William Blake

(28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827 / London)

The French Revolution (excerpt)

Thee the ancientest peer, Duke of Burgundy, rose from the monarch's right hand, red as wines
From his mountains; an odor of war, like a ripe vineyard, rose from his garments,
And the chamber became as a clouded sky; o'er the council he stretch'd his red limbs,
Cloth'd in flames of crimson; as a ripe vineyard stretches over sheaves of corn,
The fierce Duke hung over the council; around him crowd, weeping in his burning robe,
A bright cloud of infant souls; his words fall like purple autumn on the sheaves:
'Shall this marble built heaven become a clay cottage, this earth an oak stool and these mowers
From the Atlantic mountains mow down all this great starry harvest of six thousand years?
92 And shall Necker, the hind of Geneva, stretch out his crook'd sickle o'er fertile France
93 Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms of earth bound in sheaves,
94 And the ancient forests of chivalry hewn, and the joys of the combat burnt for fuel;
95 Till the power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and sceptre from sun and moon,
96 The law and gospel from fire and air, and eternal reason and science
97 From the deep and the solid, and man lay his faded head down on the rock
98 Of eternity, where the eternal lion and eagle remain to devour?
99 This to prevent--urg'd by cries in day, and prophetic dreams hovering in night,
100 To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow'd with plows, whose seed is departing from her--
101 Thy nobles have gather'd thy starry hosts round this rebellious city,
102 To rouze up the ancient forests of Europe, with clarions of cloud breathing war,
103 To hear the horse neigh to the drum and trumpet, and the trumpet and war shout reply.
104 Stretch the hand that beckons the eagles of heaven; they cry over Paris, and wait
105 Till Fayette point his finger to Versailles; the eagles of heaven must have their prey!'
106 He ceas'd, and burn'd silent; red clouds roll round Necker; a weeping is heard o'er the palace.
107 Like a dark cloud Necker paus'd, and like thunder on the just man's burial day he paus'd;
108 Silent sit the winds, silent the meadows, while the husbandman and woman of weakness
109 And bright children look after him into the grave, and water his clay with love,
110 Then turn towards pensive fields; so Necker paus'd, and his visage was covered with clouds.

111 The King lean'd on his mountains, then lifted his head and look'd on his armies, that shone
112 Through heaven, tinging morning with beams of blood; then turning to Burgundy, troubled:
113 'Burgundy, thou wast born a lion! My soul is o'ergrown with distress.
114 For the nobles of France, and dark mists roll round me and blot the writing of God
115 Written in my bosom. Necker rise! leave the kingdom, thy life is surrounded with snares.
116 We have call'd an Assembly, but not to destroy; we have given gifts, not to the weak;
117 I hear rushing of muskets, and bright'ning of swords, and visages redd'ning with war,
118 Frowning and looking up from brooding villages and every dark'ning city.
119 Ancient wonders frown over the kingdom, and cries of women and babes are heard,
120 And tempests of doubt roll around me, and fierce sorrows, because of the nobles of France.
121 Depart! answer not! for the tempest must fall, as in years that are passed away.'

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Submitted: Wednesday, May 09, 2001

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