saw the change from an agricultural community into an industrial empire; the tremendous development of capital in this country, with the accompanying misery and degradation of labor. Her life path was sketched ere she reached the age of womanhood: she had to become a rebel! To stand outside of the struggle would have meant intellectual death. She chose the only way.
Voltairine de Cleyre was born on November 17, 1866, in the town of Leslie, Michigan. She died on June 6, 1912, in Chicago. She came from French-American stock, on her mother’s side of Puritan descent. Her father, Auguste de Cleyre, was a native of western Flanders, but his family was of French origin. He emigrated to America in 1854. Being a freethinker and a great admirer of Voltaire, he insisted on the birthday of the child that the new member of the family should be called Voltairine. Though born in Leslie, the earliest recollections of Voltairine were of the small town of St. John’s, in Clinton County, her parents having removed to that place a year after her birth. Voltairine did not have a happy childhood; her earliest life was embittered by want of the common necessities, which her parents, hard as they tried, could not provide. A vein of sadness can be traced in her earliest poems—the songs of a child of talent and great fantasy. A deep sorrow fell into her heart at the age of four, when the teacher of the primary school refused to admit her because she was too young. But she soon succeeded in forcing her entrance into the temple of knowledge. An earnest student, she was graduated from the grammar school at the age of twelve.
Strength of mind does not seem to have been a characteristic of Auguste de Cleyre, for he recanted his libertarian ideas, returned to the fold of the church, and became obsessed with the idea that the highest vocation for a woman was the life of a nun. He determined to put the child into a convent. Thus began the great tragedy of Voltairine’s early life. Her beloved mother, a member of the Presbyterian Church, opposed this idea with all her strength, but in vain: the will of the lord of the household prevailed, and the child was sent to the Convent of Our Lady of Lake Huron, at Sarnia, in the Province of Ontario, Canada. Here she experienced four years of terrible ordeal; only after much repression, insubordination, and atonement, she forced her way back into the living world. In the sketch, “The Making of an Anarchist,” she tells us of the strain she underwent in that living tomb:
“How I pity myself now, when I remember it, poor lonesome little soul, battling solitary in the murk of religious superstition, unable to believe and yet in hourly fear of damnation, hot, savage, and eternal, if I do not instantly confess and profess! How well I recall the bitter energy with which I repelled my teacher’s enjoinder, when I told her I did not wish to apologize for an adjudged fault as I could not see that I had been wrong and would not feel my words. ‘It is not necessary,’ said she, ‘that we should feel what we say, but it is always necessary that we obey our superiors.’ ‘I will not lie,’ I answered hotly, and at the same time trembled lest my disobedience had finally consigned me to torment! I struggled my way out at last, and was a freethinker when I left the institution, three years later, though I had never seen a book or heard a word to help me in my loneliness. It had been like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and there are white scars on my soul yet, where Ignorance and Superstition burnt me with their hell-fire in those stifling days. Am I blasphemous? It is their word, not mine. Beside that battle of my young days all others have been easy, for whatever was without, within my own Will was supreme. It has owed no allegiance, and never shall; it has moved steadily in one direction, the knowledge and assertion of its own liberty, with all the responsibility falling thereon.”
During her stay at the convent there was little communication between her and her parents. In a letter from Mrs. Eliza de Cleyre, the mother of Voltairine, we are informed that she decided to run away from the convent after she had been there a few weeks. She escaped before breakfast, and crossed the river to Port Huron; but, as she had no money, she started to walk home. After covering seventeen miles, she realized that she never could do it; so she turned around and walked back, and entering the house of an acquaintance in Port Huron asked for something to eat. They sent for her father, who afterwards took her back to the convent. What penance they inflicted she never told, but at sixteen her health was so bad that the convent authorities let her come home for a vacation, telling her, however, that she would find her every movement watched, and that everything she said would be reported to them. The result was that she started at every sound, her hands shaking and her face as pale as death. She was about five weeks from graduating at that time. When her vacation was over, she went back and finished her studies. And then she started for home again, but this time she had money enough for her fare, and she got home to stay, never to go back to the place that had been a prison to her. She had seen enough of the convent to decide for herself that she could not be a nun.
The child who had sung:
“There’s a love supreme in the Great Hereafter, The buds of Earth are bloom in Heaven, The smiles of the world are ripples of laughter When back to its Aidenn the soul is given, And the tears of the world, though long in flowing, Water the fields of the bye-and-bye; They fall as dews on the sweet grass growing, When the fountains of sorrow and grief run dry. Though clouds hang over the furrows now sowing There’s a harvest sun-wreath in the After-sky.
“No love is wasted, no heart beats vainly, There’s a vast perfection beyond the grave; Up the bays of heaven the stars shine plainly— The stars lying dim on the brow of the wave. And the lights of our loves, though they flicker and wane, they Shall shine all undimmed in the ether nave. For the altars of God are lit with souls Fanned to flaming with love where the star-wind rolls.
returned from the convent a strong-minded freethinker. She was received with open arms by her mother, almost as one returned from the grave. With the exception of the education derived from books, she knew no more than a child, having almost no knowledge of practical things.
Already in the convent she had succeeded in impressing her strong personality upon her surroundings. Her teachers could not break her; they were therefore forced to respect her. In a polemic with the editor of the Catholic Buffalo Union and Times, a few years ago, Voltairine wrote: “If you think that I, as your opponent, deserve the benefit of truth, but as a stranger you doubt my veracity, I respectfully request you to submit this letter to Sister Mary Medard, my former teacher, now Superioress at Windsor, or to my revered friend, Father Siegfried, Overbrook Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., who will tell you whether, in their opinion, my disposition to tell the truth may be trusted.”
Reaction from the repression and the cruel discipline of the Catholic Church helped to develop Voltairine’s inherent tendency toward free-thought; the five-fold murder of the labor leaders in Chicago, in 1887, shocked her mind so deeply that from that moment dates her development toward Anarchism. When in 1886 the bomb fell on the Haymarket Square, and the Anarchists were arrested, Voltairine de Cleyre, who at that time was a free-thought lecturer, shouted: “They ought to be hanged!” They were hanged, and now her body rests in Waldheim Cemetery, near the grave of those martyrs. Speaking at a memorial meeting in honor of those comrades, in 1901, she said: “For that ignorant, outrageous, bloodthirsty sentence I shall never forgive myself, though I know the dead men would have forgiven me, though I know those who loved them forgive me. But my own voice, as it sounded that night, will sound so in my ears till I die—a bitter reproach and a shame. I have only one word of extenuation for myself and the millions of others who did as I did that night—ignorance.”
She did not remain long in ignorance. In “The Making of an Anarchist” she describes why she became a convert to the idea and why she entered the movement. “Till then,” she writes, “I believed in the essential justice of the American law and trial by jury. After that I never could. The infamy of that trial has passed into history, and the question it awakened as to the possibility of justice under law has passed into clamorous crying across the world.”
At the age of nineteen Voltairine had consecrated herself to the service of humanity. In her poem, “The Burial of My Past Self,” she thus bids farewell to her youthful life:
“And now, Humanity, I turn to you; I consecrate my service to the world! Perish the old love, welcome to the new— Broad as the space-aisles where the stars are whirled!”
Yet the pure and simple free-thought agitation in its narrow circle could not suffice her. The spirit of rebellion, the spirit of Anarchy, took hold of her soul. The idea of universal rebellion saved her; otherwise she might have stagnated like so many of her contemporaries, suffocated in the narrow surroundings of their intellectual life. A lecture of Clarence Darrow, which she heard in 1887, led her to the study of Socialism, and then there was for her but one step to Anarchism. Dyer D. Lum, the fellow worker of the Chicago martyrs, had undoubtedly the greatest influence in shaping her development; he was her teacher, her confidant, and comrade; his death in 1893 was a terrible blow to Voltairine.
Voltairine spent the greater part of her life in Philadelphia. Here, among congenial friends, and later among the Jewish emigrants, she did her best work. In 1897 she went on a lecture tour to England and Scotland, and in 1902, after an insane youth had tried to take her life, she went for a short trip to Norway to recuperate from her wounds. Hers was a life of bitter economic struggle and an unceasing fight with physical weakness, partly resulting from this very economic struggle. One wonders how, under such circumstances, she could have produced such an amount of work. Her poems, sketches, propagandistic articles and essays may be found in the Open Court, Twentieth Century, Magazine of Poetry, Truth, Lucifer, Boston Investigator, Rights of Labor, Truth Seeker, Liberty, Chicago Liberal, Free Society, Mother Earth, and in The Independent. She translated Jean Grave’s “Moribund Society and Anarchy” from the French, and left an unfinished translation of Louise Michel’s work on the Paris Commune. In Mother Earth appeared her translations from the Jewish of Libin and Peretz. In collaboration with Dyer D. Lum she wrote a novel on social questions, which has unfortunately remained unfinished.
Voltairine de Cleyre’s views on the sex-question, on agnosticism and free-thought, on individualism and communism, on nonresistance and direct action, underwent many changes. In the year 1902 she wrote: “The spread of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The Slavery of Our Times,’ and the growth of the numerous Tolstoy clubs having for their purpose the dissemination of the literature of nonresistance, is an evidence that many receive the idea that it is easier to conquer war with peace. I am one of these. I can see no end of retaliation, unless some one ceases to retaliate.” She adds, however: “But let no one mistake this for servile submission or meek abnegation; my right shall be asserted no matter at what cost to me, and none shall trench upon it without my protest.” But as she used to quote her comrade, Dyer D. Lum: “Events proved to be the true schoolmasters.” The last years of her life were filled with the spirit of direct action, and especially with the social importance of the Mexican Revolution. The splendid propaganda work of Wm. C. Owen in behalf of this tremendous upheaval inspired her to great effort. She, too, had found out by experience that only action counts, that only a direct participation in the struggle makes life worth while.
Voltairine de Cleyre was one of the most remarkable personalities of our time. She was a born iconoclast; her spirit was too free, her taste too refined, to accept any idea that has the slightest degree of limitation. A great sadness, a knowledge that there is a universal pain, filled her heart. Through her own suffering and through the suffering of others she reached the highest exaltation of mind; she was conscious of all the vanities of life. In the service of the poor and oppressed she found her life mission. In an exquisite tribute to her memory, Leonard D. Abbott calls Voltairine de Cleyre a priestess of Pity and of Vengeance, whose voice has a vibrant quality that is unique in literature. We are convinced that her writings will live as long as humanity exists.
THE BURIAL OF MY PAST SELF
Poor Heart, so weary with thy bitter grief!
So thou art dead at last, silent and chill!
The longed-for death-dart came to thy relief,
And there thou liest, Heart, forever still.
Dead eyes, pain-pressed beneath their black-fringed pall!
Dead cheeks, dark-furrowed with so many tears!
So thou art passed far, far beyond recall,
And all thy hopes are past, and all thy fears.
