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William Morris (1834-1896)

A Death Song


              1What cometh here from west to east awending?
              2And who are these, the marchers stern and slow?
              3We bear the message that the rich are sending
              4Aback to those who bade them wake and know.
              5Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
              6But one and all if they would dusk the day.

              7We asked them for a life of toilsome earning,
              8They bade us bide their leisure for our bread;
              9We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning;
            10We come back speechless, bearing back our dead.
            11Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
            12But one and all if they would dusk the day.

            13They will not learn; they have no ears to hearken.
            14They turn their faces from the eyes of fate;
            15Their gay-lit halls shut out the skies that darken.
            16But, lo! this dead man knocking at the gate.
            17Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
            18But one and all if they would dusk the day.

            19Here lies the sign that we shall break our prison;
            20Amidst the storm he won a prisoner's rest;
            21But in the cloudy dawn the sun arisen
            22Brings us our day of work to win the best.
            23Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
            24But one and all if they would dusk the day.

Notes

1] On November 13, 1887, "Bloody Sunday," a radical demonstration in Trafalgar Square was broken up by the police and military. Three men were killed. The next week a further fatality occurred. Morris's poem was composed for the public funeral of the last victim, which took place on December 18.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Published separately, then in The Commonweal (Nov. 23, 1889), and then in William Morris, Poems by the Way (London: Reeves and Turner, 1891). end M677 P64 1891 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1889
RPO poem editor: P. F. Morgan
RP edition: 3RP 3.364.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: ababcc


Other poems by William Morris