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Short poem

William Blake (1757-1827)

The French Revolution



            84  Thee the ancientest peer, Duke of Burgundy, rose from the monarch's right hand, red as wines
            85From his mountains; an odor of war, like a ripe vineyard, rose from his garments,
            86And the chamber became as a clouded sky; o'er the council he stretch'd his red limbs,
            87Cloth'd in flames of crimson; as a ripe vineyard stretches over sheaves of corn,
            88The fierce Duke hung over the council; around him crowd, weeping in his burning robe,
            89A bright cloud of infant souls; his words fall like purple autumn on the sheaves:
            90"Shall this marble built heaven become a clay cottage, this earth an oak stool and these mowers
            91From the Atlantic mountains mow down all this great starry harvest of six thousand years?
            92And shall Necker, the hind of Geneva, stretch out his crook'd sickle o'er fertile France
            93Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms of earth bound in sheaves,
            94And the ancient forests of chivalry hewn, and the joys of the combat burnt for fuel;
            95Till the power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and sceptre from sun and moon,
            96The law and gospel from fire and air, and eternal reason and science
            97From the deep and the solid, and man lay his faded head down on the rock
            98Of eternity, where the eternal lion and eagle remain to devour?
            99This to prevent--urg'd by cries in day, and prophetic dreams hovering in night,
          100To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow'd with plows, whose seed is departing from her--
          101Thy nobles have gather'd thy starry hosts round this rebellious city,
          102To rouze up the ancient forests of Europe, with clarions of cloud breathing war,
          103To hear the horse neigh to the drum and trumpet, and the trumpet and war shout reply.
          104Stretch the hand that beckons the eagles of heaven; they cry over Paris, and wait
          105Till Fayette point his finger to Versailles; the eagles of heaven must have their prey!"
          106He ceas'd, and burn'd silent; red clouds roll round Necker; a weeping is heard o'er the palace.
          107Like a dark cloud Necker paus'd, and like thunder on the just man's burial day he paus'd;
          108Silent sit the winds, silent the meadows, while the husbandman and woman of weakness
          109And bright children look after him into the grave, and water his clay with love,
          110Then turn towards pensive fields; so Necker paus'd, and his visage was covered with clouds.

          111  The King lean'd on his mountains, then lifted his head and look'd on his armies, that shone
          112Through heaven, tinging morning with beams of blood; then turning to Burgundy, troubled:
          113"Burgundy, thou wast born a lion! My soul is o'ergrown with distress.
          114For the nobles of France, and dark mists roll round me and blot the writing of God
          115Written in my bosom. Necker rise! leave the kingdom, thy life is surrounded with snares.
          116We have call'd an Assembly, but not to destroy; we have given gifts, not to the weak;
          117I hear rushing of muskets, and bright'ning of swords, and visages redd'ning with war,
          118Frowning and looking up from brooding villages and every dark'ning city.
          119Ancient wonders frown over the kingdom, and cries of women and babes are heard,
          120And tempests of doubt roll around me, and fierce sorrows, because of the nobles of France.
          121Depart! answer not! for the tempest must fall, as in years that are passed away."


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: William Blake, The French Revolution. Book the First (London: for J. Johnson, 1791).
First publication date: 1791
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP 1.810.
Recent editing: 4:2002/3/14

Form note: unrhyming

Other poems by William Blake