Thy lips are closed at length in the long peace!
Pale lips! so long they have thy woe repressed,
They seem even now when life has run its lease
All dumbly pitiful in their mournful rest.
And now I lay thee in thy silent tomb,
Printing thy brow with one last solemn kiss;
Laying upon thee one fair lily bloom,
A symbol of thy rest;—oh, rest is bliss.
No, Heart, I would not call thee back again;
No, no; too much of suffering hast thou known;
But yet, but yet, it was not all in vain—
Thy unseen tears, thy solitary moan!
For out of sorrow joy comes uppermost;
Where breaks the thunder soon the sky smiles blue;
A better love replaces what is lost,
And phantom sunlight pales before the true!
The seed must burst before the germ unfolds,
The stars must fade before the morning wakes;
Down in her depths the mine the diamond holds;
A new heart pulses when the old heart breaks.
And now, Humanity, I turn to you;
I consecrate my service to the world!
Perish the old love, welcome to the new—
Broad as the space-aisles where the stars are whirled!
Greenville, Mich., 1885.
NIGHT ON THE GRAVES
O’er the sweet, quiet homes in the silent grave-city,
Softly the dewdrops, the night-tears, fall;
Broadly about, like the wide arms of pity,
The silver-shot darkness lies over all.
Heroes, asleep ‘neath the red-hearted rose-wreaths,
Leaf-crowned with honor, flower-crowned with rest,
Gently above you each moon-dripping bough breathes
A far-echoed whisper, “Sleep well; ye are blest.”
Oh! never, as long as the heart pulses quicker
At the dear name of Country may yours be forgot;
Nor may we, till the last puny life spark shall flicker,
Your deeds from the tablets of Memory blot!
Spirits afloat in the night-shrouds that bound us,
Souls of the “Has-Been” and of the “To-Be,”
Keep the fair light of Liberty shining around us,
Till our souls may go back to the mighty SOUL-SEA.
St. Johns, Mich., 1886 (Decoration Day).
THE CHRISTIAN’S FAITH
(The two following poems were written at that period of my life when the questions of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus had but recently been settled, and they present the pros and cons which had been repeating themselves over and over again in my brain for some years.)
We contrast light and darkness,—light of God,
And darkness from the Stygian shades of hell;
Fumes of the pit infernal rising up
Have clouded o’er the brain, laid reason low;—
For when the eye looks on fair Nature’s face
And sees not God, then is she blind indeed!
No night so starless, even in its gloom,
As his who wanders on without a hope
In that great, just Hereafter all must meet!—
No heart so dull, so heavy, and so void,
As that which lives for this chill world alone!
No soul so groveling, unaspiring, base,
As that which, here, forgets the afterhere!
And still through all the darkness and the gloom
Its voice will not be stilled, its hopes be quenched;
It cries, it screams, it struggles in its chains,
And bleeds upon the altar of the mind,—
Unwilling sacrifice to thought misled.
The soul that knows no God can know no peace.
Thus speaketh light, the herald of our God!
In that far dawn where shone each rolling world
First lit with shadowed splendor of the stars,
In that fair morning when Creation sang
Its praise of God, e’er yet it dreamed of sin,
Pure and untainted as the source of life
Man dwelt in Eden. There no shadows came,
No question of the goodness of our Lord,
Until the prince of darkness tempted man,
And, yielding to the newly born desire,
He fell! Sank in the mire of ignorance!
And Man, who put himself in Satan’s power,
Since then has wandered far in devious ways,
Seeing but now and then a glimpse of light,
Till Christ is come, the living Son of God!
Far in his heavenly home he viewed the world,
Saw all her sadness and her sufferings,
Saw all her woes, her struggles, and her search
For some path leading up from out the Night.
Within his breast the fount of tears was touched;
His great heart swelled with pity, and he said:
“Father, I go to save the world from sin.”
Ah! What power but a soul divinely clad
In purity, in holiness and love,
Could leave a home of happiness and light
For this lost World of suffering and death?
He came: the World tossed groaning in her sleep;
He touched her brow: the nightmare passed away;
He soothed her heart, red with the stain of sin;
And she forgot her guilt in penitence;
She washed the ruby out with pearls of tears.
He came, he suffered, and he died for us;
He felt the bitterest woes a soul can feel;
He probed the darkest depths of human grief;
He sounded all the deeps and shoals of pain;
Was cursed for all his love; thanked with the cross,
Whereon he hung nailed, bleeding, glorified,
As the last smoke of holocaust divine.
“Ah! This was all two thousand years ago!”
Two thousand years ago, and still he cries,
With voice sweet calling through the distant dark:
“O souls that labor, struggling in your pain,
Come unto me, and I will give you rest!
For every woe of yours, and every smart,
I, too, have felt:—the mockery, the shame,
The sneer, the scoffing lip, the hate, the lust,
The greed of gain, the jealousy of man,
Unstinted have been measured out to me.
I know them all, I feel them all with you!
And I have known the pangs of poverty,
The cry of hunger and the weary heart
Of childhood burdened with the weight of age!
O sufferers, ye all are mine to love!
The pulse-beats of my heart go out with you,
And every drop of agony that drips
From my nailed hands adown this bitter cross,
Cries out, ‘O God! accept the sacrifice,
And ope the gates of heaven to the world!’
Ye vermin of the garret, who do creep
Your weary lives away within its walls;
Ye children of the cellar, who behold
The sweet, pale light, strained through the lothsome air
And doled to you in tid-bits, as a thing
Too precious for your use; ye rats in mines,
Who knaw within the black and somber pits
To seek poor living for your little ones;
Ye women who stitch out your lonely lives,
Unmindful whether sun or stars keep watch;
Ye slaves of wheels; ye worms that bite the dust
Where pride and scorn have ground you ‘neath the heel;
Ye Toilers of the earth, ye weary ones,—
I know your sufferings, I feel your woes;
My peace I give you; in a little while
The pain will all be over, and the grave
Will sweetly close above your folded hands!
And then?—Ah, Death, no conqueror art thou!
For I have loosed thy chains; I have unbarred
The gates of heaven! In my Father’s house
Of many mansions I prepare a place;
And rest is there for every heart that toils!
Oh, all ye sick and wounded ones who grieve
For the lost health that ne’er may come again;
Ye who do toss upon a couch of pain,
Upon whose brow disease has laid his hand,
Within whose eyes the dull and heavy sight
Burns like a taper burning very low,
Upon whose lips the purple fever-kiss
Rests his hot breath, and dries the sickened palms,
Scorches the flesh and e’en the very air;
Ye who do grope along without the light;
Ye who do stumble, halting on your way;
Ye whom the world despises as unclean;
Know that the death-free soul has none of these:
The unbound spirit goes unto its God,
Pure, whole, and beauteous as newly born!
Oh, all ye mourners, weeping for the dead;
Your tears I gather as the grateful rain
Which rises from the sea and falls again,
To nurse the withering flowers from its touch;
No drop is ever lost! They fall again
To nurse the blossoms of some other heart!
I would not dry one single dew of grief:
The sorrow-freighted lashes which bespeak
The broken heart and soul are dear to me;
I mourn with them, and mourning so I find
The grief-bowed soul with weeping oft grows light!
But yet ye mourn for them not without hope:
Beyond the woes and sorrows of the earth,
As stars still shine though clouds obscure the sight,
The friends ye mourn as lost immortal live;
And ye shall meet and know their souls again,
Through death transfigured, through love glorified!
Oh, all ye patient waiters for reward,
Scorned and despised by those who know not worth,
I know your merit and I give you hope;
For in my Father’s law is justice found.
See how the seed-germ, toiling underground,
Waits patiently for time to burst its shell;
And by and by the golden sunlight warms
The dark, cold earth; the germ begins to shoot.
And upward trends until two small green leaves
Unfold and wave and drink the pure, fresh air.
The blossoms come and go with Summer’s breath,
And Autumn brings the fruit-time in her hand.
So ye, who patient watch and wait and hope,
Trusting the sun may bring the blossoms out,
Shall reap the fruited labor by and by.
I am your friend; I wait and hope with you,
Rejoice with you when the hard vict’ry’s won!
And still for you, O prisoners in cells,
I hold the dearest gifts of penitence,
Forgiveness and charity and hope!
I stretch the hands of mercy through the bars;
White hands,—like doves they bring the branch of peace!
Repent, believe,—and I will expiate
Upon this bitter cross all your deep guilt!
Oh, take my gift, accept my sacrifice!
I ask no other thing but only—trust!
Oh, all ye martyrs, bleeding in your chains;
Oh, all ye souls that live for others’ good;
Oh, all ye mourners, all ye guilty ones,
And all ye suffering ones, come unto me!
Ye are all my brothers, all my sisters, all!
And as I love one, so I love you all.
Accept my love, accept my sacrifice;
Make not my cross more bitter than it is
By shrinking from the peace I bring to you!”
St. Johns, Mich., April, 1887.
THE FREETHINKER’S PLEA
Grand eye of Liberty, light up my page!
Like promised morning after night of age
Thy dawning youth breaks in the distant east!
Thy cloudy robes like silken curtains creased
And swung in folds are floating fair and free!
The shadows of the cycles turn and flee;
The budding stars, bright minds that gemmed the night,
Are bursting into broad, bright-petaled light!
Sweet Liberty, how pure thy very breath!
How dear in life, how doubly dear in death!
Ah, slaves that suffer in your self-forged chains,
Praying your Christ to touch and heal your pains,
Tear off your shackling irons, unbind your eyes,
Seize the grand hopes that burn along the skies!
Worship not God in temples built of gloom;
Far sweeter incense is the flower-bloom
Than all the fires that Sacrifice may light;
And grander is the star-dome gleaming bright
With glowing worlds, than all your altar lamps
Pale flickering in your clammy, vaulted damps;
And richer is the broad, full, fair sun sheen,
Dripping its orient light in streams between
The fretted shafting of the forest trees,
Throwing its golden kisses to the breeze,
Lifting the grasses with its finger-tips,
And pressing the young blossoms with warm lips,
Show’ring its glory over plain and hill,
Wreathing the storm and dancing in the rill;
Far richer in wild freedom falling there,
Shaking the tresses of its yellow hair,
Than all subdued within the dim half-light
Of stained glass windows, drooping into night.
Oh, grander far the massive mountain walls
Which bound the vista of the forest halls,
Than all the sculptured forms which guard the piles
That arch your tall, dim, gray, cathedral aisles!
And gladder is the carol of a bird
Than all the anthems that were ever heard
To steal in somber chanting from the tone
Of master voices praising the Unknown.
In the great wild, where foot of man ne’er trod,
There find we Nature’s church and Nature’s God!
