Emily Pauline Johnson
Give Us Barabbas - Poem by Emily Pauline Johnson
There was a man-a Jew of kingly blood,
But of the people-poor and lowly born,
Accused of blasphemy of God, He stood
Before the Roman Pilate, while in scorn
The multitude demanded it was fit
That one should suffer for the people, while
Another be released, absolved, acquit,
To live his life out virtuous or vile.
'Whom will ye have-Barabbas or this Jew?'
Pilate made answer to the mob, 'The choice
Is yours; I wash my hands of this, and you,
Do as you will.' With one vast ribald voice
The populace arose and, shrieking, cried,
'Give us Barabbas, we condone his deeds!'
And He of Nazareth was crucified-
Misjudged, condemned, dishonoured for their needs.
And down these nineteen centuries anew
Comes the hoarse-throated, brutalized refrain,
'Give us Barabbas, crucify the Jew!'
Once more a man must bear a nation's stain,-
And that in France, the chivalrous, whose lore
Made her the flower of knightly age gone by.
Now she lies hideous with a leprous sore
No skill can cure-no pardon purify.
And an indignant world, transfixed with hate
Of such disease, cries, as in Herod's time,
Pointing its finger at her festering state,
'Room for the leper, and her leprous crime!'
And France, writhing from years of torment, cries
Out in her anguish, 'Let this Jew endure,
Damned and disgraced, vicarious sacrifice.
The honour of my army is secure.'
And, vampire-like, that army sucks the blood
From out a martyr's veins, and strips his crown
Of honour from him, and his herohood
Flings in the dust, and cuts his manhood down.
Hide from your God, O! ye that did this act!
With lesser crimes the halls of Hell are paved.
Your army's honour may be still intact,
Unstained, unsoiled, unspotted,-but unsaved.
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