James Thomson

(23 November 1834 - 3 June 1882 / Port Glasgow, Scotland)

A Polish Insurgent


WHAT would you have? said I;
'Tis so easy to go and die,
'Tis so hard to stay and live,
In this alien peace and this comfort callous,
Where only the murderers get the gallows,
Where the jails are for rogues who thieve.

’Tis so easy to go and die,
Where our Country, our Mother, the Martyr,
Moaning in bonds doth lie,
Bleeding with stabs in her breast,
Her throat with a foul clutch prest,
Under the thrice-accursed Tartar.

But Smith, your man of sense,
Ruddy, and broad, and round—like so!
Kindly—but dense, butt dense,
Said to me: “Do not go:
It is hopeless; right is wrong;
The tyrant is too strong.”

Must a man have hope to fight?
Can a man not fight in despair?
Must the soul cower down for the body’s weakness,
And slaver the devil’s hoof with meekness,
Nor care nor dare to share
Certain defeat with the right?

They do not know us, my Mother!
They know not our love, our hate!
And how we would die with each other,
Embracing proud and elate,
Rather than live apart
In peace with shame in the heart.

No hope!—If a heavy anger
Our God hath treasured against us long,
His lightning-shafts from His thunder-clangour
Raining a century down:
We have loved when we went most wrong;
He cannot for ever frown.

No hope!—We can haste to be killed,
That the tale of the victims get filled;
The more of the debt we pay,
The less on our sons shall weigh:
This star through the baleful rack of the cope
Burns red; red is our hope.

O our Mother, thou art noble and fair!
Fair and proud and chaste, thou Queen!
Chained and stabbed in the breast,
Thy throat with a foul clutch prest;
Yet around thee how coarse, how mean,
Are these rich shopwives who stare!

Art thou moaning, O our Mother, through the swoon
Of thine agony of desolation?—
“Do my sons still love me? or can they stand
Gazing afar from a foreign land,
Loving more peace and gold—the boon
Of a people strange, of a sordid nation?'
O our Mother, moan not thus!
We love you as you love us,
And our hearts are wild with thy sorrow:
If we cannot save thee, we are blest
Who can die on thy sacred bleeding breast.—
So we left Smith-Land on the morrow,
And we hasten across the West.

Submitted: Sunday, May 06, 2012

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