Here are no fetters! though is free as air;
Its flight may spread far as its wings may dare;
And through it all one voice cries, “God is love,
And love is God!” Around, within, above,
Behold the working of the perfect law,—
The law immutable in which no flaw
Exists, and from which no appeal is made;
Ev’n as the sunlight chases far the shade
And shadows chase the light in turn again,
So every life is fraught with joy and pain;
The stinging thorn lies hid beside the rose;
The bud is blighted ere its leave unclose;
So pleasure born of Hope may oft-time yield
A stinging smart of thorns, a barren field!
But let it be: the buds will bloom again,
The fields will freshen in the summer rain;
And never storm scowls dark but still, somewhere,
A bow is bending in the upper air.
Then learn the law if thou wouldst live aright;
And know no unseen power, no hand of might,
Can set aside the law which wheels the stars;
No incompleteness its perfection mars;
The buds will wake in season, and the rain
will fall when clouds hang heavy, and again
The snows will tremble when the winter’s breath
Congeals the cloud-tears, as the touch of Death
Congeals the last drop on the sufferer’s cheek.
Thus do all Nature’s tongues in chorus speak:
“Think not, O man, that thou canst e’er escape
One jot of Justice’s law, nor turn thy fate
By yielding sacrifice to the Unseen!
Purged by thyself alone canst thou be clean.
One guide to happiness thou mayst learn: Love toward the world begets love in return.
And if to others you the measure mete
Of love, be sure your harvest will be sweet;
But if ye sow broadcast the seed of hate,
Ye’ll reap again, albeit ye reap it late.
Then let your life-work swell the great flood-tide
Of love towards all the world; the world is wide,
The sea of life is broad; its waves stretch far;
No range, no barrier, its sweep may bar;
The world is filled, is trodden down with pain;
The sea of life is gathered up of rain,—
A throat, a bed, a sink, for human tears,
A burial of hopes, a miasm of fears!
But see! the sun of love shines softly out,
Flinging its golden fingers all about,
Pressing its lips in loving, soft caress,
Upon the world’s pale cheek; the pain grows less,
The tears are dried upon the quivering lashes,
An answering sunbeam ‘neath the white lids flashes!
The sea of life is dimpled o’er with smiles,
The sun of love the cloud of woe beguiles,
And turns its heavy brow to forehead fair,
Framed in the glory of its sun-gilt hair.
Be thine the warming touch, the kiss of love;
Vainly ye seek for comfort from above,
Vainly ye pray the Gods to ease your pain;
The heavy words fall back on you again!
Vainly ye cry for Christ to smooth your way;
The thorns sting sharper while ye kneeling pray!
Vainly ye look upon the world of woe,
And cry, “O God, avert the bitter blow!”
Ye cannot turn the lightning from its track,
Nor call one single little instant back;
The law swerves not, and with unerring aim
The shaft of justice falls; he bears the blame
Who violates the rule: do well your task,
For justice overtakes you all at last.
Vainly ye patient ones await reward,
Trusting th’ Almighty’s angel to record
Each bitter tear, each disappointed sigh;
Reward descends not, gifted from on high,
But is the outgrowth of the eternal law:
As from the earth the toiling seed-germs draw
The food which gives them life and strength to bear
The storms and suns which sweep the upper air,
So ye must draw from out the pregnant earth
The metal true wherewith to build your worth;
So shall ye brave the howling of the blast,
And smile triumphant o’er the storm at last.
Nor dream these trials are without their use;
Between your joys and griefs ye cannot choose,
And say your life with either is complete:
Ever the bitter mingles with the sweet.
The dews must press the petals down at night,
If in the dawning they would glisten bright;
If sunbeams needs must ripen out the grain
Not less the early blades must woo the rain:
If now your eyes be wet with weary tears,
Ye’ll gather them as gems in after years;
And if the rains now sodden down your path,
Ye’ll reap rich harvest in the aftermath.
Ye idle mourners, crying in your grief,
The souls ye weep have found the long relief:
Why grieve for those who fold their hands in peace?
Their sore-tried hearts have found a glad release;
Their spirits sink into the solemn sea!
Mourn ye the prisoner from his chains let free?
Nay, ope your ears unto the living cry
That pleads for living comfort! Hark, the sigh
Of million heartaches rising in your ears!
Kiss back the living woes, the living tears!
Go down into the felon’s gloomy cell;
Send there the ray of love: as tree-buds swell
When spring’s warm breath bids the cold winter cease,
So will his heart swell with the hope of peace.
Be filled with love, for love is Nature’s God;
The God which trembles in the tender sod,
The God which tints the sunset, lights the dew,
Sprinkles with stars the firmament’s broad blue,
And draws all hearts together in a free
Wide sweep of love, broad as the ether-sea.
No other law or guidance do we need;
The world’s our church, to do good is our creed.
St. Johns, Mich., 1887.
TO MY MOTHER
Some souls there are which never live their life;
Some suns there are which never pierce their cloud;
Some hearts there are which cup their perfume in,
And yield no incense to the outer air.
Cloud-shrouded, flower-cupped heart: such is thine own:
So dost thou live with all thy brightness hid;
So dost thou dwell with all thy perfume close;
Rich in thy treasured wealth, aye, rich indeed—
And they are wrong who say thou “dost not feel.”
But I—I need blue air and opened bloom;
To keep my music means that it must die;
And when the thrill, the joy, the love of life is gone,
I, too, am dead—a corpse, though not entombed.
Let me live then—but a while—the gloom soon comes,
The flower closes and the petals shut;
Through them the perfume slips out, like a soul—
The long, still sleep of death—and then the Grave.
Cleveland, Ohio, March, 1889.
So, you’re the chaplain! You needn’t say what you have come for; I can guess.
You’ve come to talk about Jesus’ love, and repentance and rest and forgiveness!
You’ve come to say that my sin is great, yet greater the mercy Heaven will mete,
If I, like Magdalen, bend my head, and pour my tears at your Savior’s feet.
Your promise is fair, but I’ve little faith: I relied on promises once before;
They brought me to this—this prison cell, with its iron-barred window, its grated door!
Yet he, too, was fair who promised me, with his tender mouth and his Christ-like eyes;
And his voice was as sweet as the summer wind that sighs through the arbors of Paradise.
And he seemed to me all that was good and pure, and noble and strong, and true and brave!
I had given the pulse of my heart for him, and deemed it a precious boon to crave.
You say that Jesus so loved the world he died to redeem it from its sin:
It isn’t redeemed, or no one could be so fair without, and so black within.
I trusted his promise, I gave my life;—the truth of my love is known on high,
If there is a God who knows all things;—his promise was false, his love was a lie!
It was over soon, Oh! soon, the dream,—and me, he had called “his life,” “his light,”
He drove me away with a sneering word, and you Christians said that “it served me right.”
I was proud, Mr. Chaplain, even then; I set my face in the teeth of Fate,
And resolved to live honestly, come what might, and sink beneath neither scorn nor hate.
Yes, and I prayed that the Christ above would help to bear the bitter cross,
And put something here, where my heart had been, to fill up the aching void of loss.
It’s easy for you to say what I should do, but none of you ever dream how hard
Is the way that you Christians make for us, with your “sin no more,” “trust the Lord.”
When for days and days you are turned from work with cold politeness, or open sneer,
You get so you don’t trust a far-off God, whose creatures are cold, and they, so near.
You hold your virtuous lives aloof, and refuse us your human help and hand,
And set us apart as accursèd things, marked with a burning, Cain-like brand.
But I didn’t bend, though many days I was weary and hungry, and worn and weak,
And for many a starless night I watched, through tears that grooved down my pallid cheek.
They are all dry now! They say I’m hard, because I never weep or moan!
You can’t draw blood when the heart’s bled out! you can’t find tears or sound in a stone!
And I don’t know why I should be mild and meek: no one has been very mild to me.
You say that Jesus would be—perhaps! but Heaven’s a long way off, you see.
That will do; I know what you’re going to say: “I can have it right here in this narrow cell.”
The soul is slow to accept Christ’s heav’n when his followers chain the body in hell.
Not but I’m just as well off here,—better, perhaps, than I was outside.
The world was a prison-house to me, where I dwelt, defying and defied.
I don’t know but I’d think more of what you say, if they’d given us both a common lot;
If justice to me had been justice to him, and covered our names with an equal blot;
But they took him into the social court, and pitied, and said he’d been “led astray”;
In a month the stain on his name had passed, as a cloud that crosses the face of day!
He joined the Church, and he’s preaching now, just as you are, the love of God,
And the duty of sinners to kneel and pray, and humbly to kiss the chastening rod.
If they’d dealt with me as they dealt by him, may be I’d credit your Christian love;
If they’d dealt with him as they dealt by me, I’d have more faith in a just Above.
I don’t know, but sometimes I used to think that she, who was told there was no room
In the inn at Bethlehem, might look down with softened eyes thro’ the starless gloom.
Christ wasn’t a woman—he couldn’t know the pain and endurance of it; but she,
The mother who bore him, she might know, and Mary in Heaven might pity me.
Still that was useless: it didn’t bring a single mouthful for me to eat,
Nor work to get it, nor sheltering from the dreary wind and the howling street.
Heavenly pity won’t pass as coin, and earthly shame brings a higher pay.
Sometimes I was tempted to give it up, and go, like others, the easier way;
But I didn’t; no, sir, I kept my oath, though my baby lay in my arms and cried,
And at last, to spare it—I poisoned it; and kissed its murdered lips when it died.
I’d never seen him since it was born (he’d said that it wasn’t his, you know);
But I took its body and laid it down at the steps of his door, in the pallid glow
Of the winter morning; and when he came, with a love-tune hummed on those lips of lies,
It lay at his feet, with its pinched white face staring up at him from its dead, blue eyes;
I hadn’t closed them; they were like his, and so was the mouth and the curled gold hair,
And every feature so like his own,—for I am dark, sir, and he is fair.
‘Twas a moment of triumph, that showed me yet there was a passion I could feel,
When I saw him bend o’er its meager form, and, starting backwards, cry out and reel!
If there is a time when all souls shall meet the reward of the deeds that are done in the clay,
When accused and accuser stand face to face, he will cry out so in the Judgment Day!
The rest? Oh, nothing. They hunted me, and with virtuous lawyers’ virtuous tears
To a virtuous jury, convicted me; and I’m sentenced to stay here for twenty years.
Do I repent? Yes, I do; but wait till I tell you of what I repent, and why.
I repent that I ever believed a man could be anything but a living lie!
I repent because every noble thought, or hope, or ambition, or earthly trust,
Is as dead as dungeon-bleached bones in me,—as dead as my child in its murdered dust!
Do I repent that I killed the babe? Am I repentant for that, you ask?
I’ll answer the truth as I feel it, sir; I leave to others the pious mask.
Am I repentant because I saved its starving body from Famine’s teeth?
Because I hastened what time would do, to spare it pain and relieve its death?
Am I repentant because I held it were better a grave should have no name
Than a living being, whose only care must come from a mother weighed with shame?
