Robert Southey

(1774 - 1843 / Bristol / England)

Wat Tyler - Act Ii - Poem by Robert Southey

ACT II.

SCENE— BLACKHEATH.


TYLER, HOB, &c.

SONG.

' When Adam delv'd, and Eve span,
' Who was then the gentleman?'

Wretched is the infant's lot,
Born within the straw-roof'd cot!
Be he generous, wise, or brave,
He must only be a slave.
Long, long labour, little rest,
Still to toil to be oppress'd;
Drain'd by taxes of his store,
Punish'd next for being poor;
This is the poor wretch's lot,
Born within the straw-roof'd cot.

While the peasant works— to sleep;
What the peasant sows— to reap;
On the couch of ease to lie,
Rioting in revelry;
Be he villain, be he fool,
Still to hold despotic rule,
Trampling on his slaves with scorn;
This is to be nobly born.

' When Adam delv'd, and Eve span,
' Who was then the gentleman?'


JACK STRAW.

The mob are up in London— the proud courtiers
Begin to tremble.


TOM MILLER.

Aye, aye, 'tis time to tremble;
Who'll plow their fields, who'll do their drudgery now?
And work like horses, to give them the harvest?


JACK STRAW.

I only wonder we lay quiet so long.
We had always the same strength, and we deserved
The ills we met with for not using it.


HOB.

Why do we fear those animals called lords?
What is there in the name to frighten us?
Is not my arm as mighty as a Baron's?


Enter PIERS and JOHN BALL.

PIERS (to TYLER).

Have I done well, my father?— I remember'd
This good man lay in prison.


TYLER.

My dear child,
Most well; the people rise for liberty,
And their first deed should be to break the chains
That bind the virtuous:— O thou honest priest—
How much has thou endured!


JOHN BALL.

Why aye, my friend!
These squalid rags bespeak what I have suffered.
I was revil'd— insulted— left to languish
In a damp dungeon; but I bore it cheerily—
My heart was glad— for I have done my duty.
I pitied my oppressors, and I sorrowed
For the poor men of England.


TYLER.

They have felt
Their strength—look round this heath! 'tis thronged with men.
Ardent for freedom; mighty is the event
That waits their fortune.


JOHN BALL.

I would fain address them.


TYLER.

Do so, my friend, and teach to them their duty;
Remind them of their long withholden rights.
What ho there! silence!


PIERS.

Silence there, my friends,
This good man would address you.


HOB.

Aye, aye, hear him—
He is no mealy mouthed court orator,
To flatter vice, and pamper lordly pride.


JOHN BALL.

Friends! Brethren! for ye are my brethren all;
Englishmen met in arms to advocate
The cause of freedom! hear me! pause awhile
In the career of vengeance; it is true
I am a priest; but, as these rags may speak,
Not one who riots in the poor man's spoil,
Or trades with his religion. I am one
Who preach the law of Christ, and in my life,
Would practice what he taught. The son of God
Came not to you in power: humble in mien,
Lowly in heart, the man of Nazareth
Preach'd mercy, justice, love: 'Woe unto ye,
Ye that are rich:—if that ye would be saved,
Sell that ye have, and give unto the poor.'
So taught the Saviour: oh, my honest friends!
Have ye not felt the strong indignant throb
Of justice in your bosoms, to behold
The lordly Baron feasting on your spoils?
Have you not in your hearts arraign'd the lot
That gave him on the couch of luxury
To pillow his head, and pass the festive day
In sportive feasts, and ease, and revelry?
Have you not often in your conscience ask'd
Why is the difference, wherefore should that man,
No worthier than myself, thus lord it over me,
And bid me labour, and enjoy the fruits?
The God within your breasts has argued thus!
The voice of truth has murmur'd; came ye not
As helpless to the world? Shines not the sun
With equal ray on both?— Do ye not feel
The self same winds of heaven as keenly parch ye?
Abundant is the earth—the Sire of all,
Saw and pronounc'd that it was very good.
Look round: the vernal fields smile with new flowers,
The budding orchard perfumes the soft breeze,
And the green corn waves to the passing gale.
There is enough for all, but your proud Baron
Stands up, and arrogant of strength exclaims,
'I am a Lord—by nature I am noble:
These fields are mine, for I was born to them,
I was born in the castle—you, poor wretches,
Whelp'd in the cottage, are by birth my slaves.'
Almighty God! such blasphemies are utter'd!
Almighty God! such blasphemies believ'd!


