Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

From 'The Red Flag' - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

Your grand colossal edifice to-day
Rests on a yawning darkness and decay;
Beware! for it is ready to vanish away!
Yea, is it founded on the people's backs?
Behold! how as ye walk the sanguine tracks
Ye leave are slippery with human gore,
The life, the health, the souls of men your floor.
Glance not below; yield to the organ's pealing;
Explore the lonely grandeurs of the ceiling!
Ah! but your tyrannous structure is atremble -
I who behold it dare no more dissemble:
God breathes upon it with the breath of doom:
Phantoms of empire summon from the tomb!
Dominant o'er us glares the cross of gold,
And haughty hierarchies manifold
Brandish the symbol for a flaming sword,
Kneel to the cross, and crucify the Lord!
Friend of the lowly, fainting on the wood,
Behold thy poor upon a golden rood!

. . . . The lonely toiler, gasping for some air,
Listens in shadowy poison of the stair,
Listens, a wounded beast within his lair. . . . .
. . . . And there is
Peace
in London!

Now trips a dance who lifts her skirt for fear
Of many a foul contamination here,
Revealing delicate ankles to the friend,
Who (to assist) his manly arm may lend.
'Think what a desperate misery may slink
In these low neighbourhoods from whence we shrink?'
In silver tones she whispers: 'Look! there prowl
Two terrible ragged ruffians with a scowl.'
'Near our town-houses! who could fancy it?'
Drawls out the dandy with more birth than wit.
She, with a slight, quick shiver, half a sigh:
'One's heart aches even to
dream
such poverty!'
(It jarred her nervous sensibility.)
'And yet, as Mister Glozeman said in church,
To mak the vessel of the State to lurch,
To shake our ancient Order is the worst
Crime: it deserves the torture, 'tis accurst
Of God and man - he meant the Communist
Canaille in Paris.' Then the dandy hissed
With panic fury, 'Shoot the draff by millions!
So may our scum here learn to make rebellions!'
To clear some stray defilement from her dress,
Bending she slightly on his arm may press;
Then, as if breeding were a little at fault
In that last ardour of her friend's assault
Even on hereditary foes, the mob,
On swarms unclean, who sweat and starve and rob,
She waved aside the subject she had lent
Her glance in passing, drawling as she went,
'They say the poor are so improvident!'
Half absently she spoke, to weightier themes
Turning anon - to cunning, lordly schemes
For stifling noxious popular low measures:
Then of refined aristocratic pleasures
they babbled - Hurlingham - the ducal ball-
Of a monstrous nobleman turned Radical,
Of latest fashions out, a novel tie,
Or the last sweet thing in adultery.

The lonely toiler, gasping for some air,
Listens in shadowy poison of the stair,
Listens, a hunted beast within his lair. . . . .
. . . . And there is
Peace
in London!

It happened once two gentlemen were stayed
Here, waiting some companion delayed.
Sauntering to and fro they smoking walked,
Or leant against the house-wall while they talked.
One was an oldish man; the other, he
Spake as one claiming great authority.
His dust-hued head was growing grey in part -
From tardy fellow-feeling with his heart.
'Not to admire' the only art he knew
To keep him comfortable as he grew.
What might have moved the vulgar to distraction
Moved him to limp distaste or satisfaction.
But he had taken honours at his college,
And deemed himself a microcosm of knowledge.
A sort of sour old maid the man was born;
He could secrete but weak incontinent scorn;
Sterile to foster, organise, produce-
Aught but sophistic pleas for some abuse.
He could be lively only when he hated:
Pungent aromas all evaporated,
When he with heavy hand, with heavier face,
Apotheosised English commonplace;
A Rubens' cherub cumbersomely squat,
Labouring to upheave some royal fat
Skyward - the whole falls marvellously flat!
With ponderous platitude his smart review
Lumbers along when it proclaims the true
Plethoric gospel of the well-to-do.
Man of a
petite culture
, whose college culture
Is but a whited sepulchre sepulture
Of living manhood - his in sooth was small:
Only a castrate creature's after all.

