Europe (The 72d and 73d Years of These States)

Painting by Gustave Wappers (1835)

Suddenly out of its stale and drowsy lair, the lair of slaves,
Like lightning Europe le’pt forth, half startled at itself,
Its feet upon the ashes and the rags, its hands tight to the throats
         of kings.

O hope and faith!
O aching close of lives!
O many a sickened heart!
Turn back unto this day, and make yourselves afresh.

And you, paid to defile the People! you liars, mark!
Not for numberless agonies, murders, lusts,
For court thieving in its manifold mean forms, worming from his
         simplicity the poor man’s wages,
For many a promise sworn by royal lips, and broken, and laughed at
         in the breaking,

Then in their power, not for all these did the blows strike of personal revenge,
         or the heads of the nobles fall,
The People scorned the ferocity of kings.

But the sweetness of mercy brewed bitter destruction, and the
         frightened rulers come back,
Each comes in state with his train, hangman,
priest, tax-gatherer, soldier, lawyer, jailer, sycophant.

Behind all, lo, a Shape,
Vague as the night, draped interminably, head front and form, in
         scarlet folds,
Whose face and eyes none may see,
Out of its robes only this—the red robes, lifted by the arm,
One finger, pointed high over the top, like the head of a
         snake appears.

Meanwhile, corpses lie in new-made graves — bloody corpses of
         young men;
The rope of the gibbet hangs heavily, the bullets of princes are
         flying, the creatures of power laugh aloud,
And all these things bear fruits, and they are good.

Those corpses of young men,
Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets, those hearts pierced by
         the gray lead,
Cold and motionless as they seem, live elsewhere with
         unslaughter’d vitality.

They live in other young men, O kings!
They live in brothers, again ready to defy you!
They were purified by death—they were taught and exalted.

Not a grave of the murdered for freedom, but grows seed for
         freedom, in its turn to bear seed,
Which the winds carry afar and re-sow, and the
         rains and the snows nourish.

Not a disembodied spirit can the weapons of tyrants let loose,
But it stalks invisibly over the earth, whispering, counseling,

Liberty! let others despair of you! I never despair of you.

Is the house shut? Is the master away?
Nevertheless be ready—be not weary of watching,
He will soon return—his messengers come anon.