TOM MILLER.

This is something like a sermon.


JACK STRAW.

Where's the bishop
Would tell you truths like these?


HOB.

There was never a bishop among all the apostles.


JOHN BALL.

My brethren!


PIERS.

Silence, the good priest speaks.


JOHN BALL.

My brethren, these are truths, and weighty ones:
Ye are all equal: nature made ye so.
Equality is your birth-right;—when I gaze
On the proud palace, and behold one man
In the blood-purpled robes of royalty,
Feasting at ease, and lording over millions,
Then turn me to the hut of poverty,
And see the wretched lab'rer worn with toil,
Divide his scanty morsel with his infants,
I sicken, and indignant at the sight,
' Blush for the patience of humanity.'


JACK STRAW.

We will assert our rights.


TOM MILLER.

We'll trample down
These insolent oppressors.


JOHN BALL.

In good truth
Ye have cause for anger: but, my honest friends,
Is it revenge or justice that ye seek?


MOB.

Justice, justice!


JOHN BALL.

Oh then remember mercy;
And though your proud oppressors spar'd not you,
Shew you excel them in humanity.
They will use every art to disunite you,
To conquer separately, by stratagem,
Whom in a mass they fear— but be ye firm—
Boldly demand your long-forgotten rights,
Your sacred, your inalienable freedom—
Be bold—be resolute—be merciful!
And while you spurn the hated name of slaves,
Shew you are men!


MOB.

Long live our honest priest!


JACK STRAW.

He shall be made archbishop.


JOHN BALL.

My brethren, I am plain John Ball, your friend,
Your equal: by the law of Christ enjoined
To serve you, not command.


JACK STRAW.

March we for London.


TYLER.

Mark me, my friends—we rise for liberty—
Justice shall be our guide: let no man dare
To plunder in the tumult.


MOB

Lead us on—
Liberty!—Justice!


(Exeunt, with cries of Liberty— no Poll Tax — no War.)

SCENE CHANGES TO THE TOWER.

KING RICHARD, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY,
SIR JOHN TRESILIAN,
WALWORTH, PHILPOT.


KING

What must we do? the danger grows more imminent—
The mob increases—


PHILPOT.

Every moment brings
Fresh tidings of our peril.


KING.

It were well
To yield them what they ask.


ARCHBISHOP.

Aye, that my liege
Were politic. Go boldly forth to meet them,
Grant all they ask—however wild and ruinous—
Mean time the troops you have already summoned,
Will gather round them. Then my Christian power
Absolves you of your promise.


WALWORTH.

Were but their ringleaders cut off—the rabble
Would soon disperse.


PHILPOT.

United in a mass
There's nothing can resist them—once divide them,
And they will fall an easy sacrifice.


ARCHBISHOP.

Lull them by promises—bespeak them fair—
Go forth, my liege—spare not, if need requires,
A solemn oath, to ratify the treaty.


KING

I dread their fury.


ARCHBISHOP.

'Tis a needless dread,
There is divinity about your person;
It is the sacred privilege of Kings,
Howe'er they act, to render no account
To man. The people have been taught this lesson,
Nor can they soon forget it.


KING.

I will go—
I will submit to everything they ask;
My day of triumph will arrive at last.


(Shouts without.)

Enter Messenger.


MESSENGER.

The mob are at the city gates.


ARCHBISHOP.

Haste, haste,
Address them ere too late. I'll remain here,
For they detest me much.


(Shouts again. )

Enter another Messenger.


MESSENGER.

The Londoners have opened the city gates,
The rebels are admitted.


KING.

Fear then must give me courage; my Lord Mayor,
Come you with me.


(Exeunt. Shouts without.)

SCENE— SMITHFIELD.

WAT TYLER, JOHN BALL, PIERS, &c. Mob.


PIERS.

So far triumphant are we: how these nobles,
These petty tyrants, who so long oppress'd us,
Shrink at the first resistance!


HOB.

They were powerful
Only because we fondly thought them so.
Where is Jack Straw?


TYLER.

