Charles Mackay

(1814-1889 / Scotland)

The Mowers - Poem by Charles Mackay

Dense on the stream the vapours lay,
Thick as wool on the cold highway;
Spongy and dim, each lonely lamp
Shone o'er the streets so dull and damp;
The moonbeam could not pierce the cloud
That swathed the city like a shroud.
There stood three Shapes on the bridge alone,
Three figures by the coping-stone;
Gaunt, and tall, and undefined,
Spectres built of mist and wind;
Changing ever in form and height,
But black and palpable to sight.

'This is a city fair to see,'
'Whisper'd one of the fearful three;
'A mighty tribute it pays to me.
Into its river, winding slow,
Thick and foul from shore to shore,
The vessels come, the vessels go,
And teeming lands their riches pour
It spreads beneath the murky sky
A wilderness of masonry;
Huge, unshapely, overgrown,
Dingy brick and blacken'd stone.
Mammon is its chief and lord,
Monarch slavishly adored;
Mammon sitting side by side
With Pomp, and Luxury, and Pride;
Who calls his large dominion theirs,
Nor dream a portion is Despair's.

'Countless thousands bend to me
In rags and purple, in hovel and hall,
And pay the tax of Misery
With tears, and blood, and spoken gall.
Whenever they cry
For aid to die,
I give them courage to dare the worst,
And leave their ban on a world accursed.
I show them the river so black and deep,
They take the plunge, they sink to sleep;
I show them poison, I show them rope,
They rush to death without a hope.
Poison, and rope, and pistol-ball,
Welcome either, welcome all!
I am the lord of the teeming town-
And mow them down, and mow them down!'

'Ay, thou art great, but greater I,'
The second spectre made reply;
'Thou rulest with a frown austere,
Thy name is synonym of Fear.
But I, despotic and hard as thou,
Have a laughing lip, an open brow.
I build a temple in a every lane,
I have a palace in every street;
And the victims throng to the doors amain,
And wallow like swine beneath my feet.
To me the strong man gives his health,
The wise man reason, the rich man wealth;
Maids their virtue, youth its charms,
And mothers the children in their arms.
Thou art a slayer of mortal men-
Thou of the unit, I of the ten;
Great thou art, but greater I,
To decimate humanity.
'Tis I am the lord of the teeming town-
And mow them down, and mow them down!'

'Vain, boasters to exult at death,'
The third replied, 'so feebly done;
I ope my jaws, and with a breath
Slay thousands while you think of one.
All the blood that Caesar spill'd,
All that Alexander drew,
All the host by 'glory' kill'd,
From Agincourt to Waterloo,
Compared with those whom I have slain.
Are but a river to the main.

'I brew disease in stagnant pools,
And wandering here, disporting there,
Favour'd much by knaves and fools,
I poison streams, I taint the air;
I shake from my locks the spreading Pest,
I keep the Typhus at my behest;
In filth and slime
I crawl, I climb;-
I find the workman at his trade,
I blow on his lips, and down he lies;
I look in the face of the ruddiest maid.
And straight the fire forsakes her eyes-
She droops, she sickens, and she dies;
I stint the growth of babes new-born,
Or shear them off like standing corn;
I rob the sunshine of its glow,
I poison all the winds that blow;
Whenever they pass, they suck my breath,
And freight their wings with certain death.
'Tis I am the lord of the crowded town-
And mow them down, and mow them down!'


'But great as we are, there cometh one
Greater than you-greater than I,
To aid the deeds that shall be done,
To end the work that we've begun,
And thin this thick humanity.
I see his footmarks east and west,
I hear his tread in the silence fall,
He shall not sleep, he shall not rest-
He comes to aid us one and all.
Were men as wise as men might be,
They would not work for you, for me,
For him that cometh over the sea;
But they will not heed the warning voice.
The Cholera comes, rejoice! rejoice!
He shall be lord of the swarming town,
And mow them down, and mow them down!'


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, October 18, 2012



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