Am I repentant because I thought it were better the tiny form lay hid
From the heartless stings of a brutal world, unknown, unnamed, ‘neath a coffin lid?
Am I repentant for the act, the last on earth in my power, to save
From the long-drawn misery of life, in the early death and the painless grave?
I’m glad that I did it! Start if you will! I’ll repeat it over; I say I’m glad!
No, I’m neither a fiend, nor a maniac—don’t look as if I were going mad!
Did I not love it? Yes, I loved with a strength that you, sir, can never feel;
It’s only a strong love can kill to save, tho’ itself be torn where time cannot heal.
You see my hands—they are red with its blood! Yet I would have cut them, bit by bit,
And fed them, and smiled to see it eat, if that would have saved and nourished it!
“Beg!” I did beg,—and “pray!” I did pray! God was as stony and hard as Earth,
And Christ was as deaf as the stars that watched, or the night that darkened above his birth!
And I—I feel stony now, too, like them; deaf to sorrow and mute to grief!
Am I heartless?—yes:—it-is-all-cut-OUT! Torn! Gone! All gone! Like my dead belief.
Do I not fear for the judgment hour? So unrepentant, so hard and cold?
Wait! It is little I trust in that; but if ever the scrolled sky shall be uprolled,
And the lives of men shall be read and known, and their acts be judged by their very worth,
And the Christ you speak of shall come again, and the thunders of
Justice shake the earth, You will hear the cry, “Who murdered here?
Come forth to the judgment, false heart and eyes,
That pulsed with accurséd strength of lust, and loaded faith with envenomed lies!
Come forth to the judgment, haughty dames, who scathed the mother with your scorn,
And answer here, to the poisoned child, who decreed its murder ere it was born?
Come forth to the judgment ye who heaped the gold of earth in your treasured hoard,
And answer, ‘guilty,’ to those who stood all naked and starving, beneath your board.
Depart, accurséd! I know you not! Ye heeded not the command of Heaven,
‘Unto the least of these ye give, it is even unto the Master given.’”
Judgment! Ah, sir, to see that day, I’d willingly pass thro’ a hundred hells!
I’d believe, then, the Justice that hears each voice buried alive in these prison cells!
But, no—it’s not that; that will never be! I trusted too long, and He answered not.
There is no avenging God on high!—we live, we struggle, and—we rot.
Yet does Justice come! and, O Future Years! sorely ye’ll reap, and in weary pain,
When ye garner the sheaves that are sown to-day, when the clouds that are gathering fall in rain!
The time will come, aye! the time will come, when the child ye conceive in lust and shame,
Quickened, will mow you like swaths of grass, with a sickle born of Steel and Flame.
Aye, tremble, shrink, in your drunken den, coward, traitor, and Child of Lie!
The unerring avenger stands close to you, and the dread hour of parturition’s nigh!
Aye! wring your hands, for the air is black! thickly the cloud-troops whirl and swarm!
See! yonder, on the horizon’s verge, play the lightning-shafts of the coming storm!
Adrian, Mich., July, 1889.
There’s a love supreme in the great hereafter,
The buds of earth are blooms in heaven;
The smiles of the world are ripples of laughter
When back to its Aidenn the soul is given:
And the tears of the world, though long in flowing,
Water the fields of the bye-and-bye;
They fall as dews on the sweet grass growing
When the fountains of sorrow and grief run dry.
Though clouds hang over the furrows now sowing
There’s a harvest sun-wreath in the After-sky!
No love is wasted, no heart beats vainly,
There’s a vast perfection beyond the grave;
Up the bays of heaven the stars shine plainly,
The stars lying dim on the brow of the wave.
And the lights of our loves, though they flicker and wane, they
Shall shine all undimmed in the ether-nave.
For the altars of God are lit with souls
Fanned to flaming with love where the star-wind rolls.
St. Johns, Michigan, 1889.
AT THE GRAVE IN WALDHEIM
Quiet they lie in their shrouds of rest,
Their lids kissed close ‘neath the lips of peace;
Over each pulseless and painless breast
The hands lie folded and softly pressed,
As a dead dove presses a broken nest;
Ah, broken hearts were the price of these!
The lips of their anguish are cold and still,
For them are the clouds and the gloom all past;
No longer the woe of the world can thrill
The chords of those tender hearts, or fill
The silent dead-house! The “people’s will”
Has mapped asunder the strings at last.
“The people’s will!” Ah, in years to come,
Dearly ye’ll weep that ye did not save!
Do ye not hear now the muffled drum,
The tramping feet and the ceaseless hum,
Of the million marchers,—trembling, dumb,
In their tread to a yawning, giant grave?
And yet, ah! yet there’s a rift of white!
‘Tis breaking over the martyrs’ shrine!
Halt there, ye doomed ones,—it scathes the night,
As lightning darts from its scabbard bright
And sweeps the face of the sky with light!
“No more shall be spilled out the blood-red wine!”
These are the words it has written there,
Keen as the lance of the northern morn;
The sword of Justice gleams in its glare,
And the arm of Justice, upraised and bare,
Is true to strike, aye, ‘tis strong to dare;
It will fall where the curse of our land is born.
No more shall the necks of the nations be crushed,
No more to dark Tyranny’s throne bend the knee;
No more in abjection be ground to the dust!
By their widows, their orphans, our dead comrades’ trust,
By the brave heart-beats stilled, by the brave voices hushed,
We swear that humanity yet shall be free!
(“We are the birds of the coming storm.”—August Spies.)
The tide is out, the wind blows off the shore;
Baer burn the white sands in the scorching sun;
The sea complains, but its great voice is low.
Bitter thy woes, O People,
And the burden
Hardly to be borne!
Wearily grows, O People,
All the aching
Of thy pierced heart, bruised and torn!
But yet thy time is not,
And low thy moaning.
Desert thy sands!
Not yet is thy breath hot,
It wafts o’er lifted hands.
The tide has turned; the vane veers slowly round;
Slow clouds are sweeping o’er the blinding light;
White crests curl on the sea,—its voice grows deep.
Angry thy heart, O People,
And its bleeding
Fire-tipped with rising hate!
Thy clasped hands part, O People,
For thy praying
Warmed not the desolate!
God did not hear thy moan:
Now it is swelling
To a great drowning cry;
A dark wind-cloud, a groan,
Now backward veering
From that deaf sky!
The tide flows in, the wind roars from the depths,
The whirled-white sand heaps with the foam-white waves;
Thundering the sea rolls o’er its shell-crunched wall!
Strong is thy rage, O People,
In its fury Hurling thy tyrants down!
Thou metest wage, O People.
Now that thy hate is grown:
Thy time at last is come;
Thou heapest anguish,
Where thou thyself wert bare!
No longer to thy dumb
God clasped and kneeling, Thou answerest thine own prayer.
Sea Isle City, N. J., August, 1889.
UT SEMENTEM FECERIS, ITA METES
(To the Czar, on a woman, a political prisoner, being flogged to death in Siberia.)
How many drops must gather to the skies
Before the cloud-burst comes, we may not know;
How hot the fires in under hells must glow
Ere the volcano’s scalding lavas rise,
Can none say; but all wot the hour is sure!
Who dreams of vengeance has but to endure!
He may not say how many blows must fall,
How many lives be broken on the wheel,
How many corpses stiffen ‘neath the pall,
How many martyrs fix the blood-red seal;
But certain is the harvest time of Hate!
And when weak moans, by an indignant world
Reechoed, to a throne are backward hurled,
Who listens, hears the mutterings of Fate!
Philadelphia, February, 1890.
Why do you clothe me with scarlet of shame?
Why do you point with your finger of scorn?
What is the crime that you hissingly name
When you sneer in my ears, “Thou bastard born?”
Am I not as the rest of you,
With a hope to reach, and a dream to live?
With a soul to suffer, a heart to know
The pangs that the thrusts of the heartless give?
I am no monster! Look at me—
Straight in my eyes, that they do not shrink!
Is there aught in them you can see
To merit this hemlock you make me drink?
This poison that scorches my soul like fire,
That burns and burns until love is dry,
And I shrivel with hate, as hot as a pyre,
A corpse, while its smoke curls up to the sky?
Will you touch my hand? It is flesh like yours;
Perhaps a little more brown and grimed,
For it could not be white while the drawers’ and hewers’,
My brothers, were calloused and darkened and slimed.
Yet touch it! It is no criminal’s hand!
No children are toiling to keep it fair!
It is free from the curse of the stolen land,
It is clean of the theft of the sea and air!
It has set no seals to a murderous law,
To sign a bitter, black league with death!
No covenants false do these fingers draw
In the name of “The State” to barter Faith!
It bears no stain of the yellow gold
That earth’s wretches give as the cost of heaven!
No priestly garment of silken fold
I wear as the price of their “sins forgiven”!
Still do you shrink! Still I hear the hiss
Between your teeth, and I feel the scorn
That flames in your gaze! Well, what is this,
This crime I commit, being “bastard born”?
What! You whisper my “eyes are gray,”
The “color of hers,” up there on the hill,
Where the white stone gleams, and the willow spray
Falls over her grave in the starlight still!
My “hands are shaped like” those quiet hands,
Folded away from their life, their care;
And the sheen that lies on my short, fair strands
Gleams darkly down on her buried hair!
My voice is toned like that silent tone
That might, if it could, break up through the sod
With such rebuke as would shame your stone,
Stirring the grass-roots in their clod!
And my heart-beats thrill to the same strong chords;
And the blood that was hers is mine to-day;
And the thoughts she loved, I love; and the words
That meant most to her, to me most say!
She was my mother—I her child!
Could ten thousand priests have made us more?
Do you curse the bloom of the heather wild?
Do you trample the flowers and cry “impure”?
Do you shun the bird-songs’ silver shower?
Does their music arouse your curling scorn
That none but God blessed them? The whitest flower,
The purest song, were but “bastard born”!
This is my sin,—I was born of her! This is my crime,—that I reverence deep!
God, that her pale corpse may not stir,
Press closer down on her lids—the sleep!
Would you have me hate her? Me, who knew
That the gentlest soul in the world looked there,
Out of the gray eyes that pitied you
E’en while you cursed her? The long brown hair
That waved from her forehead, has brushed my cheek,
When her soft lips have drunk up my salt of grief;
And the voice, whose echo you hate, would speak
The hush of pity and love’s relief!
And those still hands that are folded now
Have touched my sorrows for years away!
Would you have me question her whence and how
The love-light streamed from her heart’s deep ray?
Do you question the sun that it gives its gold?
Do you scowl at the cloud when it pours its rain
Till the fields that were withered and burnt and old
Are fresh and tender and young again?
Do you search the source of the breeze that sweeps
The rush of the fever from tortured brain?
Do you ask whence the perfume that round you creeps
When your soul is wrought to the quick with pain?
She was my Sun, my Dew, my Air,
The highest, the purest, the holiest;
Peace—was the shade of her beautiful hair,
Love—was all that I knew on her breast!
