The Patriot Engineer - Poem by George Meredith
'Sirs! may I shake your hands?
My countrymen, I see!
I've lived in foreign lands
Till England's Heaven to me.
A hearty shake will do me good,
And freshen up my sluggish blood.'
Into his hard right hand we struck,
Gave the shake, and wish'd him luck.
'-From Austria I come,
An English wife to win,
And find an English home,
And live and die therein.
Great Lord! how many a year I've pined
To drink old ale and speak my mind!'
Loud rang our laughter, and the shout
Hills round the Meuse-boat echoed about.
'-Ay, no offence: laugh on,
Young gentlemen: I'll join.
Had you to exile gone,
Where free speech is base coin,
You'd sigh to see the jolly nose
Where Freedom's native liquor flows!'
He this time the laughter led,
Dabbling his oily bullet head.
'-Give me, to suit my moods,
An ale-house on a heath,
I'll hand the crags and woods
To B'elzebub beneath.
A fig for scenery! what scene
Can beat a Jackass on a green?'
Gravely he seem'd, with gaze intense,
Putting the question to common sense.
'-Why, there's the ale-house bench:
The furze-flower shining round:
And there's my waiting-wench,
As lissome as a hound.
With 'hail Britannia!' ere I drink,
I'll kiss her with an artful wink.'
Fair flash'd the foreign landscape while
We breath'd again our native Isle.
'-The geese may swim hard-by;
They gabble, and you talk:
You're sure there's not a spy
To mark your name with chalk.
My heart's an oak, and it won't grow
In flower-pots, foreigners must know.'
Pensive he stood: then shook his head
Sadly; held out his fist, and said:
'-You've heard that Hungary's floor'd?
They've got her on the ground.
A traitor broke her sword:
Two despots held her bound.
I've seen her gasping her last hope:
I've seen her sons strung up b' the rope.
'Nine gallant gentlemen
In Arad they strung up!
I work'd in peace till then:-
That poison'd all my cup.
A smell of corpses haunted me:
My nostril sniff'd like life for sea.
'Take money for my hire
From butchers?-not the man!
I've got some natural fire,
And don't flash in the pan; -
A few ideas I reveal'd:-
'Twas well old England stood my shield!
'Said I, 'The Lord of Hosts
Have mercy on your land!
I see those dangling ghosts, -
And you may keep command,
And hang, and shoot, and have your day:
They hold your bill, and you must pay.
''You've sent them where they're strong,
You carrion Double-Head!
I hear them sound a gong
In Heaven above!'-I said.
'My God, what feathers won't you moult
For this!' says I: and then I bolt.
'The Bird's a beastly Bird,
And what is more, a fool.
I shake hands with the herd
That flock beneath his rule.
They're kindly; and their land is fine.
I thought it rarer once than mine.
'And rare would be its lot,
But that he baulks its powers:
It's just an earthen pot
For hearts of oak like ours.
Think! Think!-four days from those frontiers,
And I'm a-head full fifty years.
'It tingles to your scalps,
To think of it, my boys!
Confusion on their Alps,
And all their baby toys!
The mountains Britain boasts are men:
And scale you them, my brethren!'
Cluck, went his tongue; his fingers, snap.
Britons were proved all heights to cap.
And we who worshipp'd crags,
Where purple splendours burn'd,
Our idol saw in rags,
And right about were turn'd.
Horizons rich with trembling spires
On violet twilights lost their fires.
And heights where morning wakes
With one cheek over snow; -
And iron-walled lakes
Where sits the white moon low; -
For us on youthful travel bent,
The robing picturesque was rent.
Wherever Beauty show'd
The wonders of her face,
This man his Jackass rode,
High despot of the place.
Fair dreams of our enchanted life
Fled fast from his shrill island fife.
And yet we liked him well;
We laugh'd with honest hearts:-
He shock'd some inner spell,
And rous'd discordant parts.
We echoed what we half abjured:
And hating, smilingly endured.
Moreover, could we be
To our dear land disloyal?
And were not also we
Of History's blood-Royal?
We glow'd to think how donkeys graze
In England, thrilling at their brays.
For there a man may view
An aspect more sublime
Than Alps against the blue:-
The morning eyes of Time!
The very Ass participates
The glory Freedom radiates!
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