Swinburne, An Appeal (Swinburne, 1867)

1.77-78. Algernon Charles Swinburne, An Appeal to England against the Execution of the Condemned Fenians, (Manchester: Reprinted from the “Morning Star”, 1867), pp.5-11. BL C.58.d.15

Swinburne’s poem ‘An Appeal’.

This poem, the sole content of Swinburne’s 1867 pamphlet, attracted some notice at the time of its appearance for what were held to be republican-leaning views. It was then frequently referred to at the time of the publication of Swinburne’s ‘The Union’ as evidence of the extent to which the now pro-Unionist poet had reversed his position. The poem subsequently appeared as, simply, ‘An Appeal’, in Songs Before Sunrise in 1871.

AN APPEAL

I.

ART thou indeed among these,
Thou of the tyrannous crew,
The kingdoms fed upon blood,
O queen from of old of the seas;
England, art thou of them too
That drink of the poisonous flood,
That hide under poisonous trees?

II.

Nay, thy name from of old,
Mother, was pure, or we dreamed;
Purer we held thee than this,
Purer fain would we hold;
So goodly a glory it seemed,
A fame so bounteous of bliss,
So more precious than gold,

III.

A praise so sweet in our ears,
That thou in the tempest of things
As a rock for a refuge should’st stand,
In the blood-red river of tears
Poured forth for the triumph of kings;
A safeguard, a sheltering land,
In the thunder and torrent of years.

IV.

Strangers came gladly to thee,
Exiles, chosen of men,
Safe for thy sake in thy shade,
Sat down at thy feet and were free.
So men spake of thee then;
Soon shall their speaking be stayed?
Ah, so let it not be!

V.

Not for revenge or affright,
Pride, or a tyrannous lust,
Cast from thee the crown of thy praise.
Mercy was thine in thy might;
Strong when thou wert, thou wert just:
Now, in the wrong-doing days,
Cleave thou, thou at least, to the right.

VI.

How should one charge thee, how pray,
Save by the memories that were?
Not thy gold nor the strength of thy ships,
Nor the might of thine armies at bay,
Made thee, mother, most fair:
But a word from republican lips
Said in thy name in thy day.

VII.

Hast thou said it, and hast thou forgot?
Is thy praise in thine ears as a scoff?
Blood of men guiltless was shed,
Children, and souls without spot,
Shed, but in places far off:
Let slaughter no more be, said
Milton; and slaughter was not.

VIII.

Was it not said of thee too,
Now, but now, by thy foes,
By the slaves that had slain their France,
And thee would slay as they slew—
“Down with her walls that enclose
Freemen that eye us askance,
Fugitives, men that are true!”

IX.

This was thy praise or thy blame
From bondsman or freeman—to be
Pure from pollution of slaves,
Clean of their sins, and thy name
Bloodless, innocent, free;
Now if thou be not, thy waves
Wash not from off thee thy shame.

X.

Freeman he is not, but slave,
Whoso in fear for the State
Cries for surety of blood,
Help of gibbet and grave;
Neither is any land great
Whom, in her fear-stricken mood,
These things only can save.

XI.

Lo, how fair from afar,
Taintless of tyranny, stands
Thy mighty daughter, for years,
Who trod the wine-press of war;
Shines with immaculate hands;
Slays not a foe, neither fears;
Stains not peace with a scar.

XII.

Be not as tyrant or slave,
England: be not as these,
Thou that wert other than they,
Stretch out thine hand but to save;
Put forth thy strength, and release;
Lest there arise, if thou slay,
Thy shame, as a ghost from the grave.

November 20, 1867.

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