Would you have me forget? Or remembering
Say that her love had bloomed from Hell?
Then Blessed be Hell! And let Heaven sing
“Te Deum laudamus,” until it swell
And ring and roll to the utterest earth,
That the damned are free,—since out of sin
Came the whiteness that shamed all ransomed worth
Till God opened the gates, saying “Enter in!”
What! In the face of the witness I bear
To her measureless love and her purity,
Still of your hate would you make me to share,
Despising that she gave life to me?
You would have me stand at her helpless grave,
To dig through its earth with a venomed dart!
This is Honor! and Right! and Brave!
To fling a stone at her pulseless heart!
This is Virtue! To blast the lips
Speechless beneath the Silence dread!
To lash with Slander’s scorpion whips
The voiceless, defenseless, helpless dead!
God! I turn to an adder now! Back upon you
I hurl your scorn! Bind the scarlet upon your brow! Ye it is, who are “bastard born”!
Touch me not! These hands of mine
Despise your fairness—the leper’s white!
Tanned and hardened and black with grime,
They are clean beside your souls to-night!
Basely born! ‘Tis ye are base!
Ye who would guerdon holy trust
With slavish law to a tyrant race,
To sow the earth with the seed of lust.
Base! By Heaven! Prate of peace,
When your garments are red with the stain of wars.
Reeling with passion’s mad release
By your sickly gaslight damn the stars!
Blurred with wine ye behold the snow
Smirched with the foulness that blots within!
What of purity can ye know,
Ye ten-fold children of Hell and Sin?
Ye to judge her! Ye to cast
The stone of wrath from your house of glass!
Know ye the Law, that ye dare to blast
The bell of gold with your clanging brass?
Know ye the harvest the reapers reap
Who drop in the furrow the seed of scorn?
Out of this anguish ye harrow deep,
Ripens the sentence: “Ye, bastard born!”
Aye, sin-begotten, hear the curse;
Not mine—not hers—but the fatal Law!
“Who bids one suffer, shall suffer worse;
Who scourges, himself shall be scourgèd raw!
“For the thoughts ye think, and the deeds ye do,
Move on, and on, till the flood is high,
And the dread dam bursts, and the waves roar through,
Hurling a cataract dirge to the sky!
“To-night ye are deaf to the beggar’s prayer;
To-morrow the thieves shall batter your wall!
Ye shall feel the weight of a starved child’s care
When your warders under the Mob’s feet fall!
“‘Tis the roar of the whirlwind ye invoke
When ye scatter the wind of your brother’s moans;
‘Tis the red of your hate on your own head broke,
When the blood of the murdered spatters the stones!
“Hark ye! Out of the reeking slums,
Thick with the fetid stench of crime,
Boiling up through their sickening scums,
Bubbles that burst through the crimson wine,
“Voices burst—with terrible sound,
Crying the truth your dull souls ne’er saw! We are your sentence! The wheel turns round!
The bastard spawn of your bastard law!”
This is bastard: That Man should say
How Love shall love, and how Life shall live!
Setting a tablet to groove God’s way,
Measuring how the divine shall give!
O, Evil Hearts! Ye have maddened me,
That I should interpret the voice of God!
Quiet! Quiet! O angered Sea!
Quiet! I go to her blessed sod!
Mother, Mother, I come to you!
Down in your grasses I press my face!
Under the kiss of their cold, pure dew,
I may dream that I lie in the dear old place!
Mother, sweet Mother, take me back,
Into the bosom from whence I came!
Take me away from the cruel rack,
Take me out of the parching flame!
Fold me again with your beautiful hair,
Speak to this terrible heaving Sea!
Over me pour the soothing of prayer,
The words of the Love-child of Galilee:
“Peace—be still!” Still,—could I but hear!
Softly,—I listen.—O fierce heart, cease!
Softly,—I breathe not,—low,—in my ear,—
Mother, Mother—I heard you!—Peace!
Enterprise, Kansas, January, 1891.
(This hymn was written at the request of a Christian Science friend who proposed to set it to music. It did not represent my beliefs either then or since, but rather what I wish might be my beliefs, had I not an inexorable capacity for seeing things as they are,—a vast scheme of mutual murder, with no justice anywhere, and no God in the soul or out of it.)
I am at peace—no storm can ever touch me;
On my clear heights the sunshine only falls;
Far, far below glides the phantom voice of sorrows,
In peace-lifted light the Silence only calls.
Ah, Soul, ascend! The mountain way, up-leading,
Bears to the heights whereon the Blest have trod!
Lay down the burden;—stanch the heart’s sad bleeding;
Be ye at peace, for know that Ye are God!
Not long the way, not far in a dim heaven;
In the locked Self seek ye the guiding star:
Clear shine its rays, illumining the shadow;
There, where God is, there, too, O Souls ye are.
Ye are at one, and bound in Him forever,
Ev’n as the wave is bound in the great sea;
Never to drift beyond, below Him, never!
Whole as God is, so, even so, are ye.
YOU AND I
(A reply to “You and I in the Golden Weather,” by Dyer D. Lum.)
You and I, in the sere, brown weather,
When clouds hang thick in the frowning sky,
When rain-tears drip on the bloomless heather,
Unheeding the storm-blasts will walk together,
And look to each other—You and I.
You and I, when the clouds are shriven
To show the cliff-broods of lightnings high;
When over the ramparts, swift, thunder-driven,
Rush the bolts of Hate from a Hell-lit Heaven,
Will smile at each other—You and I.
You and I, when the bolts are falling,
The hot air torn with the earth’s wild cries,
Will lean through the darkness where Death is calling,
Will search through the shadows where Night is palling,
And find the light in each other’s eyes.
You and I, when black sheets of water
Drench and tear us and drown our breath,
Below this laughter of Hell’s own daughter,
Above the smoke of the storm-girt slaughter,
Will hear each other and gleam at Death.
You and I, in the gray night dying,
When over the east-land the dawn-beams fly,
Down in the groans, in the low, faint crying,
Down where the thick blood is blackly lying,
Will reach out our weak arms, You and I.
You and I, in the cold, white weather,
When over our corpses the pale lights lie,
Will rest at last from the dread endeavor,
Pressed to each other, for parting—never!
Our dead lips together, You and I.
You and I, when the years in flowing
Have left us behind with all things that die,
With the rot of our bones shall give soil for growing
The loves of the Future, made sweet for blowing
By the dew of the kiss of a last good-bye!
THE TOAST OF DESPAIR
We have cried,—and the Gods are silent;
We have trusted,—and been betrayed;
We have loved,—and the fruit was ashes;
We have given,—the gift was weighed.
We know that the heavens are empty,
That friendship and love are names;
That truth is an ashen cinder,
The end of life’s burnt-out flames.
Vainly and long have we waited,
Through the night of the human roar,
For a single song on the harp of Hope,
Or a ray from a day-lit shore.
Songs aye come floating, marvelous sweet,
And bow-dyed flashes gleam;
But the sweets are Lies, and the weary feet
Run after a marsh-light beam.
In the hour of our need the song departs,
And the sea-moans of sorrow swell;
The siren mocks with a gurgling laugh
That is drowned in the deep death-knell.
The light we chased with our stumbling feet
As the goal of happier years,
Swings high and low and vanishes,—
The bow-dyes were of our tears.
God is a lie, and Faith is a lie,
And a tenfold lie is Love;
Life is a problem without a why,
And never a thing to prove.
It adds, and subtracts, and multiplies,
And divides without aim or end;
Its answers all false, though false-named true,—
Wife, husband, lover, friend.
We know it now, and we care no more;
What matters life or death?
We tiny insects emerge from earth,
Suffer, and yield our breath.
Like ants we crawl on our brief sand-hill,
Dreaming of “mighty things,”—
Lo, they crunch, like shells in the ocean’s wrath,
In the rush of Time’s awful wings.
The sun smiles gold, and the planets white,
And a billion stars smile, still;
Yet, fierce as we, each wheels towards death,
And cannot stay his will.
Then build, ye fools, your mighty things,
That Time shall set at naught;
Grow warm with the song the sweet Lie sings,
And the false bow your tears have wrought.
For us, a truce to Gods, loves, and hopes,
And a pledge to fire and wave;
A swifter whirl to the dance of death,
And a loud huzzah for the Grave!
(To Dyer D. Lum, my friend and teacher, who died April 6, 1893.)
Great silent heart! These barren drops of grief
Are not for you, attained unto your rest;
This sterile salt upon the withered leaf
Of love, is mine—mine the dark burial guest.
Far, far within that deep, untroubled sea
We watched together, walking on the sands,
Your soul has melted,—painless, silent, free;
Mine the wrung heart, mine the clasped, useless hands.
Into the whirl of life, where none remember,
I bear your image, ever unforgot;
The “Whip-poor-will,” still “wailing in December,”
Cries the same cry—cries, cries, and ceases not.
The future years with all their waves of faces
Roll shoreward singing the great undertone;
Yours is not there;—in the old, well-loved places
I look, and pass, and watch the sea alone.
Alone along the gleaming, white sea-shore,
The sea-spume spraying thick around my head,
Through all the beat of waves and winds that roar,
I go, remembering that you are dead.
That you are dead, and nowhere is there one
Like unto you;—and nowhere Love leaps Death;—
And nowhere may the broken race be run;—
Nowhere unsealed the seal that none gainsaith.
Yet in my ear that deep, sweet undertone
Grows deeper, sweeter, solemner to me,—
Dreaming your dreams, watching the light that shone
So whitely to you, yonder, on the sea.
Your voice is there, there in the great life-sound—
Your eyes are there, out there, within the light;
Your heart, within the pulsing Race-heart drowned,
Beats in the immortality of Right.
O Life, I love you for the love of him
Who showed me all your glory and your pain!
“Unto Nirvana”—so the deep tones sing—
And there—and there—we—shall—be—one—again.
Greensburg, Pa., April 9th, 1893.
OUT OF THE DARKNESS
Who am I? Only one of the commonest common people,
Only a worked-out body, a shriveled and withered soul,
What right have I to sing then? None; and I do not, I cannot.
Why ruin the rhythm and rhyme of the great world’s songs with moaning?
I know not—nor why whistles must shriek, wheels ceaselessly mutter;
Nor why all I touch turns to clanging and clashing and discord;
I know not;—I know only this,—I was born to this, live in it hourly,
Go round with it, hum with it, curse with it, would laugh with it, had it laughter;
It is my breath—and that breath goes outward from me in moaning.
O you, up there, I have heard you; I am “God’s image defaced,”
“In heaven reward awaits me,” “hereafter I shall be perfect”;
Ages you’ve sung that song, but what is it to me, think you?