Ah! though they give two fingers to the Saviour,
Best clothes on Sunday and demure behaviour,
Men of the world on every working day
Put the old creed with childish things away.
Measure the infinite God on pain of hell;
But do not heed Him when you buy or sell.
Call Jesus Lord decorously on Sunday,
But treat Him as a genial fool on Monday.
Lift up your pious eyes at Darwin's creed;
And try to prove him right about your breed,
Dear fellow-Christians! who live as though
Not even yet you'd struggled from below.
For beasts of prey with all their savage strife
Are still the cherished models of your life.
Ye war with all your fellows for existence,
And when you've thrown them, still with fierce insistence
Grind them beneath you, crush them all to death,
That you may breathe a more luxurious breath.
Hail! weaponed man of grand expanding brain,
Most formidable beast of all that stain
Our mother-earth with fratricidal blood!
Tigers but raven hungry for their food;
But thou, to fling one shining bauble more
In coffers bursting with thy gold before,
Starvest the babes and women at thy door!
Ah! what if some unshamed iconoclast,
Crumbling old fetish-raiments of the past,
Rouse from dead cerements the Christ at last?
What if men take to following where He leads,
Weary of mumbling Athanasian creeds?

How these two friends congenial conversed
Here, as the listener heard it is rehearsed,
As from his slightly varied point of view
It might have sounded to the speakers too.

'Self-interest enlightened is our rule:
Perish the pauper, and the general fool!-
Well for the luckier or shrewder man!
For he, by Heaven's especial favour, can
Lodge duller rivals in foul dens like these,
And feed them with rank garbage if he please.
Mercy is an exploded superstition;
Men are but brutes in bloodier competition.

'The State! what call has that to interefere?
Are we not free-born Britons living here?
If these like not their scrofulous dens, you know,
They're free to change their quarters; let them go.
Why one of these may struggle uppermost!
Himself may trample on the writhing host,
They cursing him, he cursing from above -
Hatred and Hell are finer things than Love!
The State forbids that paupers should be slain
With knives and guns; but as for stench and drain,
And putrefying styles they build so small,
'Tis suicide to breathe in them at all,
Breath turns to poison - that's another thing -
See Malthus on prolific littering!
Children are luxuries - let these dispense
With offspring - we ourselves save expense
Lop off the babes, and the benevolence.
Mother! with murderous unflinching eye
Gaze on your moaning babe about to die;
Ring in the rich man's child with jubilation,
And ring the poor man's out, O happy nation!
Woman,
your
babe is 'surplus population!'
Why take such constant thought about the body?
Man shall not live by bread' - 'but by his toddy,
Margeaux, and Bisque-soup rather,' quoth the wag.
'Don't chaff, nor let your rapt attention flag,'
Resumed the Gigadibs, who seemed offended,
'My arguments will be the sooner ended.
What was I saying? well, these Radicals
Pamper the carnal part of pauper pals
Unduly; why not teach them to endure
With fortitude these ills they cannot cure?
Throw them a sop of wholesome moral saws-
(Ah! pestilent 'education' -
that's
the cause,
Which
makes
them carp at our existing laws)
The dogs ar always yelping for a bone:
Fling them to bite a weighty moral stone!

'A man must grab whatever he can get;
We human creatures are not angels yet.
You must not stab, nor strangle, a poor neighbour;
For, if you did, why you would lose
his
labour.
No; take advantage of his cramped position
To mangle him with your cruellest condition.
Rob soul and body by superior wit
And fortune; ignorant hunger will submit.
If he should gash you, that were ugly murder:
Dribble his life-blood slowly - you're in order.
Nay, surely 'tis a very venial vice
To buy one's workman at the market price.'

. . . . The lonely toiler, gasping for some air,
Listens in shadowy poison of the stair,
Listens, a wounded beast within his lair. . . . .
. . . . And there is
Peace
in London!

A Man grew God upon the shadowy cross,
And taught the world to triumph in love's loss.
Following Him they took for great and holy,
Men helped the weak, forbore to insult the lowly;
The mighty made them ministers of woe,
Because the Lord had served us high and low:
Now Love and Chivalry lie done to death;
Stony-eyed monsters feed on human breath:
In Christ's forgotten grave we have buried weakness,
Justice, and Mercy, and Righteousness, and Meekness!

What! shall Wealth kneel upon the fainting forms
Of millions whom scarce a raiment warms,
Draining their very heart's blood leisurely,
And shall we wonder when with frenzied cry,
Beyond endurance urged, at last they leap
To murder gorged wealth where it lies asleep?
The legal armed oppressor of his neighbour,
He who hath goaded overdriven labour,
A peaceful tyrant, the Red Flag unfurled:

He
stands accurst of God, and of the world!
. . . . There is
War
in London.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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