Jack Straw is gone to the tower
To seize the king, and so to end resistance.


JOHN BALL.

It was well judg'd: fain would I spare the shedding
Of human blood: gain we that royal puppet,
And all will follow fairly: depriv'd of him,
The nobles lose their pretext, nor will dare
Rebel against the people's majesty.


Enter Herald.


HERALD.

Richard the Second, by the grace of God,
Of England, Ireland, France, and Scotland, King,
And of the town of Berwick upon Tweed,
Would parley with Wat Tyler.


TYLER.

Let him know
Wat Tyler is in Smithfield.


(Exit Herald.)

I will parley
With this young monarch; as he comes to me
Trusting my honour, on your lives I charge you
Let none attempt to harm him.


JOHN BALL

The faith of courts
Is but a weak dependence! You are honest—
And better is it even to die the victim
Of credulous honesty, than live preserved
By the cold policy that still suspects.


Enter KING, WALWORTH, PHILPOT, &c.


KING.

I would speak to thee, Wat Tyler: bid the mob
Retire awhile.


PIERS.

Nay, do not go alone—
Let me attend you.


TYLER.

Wherefore should I fear?
Am I not arm'd with a just cause?—retire,
And I will boldly plead the cause of Freedom.


(Advances.)

KING.

Tyler, why have you kill'd my officer?
And led my honest subjects from their homes,
Thus to rebel against the Lord's anointed?


TYLER.

Because they were oppress'd.


KING.

Was this the way
To remedy the ill?— you should have tried
By milder means—petition'd at the throne—
The throne will always listen to petitions.


TYLER.

King of England,
Petitioning for pity is most weak,
The sovereign people ought to demand justice.
I kill'd your officer, for his lewd hand
Insulted a maid's modesty: your subjects
I lead to rebel against the Lord's anointed,
Because his ministers have made him odious:
His yoke is heavy, and his burden grievous.
Why do we carry on this fatal war,
To force upon the French a king they hate;
Tearing our young men from their peaceful homes;
Forcing his hard-earn'd fruits from the honest peasant;
Distressing us to desolate our neighbours?
Why is this ruinous poll tax imposed,
But to support your court's extravagance,
And your mad title to the crown of France?
Shall we sit tamely down beneath these evils
Petitioning for pity?
King of England!
Why are we sold like cattle in your markets—
Deprived of every privilege of man?
Must we lie tamely at our tyrant's feet,
And, like your spaniels, lick the hand that beats us?
You sit at ease in your gay palaces,
The costly banquet courts your appetite,
Sweet music sooths your slumbers; we the while,
Scarce by hard toil can earn a little food,
And sleep scarce shelter'd from the cold night wind:
Whilst your wild projects wrest the little from us
Which might have cheer'd the wintry hour of age:
The Parliament for ever asks more money:
We toil and sweat for money for your taxes:
Where is the benefit, what food reap we
From all the councils of your government?
Think you that we should quarrel with the French?
What boots to us your victories, your glory?
We pay, we fight, you profit at your ease.
Do you not claim the country as your own?
Do you not call the venison of the forest,
The birds of heaven your own?—prohibiting us,
Even tho' in want of food, to seize the prey
Which nature offers?—King! is all this just?
Think you we do not feel the wrongs we suffer?
The hour of retribution is at hand,
And tyrants tremble—mark me, King of England.


WALWORTH.

(Comes behind him, and stabs him.)

Insolent rebel, threatening the King!


PIERS.

Vengeance! vengeance!


HOB.

Seize the King.


KING.

I must be bold. (Advancing.)
My friends and loving subjects,
I will grant all you ask: you shall be free—
The tax shall be repeal'd— all, all you wish.
Your leader menaced me, he deserv'd his fate.
Quiet your angers; on my royal word
Your grievances shall all be done away.
Your vassalage abolish'd.—A free pardon
Allow'd to all: so help me God it shall be.


JOHN BALL.

Revenge, my brethren, beseems not Christians.
Send us these terms sign'd with your seal of state.
We will await in peace: deceive us not.—
Act justly, so to excuse your late foul deed.


KING.

The charter shall be drawn out: on mine honour,
All shall be justly done.


END OF ACT THE SECOND.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 8, 2010



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