If you heard down here in the smoke and the smut, in the smear and the offal,
In the dust, in the mire, in the grime and in the slime, in the hideous darkness,
How the wheels turn your song into sounds of horror and loathing and cursing,
The offer of lust, the sneer of contempt and acceptance, thieves’ whispers,
The laugh of the gambler, the suicide’s gasp, the yell of the drunkard,
If you heard them down here you would cry, “The reward of such is damnation,”
If you heard them, I say, your song of “rewarded hereafter” would fail.
You, too, with your science, your titles, your books, and your long explanations
That tell me how I am come up out of the dust of the cycles,
Out of the sands of the sea, out of the unknown primeval forests,—
Out of the growth of the world have become the bud and the promise,
Out of the race of the beasts have arisen, proud and triumphant,—
You, if you knew how your words rumble round in the wheels of labor!
If you knew how my hammering heart beats, “Liar, liar, you lie!
Out of all buds of the earth we are most blasted and blighted!
What beast of all the beasts is not prouder and freer than we?”
You, too, who sing in high words of the glory of Man universal,
The beauty of sacrifice, debt of the future, the present immortal,
The glory of use, absorption by Death of the being in Being,
You, if you knew what jargon it makes, down here, would be quiet.
Oh, is there no one to find or to speak a meaning to me,
To me as I am,—the hard, the ignorant, withered-souled worker?
To me upon whom God and Science alike have stamped “failure,”
To me who know nothing but labor, nothing but sweat, dirt, and sorrow,
To me whom you scorn and despise, you up there who sing while I moan?
To me as I am,—for me as I am—not dying but living; Not my future, my present! my body, my needs, my desires! Is there no one,
In the midst of this rushing of phantoms—of Gods, of Science, of Logic,
Of Philosophy, Morals, Religion, Economy,—all this that helps not,
All these ghosts at whose altars you worship, these ponderous, marrowless
Fictions, Is there no one who thinks, is there nothing to help this dull moaning me?
Philadelphia, April, 1893.
The dust of a hundred years
Is on thy breast,
And thy day and thy night of tears
Are centurine rest.
Thou to whom joy was dumb,
Life a broken rhyme,
Lo, thy smiling time is come,
And our weeping time.
Thou who hadst sponge and myrrh
And a bitter cross,
Smile, for the day is here
That we know our loss;—
Loss of thine undone deed,
Thy unfinished song,
Th’ unspoken word for our need,
Th’ unrighted wrong;
Smile, for we weep, we weep,
For the unsoothed pain,
The unbound wound burned deep,
That we might gain.
Mother of sorrowful eyes
In the dead old days,
Mother of many sighs,
Of pain-shod ways;
Mother of resolute feet
Through all the thorns,
Mother soul-strong, soul-sweet,—
Lo, after storms
Have broken and beat thy dust
For a hundred years,
Thy memory is made just,
And the just man hears.
Thy children kneel and repeat:
“Though dust be dust,
Though sod and coffin and sheet
And moth and rust
Have folded and molded and pressed,
Yet they cannot kill;
In the heart of the world at rest
She liveth still.”
Philadelphia, April 27th, 1893.
THE GODS AND THE PEOPLE
What have you done, O skies,
That the millions should kneel to you?
Why should they lift wet eyes,
Grateful with human dew?
Why should they clasp their hands,
And bow at thy shrines, O heaven,
Thanking thy high commands
For the mercies that thou hast given?
What have those mercies been,
O thou, who art called the Good,
Who trod through a world of sin,
And stood where the felon stood?
What is that wondrous peace
Vouchsafed to the child of dust,
For whom all doubt shall cease
In the light of thy perfect trust?
How hast Thou heard their prayers
Smoking up from the bleeding sod,
Who, crushed by their weight of cares,
Cried up to Thee, Most High God?
Where the swamps of Humanity sicken,
Read the answer, in dumb, white scars!
You, Skies, gave the sore and the stricken
The light of your far-off stars!
The children who plead are driven,
Shelterless, through the street,
Receiving the mercy of Heaven
Hard-frozen in glittering sleet!
The women who prayed for pity,
Who called on the saving Name,
Through the walks of your merciless city
Are crying the rent of shame.
The starving, who gazed on the plenty
In which they might not share,
Have died in their hunger, rent by
The anguish of unheard prayer!
The weary who plead for remission,
For a moment, only, release,
Have sunk, with unheeded petition:
This is the Christ-pledged Peace.
These are the mercies of Heaven,
These are the answers of God,
To the prayers of the agony-shriven,
From the paths where the millions plod!
The silent scorn of the sightless!
The callous ear of the deaf!
The wrath of might to the mightless!
The shroud, and the mourning sheaf!
Light—to behold their squalor!
Breath—to draw in life’s pain!
Voices to plead and call for
Heaven’s help!—hearts to bleed—in vain!
What have you done, O Church,
That the weary should bless your name?
Should come with faith’s holy torch
To light up your altar’d fane?
Why should they kiss the folds
Of the garment of your High Priest?
Or bow to the chalice that holds
The wine of your Sacred Feast?
Have you blown out the breath of their sighs?
Have you strengthened the weak, the ill?
Have you wiped the dark tears from their eyes,
And bade their sobbings be still?
Have you touched, have you known, have you felt,
Have you bent and softly smiled
In the face of the woman, who dwelt
In lewdness—to feed her child?
Have you heard the cry in the night
Going up from the outraged heart,
Masked from the social sight
By the cloak that but angered the smart?
Have you heard the children’s moan,
By the light of the skies denied?
Answer, O Walls of Stone,
In the name of your Crucified!
Out of the clay of their heart-break,
From the red dew of its sod,
You have mortar’d your brick, for Christ’s sake,
And reared a palace to God!
Your painters have dipped their brushes
In the tears and the blood of the race,
Whom, LIVING, your dark frown crushes—
And limned—a DEAD Savior’s face!
You have seized, in the name of God, the
Child’s crust from famine’s dole;
You have taken the price of its body
And sung a mass for its soul!
You have smiled on the man, who, deceiving,
Paid exemption to ease your wrath!
You have cursed the poor fool who believed him,
Though her body lay prone in your path!
You have laid the seal on the lip!
You have bid us to be content!
To bow ‘neath our master’s whip,
And give thanks for the scourge—“heav’n sent.”
These, O Church, are your thanks;
These are the fruits without flaw,
That flow from the chosen ranks
Who keep in your perfect law;
Doors hard-locked on the homeless!
Stained glass windows for bread!
On the living, the law of dumbness,
And the law of need, for—the dead!
Better the dead, who, not needing,
Go down to the vaults of the Earth,
Than the living whose hearts lie bleeding,
Crushed by you at their very birth.
What have you done, O State,
That the toilers should shout your ways;
Should light up the fires of their hate
If a “traitor” should dare dispraise?
How do you guard the trust
That the people repose in you?
Do you keep to the law of the just,
And hold to the changeless true?
What do you mean when you say
“The home of the free and brave”?
How free are your people, pray?
Have you no such thing as a slave?
What are the lauded “rights,”
Broad-sealed, by your Sovereign Grace?
What are the love-feeding sights
You yield to your subject race?
The rights!—Ah! the right to toil,
That another, idle, may reap;
The right to make fruitful the soil
And a meager pittance to keep!
The right of a woman to own
Her body, spotlessly pure,
And starve in the street—alone!
The right of the wronged—to endure!
The right of the slave—to his yoke!
The right of the hungry—to pray!
The right of the toiler—to vote
For the master who buys his day!
You have sold the sun and the air!
You have dealt in the price of blood!
You have taken the lion’s share
While the lion is fierce for food!
You have laid the load of the strong
On the helpless, the young, the weak!
You have trod out the purple of wrong;—
Beware where its wrath shall wreak!
“Let the Voice of the People be heard! O——”
You strangled it with your rope!
Denied the last dying word,
While your Trap and your Gallows spoke!
But a thousand voices rise
Where the words of the martyr fell;
The seed springs fast to the Skies
Watered deep from that bloody well!
Hark! Low down you will hear
The storm in the underground!
Listen, Tyrants, and fear!
Quake at that muffled sound!
“Heavens, that mocked our dust,
Smile on, in your pitiless blue!
Silent as you are to us,
So silent are we to you!
“Churches that scourged our brains!
Priests that locked fast our hands!
We planted the torch in your chains:
Now gather the burning brands!
“States that have given us LAW,
When we asked for THE RIGHT TO EARN BREAD!
The Sword that Damocles saw
By a hair swings over your head!
“What ye have sown ye shall reap:
Teardrops, and Blood, and Hate,
Gaunt gather before your Seat,
And knock at your palace gate!
“There are murderers on your Thrones!
There are thieves in your Justice-halls!
White Leprosy cancers their stones,
And gnaws at their worm-eaten walls!
“And the Hand of Belshazzar’s Feast
Writes over, in flaming light:
Thought’s kingdom no more to the Priest;
Nor the Law of Right unto Might.”
** JOHN P. ALTGELD
(After an incarceration of six long years in Joliet state prison for an act of which they were entirely innocent, namely, the throwing of the Haymarket bomb, in Chicago, May 4th, 1886, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden, were liberated by Gov. Altgeld, who thus sacrificed his political career to an act of justice.)
There was a tableau! Liberty’s clear light
Shone never on a braver scene than that.
Here was a prison, there a Man who sat
High in the Halls of state! Beyond, the might
Of ignorance and Mobs, whose hireling press
Yells at their bidding like the slaver’s hounds,
Ready with coarse caprice to curse or bless,
To make or unmake rulers!—Lo, there sounds
A grating of the doors! And three poor men,
Helpless and hated, having naught to give,
Come from their long-sealed tomb, look up, and live,
And thank this Man that they are free again. And
He—to all the world this Man dares say,
“Curse as you will! I have been just this day.”
Philadelphia, June, 1893.
THE CRY OF THE UNFIT
The gods have left us, the creeds have crumbled;
There are none to pity and none to care:
Our fellows have crushed us where we have stumbled;
They have made of our bodies a bleeding stair.
Loud rang the bells in the Christmas steeples;
We heard them ring through the bitter morn:
The promise of old to the weary peoples
Came floating sweetly,—“Christ is born.”
But the words were mocking, sorely mocking,
As we sought the sky through our freezing tears,
We children, who’ve hung the Christmas stocking,
And found it empty two thousand years.
No, there is naught in the old creed for us;
Love and peace are to those who win;
To them the delight of the golden chorus,
To us the hunger and shame and sin.
Why then live on since our lives are fruitless,
Since peace is certain and death is rest;
Since our masters tell us the strife is bootless,
And Nature scorns her unwelcome guest?
You who have climbed on our aching bodies,
You who have thought because we have toiled,
Priests of the creed of a newer goddess,
Searchers in depths where the Past was foiled.
Speak in the name of the faith that you cherish!
Give us the truth! We have bought it with woe!
Must we forever thus worthlessly perish,
Burned in the desert and lost in the snow?
Trampled, forsaken, foredoomed, and forgotten,—
Helplessly tossed like the leaf in the storm?
Bred for the shambles, with curses begotten,
Useless to all save the rotting grave-worm?
Give us some anchor to stay our mad drifting!
Give, for your own sakes! for lo, where our blood,
A red tide to drown you, is steadily lifting!
Help! or you die in the terrible flood!
To Gen. M. M. Trumbull.
(No man better than Gen. Trumbull defended my martyred comrades in Chicago.)
Back to thy breast, O Mother, turns thy child,
He whom thou garmentedst in steel of truth,
And sent forth, strong in the glad heart of youth,
To sing the wakening song in ears beguiled
By tyrants’ promises and flatterers’ smiles;
These searched his eyes, and knew nor threats nor wiles
Might shake the steady stars within their blue,
Nor win one truckling word from off those lips,—
No—not for gold nor praise, nor aught men do
To dash the Sun of Honor with eclipse,
O Mother Liberty, those eyes are dark,
And the brave lips are white and cold and dumb;
But fair in other souls, through time to come,
Fanned by thy breath glows the Immortal Spark.
Philadelphia, May, 1894.
THE WANDERING JEW
(The above poem was suggested by the reading of an article describing an interview with the “wandering Jew,” in which he was represented as an incorrigible grumbler. The Jew has been, and will continue to be, the grumbler of earth,—until the prophetic ideal of justice shall be realized: “BLESSED BE HE.”)
“Go on.”—“THOU shalt go on till I come.”
Pale, ghostly Vision from the coffined years,
Planting the cross with thy world-wandering feet,
Stern Watcher through the centuries’ storm and beat,
In those sad eyes, between those grooves of tears,—
Those eyes like caves where sunlight never dwells
And stars but dimly shine—stand sentinels
That watch with patient hope, through weary days,
That somewhere, sometime, He indeed may “come,”
And thou at last find thee a resting place,
Blast-driven leaf of Man, within the tomb.
Aye, they have cursed thee with the bitter curse,
And driven thee with scourges o’er the world;
Tyrants have crushed thee, Ignorance has hurled
Its black anathema;—but Death’s pale hearse,
That bore them graveward, passed them silently;
And vainly didst thou stretch thy hands and cry,
“Take me instead”;—not yet for thee the time,
Not yet—not yet: thy bruised and mangled limbs
Must still drag on, still feed the Vulture, Crime,
With bleeding flesh, till rust its steel beak dims.
Aye, “till He come,”—He,—freedom, justice, peace—
Till then shalt thou cry warning through the earth,
Unheeding pain, untouched by death and birth,
Proclaiming “Woe, woe, woe,” till men shall cease
To seek for Christ within the senseless skies,
And, joyous, find him in each other’s eyes.
Then shall be builded such a tomb for thee
Shall beggar kings’ as diamonds outshine dew!
The Universal Heart of Man shall be
The sacred urn of “the accursed Jew.”
THE FEAST OF VULTURES
(As the three Anarchists, Vaillant, Henry and Caserio, were led to their several executions, a voice from the prison cried loudly, “Vive l’anarchie!” Through watch and ward the cry escaped, and no man owned the voice; but the cry is still resounding through the world.)
A moan in the gloam in the air-peaks heard—
The Bird of Omen—the wild, fierce Bird,
Aflight In the night,
Like a whiz of light,
Arrowy winging before the storm,
Far away flinging,
The whistling, singing,
White-curdled drops, wind-blown and warm,
From its beating, flapping,
Thunderous wings; Crashing and clapping
The split night swings,
And rocks and totters,
Bled of its levin,
And reels and mutters
A curse to Heaven!
Reels and mutters and rolls and dies,
With a wild light streaking its black, blind eyes.
Far, far, far,
Through the red, mad morn,
Like a hurtling star,
Through the air upborne,
Speeds—and behind, through the cloud-rags torn,
Gather and wheel a million wings,
Clanging as iron where the hammer rings;
The whipped sky shivers,
The White Gate shakes,
The ripped throne quivers,
The dumb God wakes,
And feels in his heart the talon-stings—
The dead bodies hurled from beaks for slings.
“Ruin! Ruin!” the Whirlwind cries,
And it leaps at his throat and tears his eyes;
“Death for death, as ye long have dealt;
The heads of your victims your heads shall pelt;
The blood ye wrung to get drunk upon,
Drink, and be poisoned! On, Herald, on!”
How a moan is grown!
A cry hurled high ‘gainst a scaffold’s joist!
The Voice of Defiance—the loud, wild Voice!
Through the world,
A smoke-wreath curled
(Breath ‘round hot kisses) around a fire!
See! the ground hisses
With curses, and glisses
With red-streaming blood-clots of long-frozen ire,
Waked by the flying Wild voice as it passes;
Groaning and crying,
The surge of the masses
Rolls and flashes
With thunderous roar—
Seams and lashes
The livid shore—
Seams and lashes and crunches and beats,
And drags a ragged wall to its howling retreats!
Swift, swift, swift,
‘Thwart the blood-rain’s fall,
Through the fire-shot rift
Of the broken wall,
The storm-strong sighing,
Flies—and from under
Night’s lifted pall,
Swarming, menace ten million darts,
Uplifting fragments of human shards!
Ah, white teeth chatter,
And dumb jaws fall,
While winged fires scatter
Till gloom gulfs all
Save the boom of the cannon that storm the forts
That the people bombard with their comrades’ hearts;
“Vengeance! Vengeance!” the voices scream,
And the vulture pinions whirl and stream!
“Knife for knife, as ye long have dealt;
The edge ye whetted for us be felt,
Ye chopper of necks, on your own, your own!
Baer it, Coward!
On, Prophet, on!”
Behold how high Rolls a prison cry!
Philadelphia, August 1894.
THE SUICIDE’S DEFENSE
(Of all the stupidities wherewith the law-making power has signaled its own incapacity for dealing with the disorders of society, none appears so utterly stupid as the law which punishes an attempted suicide. To the question “What have you to say in your defense?” I conceive the poor wretch might reply as follows:)
To say in my defense? Defense of what?
Defense to whom? And why defense at all?
Have I wronged any? Let that one accuse!
Some priest there mutters I “have outraged God”!
Let God then try me, and let none dare judge
Himself as fit to put Heaven’s ermine on!
Again I say, let the wronged one accuse.
Aye, silence! There is none to answer me.
And whom could I, a homeless, friendless tramp,
To whom all doors are shut, all hearts are locked,
All hands withheld—whom could I wrong, indeed
By taking that which benefited none
And menaced all?
Aye, since ye will it so,
Know then your risk. But mark, ‘tis not defense,
‘Tis accusation that I hurl at you.
See to’t that ye prepare your own defense.
My life, I say, is an eternal threat
To you and yours; and therefore it were well
To have foreborne your unasked services.
And why? Because I hate you!
Every drop Of blood that circles in your plethoric veins
Was wrung from out the gaunt and sapless trunks
Of men like me, who in your cursed mills
Were crushed like grapes within the wine-press ground.
To us ye leave the empty skin of life;
The heart of it, the sweet of it, ye pour
To fete your dogs and mistresses withal!
Your mistresses! Our daughters! Bought, for bread,
To grace the flesh that once was father’s arms!
Yes, I accuse you that ye murdered me!
Ye killed the Man—and this that speaks to you
Is but the beast that ye have made of me! What!
Is it life to creep and crawl and beg,
And slink for shelter where rats congregate?
And for one’s ideal dream of a fat meal?
Is it, then, life, to group like pigs in sties,
And bury decency in common filth,
Because, forsooth, your income must be made,
Though human flesh rot in your plague-rid dens?
Is it, then, life, to wait another’s nod,
For leave to turn yourself to gold for him?
Would it be life to you? And was I less
Than you? Was I not born with hopes and dreams
And pains and passions even as were you?
But these ye have denied. Ye seized the earth,
Though it was none of yours, and said:
“Hereon Shall none rest, walk or work, till first to me
Ye render tribute!” Every art of man,
Born to make light of the burdens of the world,
Ye also seized, and made a tenfold curse
To crush the man beneath the thing he made.
Houses, machines, and lands—all, all are yours;
And us you do not need. When we ask work
Ye shake your heads. Homes?—Ye evict us.
Bread?— “Here, officer, this fellow’s begging.
Jail’s The place for him!”
After the stripes, what next?— Poison!—I took it!—
Now you say ‘twas sin
To take this life which troubled you so much.
Sin to escape insult, starvation, brands
Of felony, inflicted for the crime
Of asking food! Ye hypocrites!
Within Your secret hearts the sin is that I failed!
Because I failed ye judge me to the stripes,
And the hard toil denied when I was free.
So be it. But beware!—A prison cell’s
An evil bed to grow morality!
Black swamps breed black miasms; sickly soils
Yield poison fruit; snakes warmed to life will sting.
This time I was content to go alone;
Perchance the next I shall not be so kind.
Philadelphia, September, 1894.
A NOVEL OF COLOR
(The following is a true and particular account of what happened on the night of December 11, 1895; but it is likely to be unintelligible to all save the Chipmunks and the Elephant, who, however, will no doubt recognize themselves.)
Chipmunks three sat on a tree,
And they were as green as green could be;
They cracked nuts early, they cracked nuts late,
And chirruped and chirruped, and ate and ate;
“‘Tis a pity of chipmunks without nuts,
And a gnawing hunger in their guts;
But they should be wise like you and me,
And color themselves to suit the tree.
Ah chee, ah chee, ah chee, ah chee!
Gay chaps are we, we chipmunks three!”
An elephant white in sorry plight,
Hungry and dirty and sad bedight,
Straggled one day on the nutting ground;
“Lo,” chattered the chipmunks, “our chance is found!
Behold the beast’s color; were he as we,
Green and sleek and nut-full were he!
But the beast is big, and the beast is white,
And his skin full of emptiness serves him right!
Ah chee, ah chee, ah chee, ah chee!
Let us ‘sit on him, sit on him,’ chipmunks three.”
Three chipmunks green right gay were seen
To leap on the beast his brows between;
They munched at his ears and chiffered his chin,
And sat and sat and sat on him!
Not a single available spot of hide
Where a well-sleeked chipmunk could sit with pride,
But was chipped and chipped and chip-chip-munked,
Till aught but an elephant must have flunked.
“Ah chee, ah chee, ah chee, ah chee!
What a ride we’re having, we chipmunks three!”
“What was it blew? Ah whew, ah whew!”
Three green chipmunks have all turned blue!
The elephant smiles a peaceful smile,
And lifts off a tree-trunk sans haste or guile.
“Seize him, seize him! He’s stealing our tree!
We’re undone, undone,” shriek the chipmunks three.
The elephant calmly upraised his trunk,
And said, “Did I hear a green chipmunk?”
Germinal!—The Field of Mars is plowing,
And hard the steel that cuts, and hot the breath
Of the great Oxen, straining flanks and bowing
Beneath his goad, who guides the share of Death.
Germinal!—The Dragon’s teeth are sowing,
And stern and white the sower flings the seed
He shall not gather, though full swift the growing;
Straight down Death’s furrow treads, and does not heed.
Germinal!—The Helmet Heads are springing
Far up the Field of Mars in gleaming files;
With wild war notes the bursting earth is ringing.
Within his grave the sower sleeps, and smiles.
London, October, 1897.
“LIGHT UPON WALDHEIM”
(The figure on the monument over the grave of the Chicago martyrs in Waldheim Cemetery is a warrior woman, dropping with her left hand a crown upon the forehead of a fallen man just past his agony, and with her right drawing a dagger from her bosom.)
Light upon Waldheim! And the earth is gray;
A bitter wind is driving from the north;
The stone is cold, and strange cold whispers say:
“What do ye here with Death? Go forth! Go forth!”
Is this thy word, O Mother, with stern eyes,
Crowning thy dead with stone-caressing touch?
May we not weep o’er him that martyred lies,
Slain in our name, for that he loved us much?
May we not linger till the day is broad?
Nay, none are stirring in this stinging dawn—
None but poor wretches that make no moan to God:
What use are these, O thou with dagger drawn?
“Go forth, go forth! Stand not to weep for these,
Till, weakened with your weeping, like the snow
Ye melt, dissolving in a coward peace!”
Light upon Waldheim! Brother, let us go!
London, October, 1897.
I went before God, and he said,
“What fruit of the life I gave?”
“Father,” I said, “It is dead,
And nothing grows on the grave.”
Wroth was the Lord and stern:
“Hadst thou not to answer me?
Shall the fruitless root not burn,
And be wasted utterly?”
“Father,” I said, “forgive!
For thou knowest what I have done;
That another’s life might live
Mine turned to a barren stone.”
But the Father of Life sent fire
And burned the root in the grave;
And the pain in my heart is dire
For the thing that I could not save.
For the thing it was laid on me
By the Lord of Life to bring;
Fruit of the ungrown tree
That died for no watering.
Another has gone to God,
And his fruit has pleased
Him well; For he sitteth high, while I—plod
The dry ways down towards hell.
Though thou knowest, thou knowest, Lord,
Whose tears made that fruit’s root wet;
Yet thou drivest me forth with a sword,
And thy Guards by the Gate are set.
Thou wilt give me up to the fire,
And none shall deliver me;
For I followed my heart’s desire,
And I labored not for thee:
I labored for him thou hast set
On thy right hand, high and fair;
Thou lovest him, Lord; and yet
‘Twas my love won Him there.
But this is the thing that hath been,
Hath been since the world began,—
That love against self must sin,
And a woman die for a man.
And this is the thing that shall be,
Shall be till the whole world die, Kismet:—
My doom is on me! Why murmur since I am I?
Philadelphia, August, 1898.
THE ROAD BUILDERS
(“Who built the beautiful roads?” queried a friend of the present order, as we walked one day along the macadamized driveway of Fairmount Park.)
I saw them toiling in the blistering sun,
Their dull, dark faces leaning toward the stone,
Their knotted fingers grasping the rude tools,
Their rounded shoulders narrowing in their chest,
The sweat drops dripping in great painful beads.
I saw one fall, his forehead on the rock,
The helpless hand still clutching at the spade,
The slack mouth full of earth.
And he was dead.
His comrades gently turned his face, until
The fierce sun glittered hard upon his eyes,
Wide open, staring at the cruel sky.
The blood yet ran upon the jagged stone;
But it was ended. He was quite, quite dead:
Driven to death beneath the burning sun,
Driven to death upon the road he built.
He was no “hero,” he; a poor, black man,
Taking “the will of God” and asking naught;
Think of him thus, when next your horse’s feet
Strike out the flint spark from the gleaming road;
Think that for this, this common thing, The Road,
A human creature died; ‘tis a blood gift,
To an o’erreaching world that does not thank.
Ignorant, mean and soulless was he? Well,—
Still human; and you drive upon his corpse.
Philadelphia, July 24, 1900.
We are the souls that crept and cried in the days when they tortured men;
His was the spirit that walked erect, and met the beast in its den.
Ours are the eyes that were dim with tears for the thing they shrunk to see;
His was the glance that was crystal keen with the light that makes men free.
Ours are the hands that were wrung in pain, in helpless pain and shame;
His was the resolute hand that struck, steady and keen to its aim.
Ours are the lips that quivered with rage, that cursed and prayed in a breath:
His was the mouth that opened but once to speak from the throat of Death.
“Assassin, Assassin!” the World cries out, with a shake of its dotard head;
“Germinal!” rings back the grave where lies the Dead that is not dead.
“Germinal, Germinal,” sings the Wind that is driving before the Storm;
“Few are the drops that have fallen yet,—scattered, but red and warm.”
“Germinal, Germinal,” sing the Fields, where furrows of men are plowed;
“Ye shall gather a harvest over-rich, when the ear at the full is bowed.”
Springing, springing, at every breath, the Word of invincible strife,
The word of the Dead, that is calling loud down the battle ranks of Life!
For these are the Dead that live, though the earth upon them lie:
But the doers of deeds of the Night of the Dead, they are the Live that die.
Torresdale, Pa., August 1, 1900.
AVE ET VALE
Comrades, what matter the watch-night tells
That a New Year comes or goes?
What to us are the crashing bells
That clang out the Century’s close?
What to us is the gala dress?
The whirl of the dancing feet?
The glitter and blare in the laughing press,
And din of the merry street?
Do we not know that our brothers die
In the cold and the dark to-night?
Shelterless faces turned toward the sky
Will not see the New Year’s light!
Wandering children, lonely, lost,
Drift away on the human sea,
While the price of their lives in a glass is tossed
And drunk in a revelry!
Ah, know we not in their feasting halls
Where the loud laugh echoes again,
That brick and stone in the mortared walls
Are the bones of murdered men?
Slowly murdered! By day and day,
The beauty and strength are reft,
Till the Man is sapped and sucked away,
And a Human Rind is left!
A Human Rind, with old, thin hair,
And old, thin voice to pray
For alms in the bitter winter air,—
A knife at his heart alway.
And the pure in heart are impure in flesh
For the cost of a little food:
Lo, when the Gleaner of Time shall thresh,
Let these be accounted good.
For these are they who in bitter blame
Eat the bread whose salt is sin;
Whose bosoms are burned with the scarlet shame,
Till their hearts are seared within.
The cowardly jests of a hundred years
Will be thrown where they pass to-night,
Too callous for hate, and too dry for tears,
The saddest of human blight.
Do we forget them, these broken ones,
That our watch to-night is set?
Nay, we smile in the face of the year that comes Because we do not forget.
We do not forget the tramp on the track,
Thrust out in the wind-swept waste,
The curses of Man upon his back,
And the curse of God in his face.
The stare in the eyes of the buried man
Face down in the fallen mine;
The despair of the child whose bare feet ran
To tread out the rich man’s wine;
The solemn light in the dying gaze
Of the babe at the empty breast,
The wax accusation, the somber glaze
Of its frozen and rigid rest;
They are all in the smile that we turn to the east
To welcome the Century’s dawn;
They are all in our greeting to Night’s high priest,
As we bid the Old Year begone.
Begone and have done, and go down and be dead
Deep drowned in your sea of tears!
We smile as you die, for we wait the red
Morn-gleam of a hundred-years
That shall see the end of the age-old wrong,—
The reapers that have not sown,—
The reapers of men with their sickles strong
Who gather, but have not strown.
For the earth shall be his and the fruits thereof
And to him the corn and wine,
Who labors the hills with an even love
And knows not “thine and mine.”
And the silk shall be to the hand that weaves,
The pearl to him who dives,
The home to the builder; and all life’s sheaves
To the builder of human lives.
And none go blind that another see,
Or die that another live;
And none insult with a charity
That is not theirs to give.
For each of his plenty shall freely share
And take at another’s hand:
Equals breathing the Common Air
And toiling the Common Land.
A dream? A vision? Aye, what you will;
Let it be to you as it seems:
Of this Nightmare Real we have our fill;
To-night is for “pleasant dreams.”
Dreams that shall waken the hope that sleeps
And knock at each torpid Heart
Till it beat drum taps, and the blood that creeps
With a lion’s spring upstart!
For who are we to be bound and drowned
In this river of human blood?
Who are we to lie in a swound,
Half sunk in the river mud?
Are we not they who delve and blast
And hammer and build and burn?
Without us not a nail made fast!
Not a wheel in the world should turn!
Must we, the Giant, await the grace
That is dealt by the puny hand Of him who sits in the feasting place,
While we, his Blind Jest, stand
Between the pillars? Nay, not so:
Aye, if such thing were true,
Better were Gaza again, to show
What the giant’s rage may do!
But yet not this: it were wiser far
To enter the feasting hall
And say to the Masters,
“These things are Not for you alone, but all.”
And this shall be in the Century
That opes on our eyes to-night;
So here’s to the struggle, if it must be,
And to him who fights the fight.
And here’s to the dauntless, jubilant throat
That loud to its Comrade sings,
Till over the earth shrills the mustering note,
And the World Strike’s signal rings.
Philadelphia, January 1, 1901.
(To Gaetano Bresci.)
Requiem, requiem, requiem,
Blood-red blossom of poison stem
Broken for Man,
Swamp-sunk leafage and dungeon bloom,
Seeded bearer of royal doom,
What now is the ban?
What to thee is the island grave?
With desert wind and desolate wave
Will they silence Death?
Can they weight thee now with the heaviest stone?
Can they lay aught on thee with “Be alone,”
That hast conquered breath?
Lo, “it is finished”—a man for a king!
Mark you well who have done this thing:
The flower has roots;
Bitter and rank grow the things of the sea;
Ye shall know what sap ran thick in the tree
When ye pluck its fruits.
Requiem, requiem, requiem,
Sleep on, sleep on, accursed of them
Who work our pain;
A wild Marsh-blossom shall blow again
From a buried root in the slime of men,
On the day of the Great Red Rain.
Written in red their protest stands,
For the Gods of the World to see;
On the dooming wall their bodiless hands
Have blazoned “Upharsin,” and flaring brands
Illumine the message: “Seize the lands!
Open the prisons and make men free!”
Flame out the living words of the dead
Gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!
Your guns have spoken and they are dust.
But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,
Have felt the beat of a wakening drum
Within them sounding—the Dead Men’s tongue—
Calling: “Smite off the ancient rust!”
Have beheld “Resurrexit,” the word of the Dead,
Bear it aloft, O roaring flame!
Skyward aloft, where all may see.
Slaves of the World! Our cause is the same;
One is the immemorial shame;
One is the struggle, and in One name—
Manhood—we battle to set men free.
“Uncurse us the Land!” burn the words of the Dead,
 Since the death of the author this poem has been put to music by the young American composer, George Edwards.