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Short poem

Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (1836-1919)

The Palace-Burner
(A Picture in a Newspaper.)

              1She has been burning palaces. “To see
              2    The sparks look pretty in the wind?” Well, yes –
              3And something more. But women brave as she
              4    Leave much for cowards such as I to guess.

              5But this is old, so old that everything
              6    Is ashes here – the woman and the rest.
              7Two years are oh! so long. Now you may bring
              8    Some newer pictures. You like this one best?

              9You wish that you had lived in Paris then?
            10    You would have loved to burn a palace, too?
            11But they had guns in France, and Christian men
            12    Shot wicked little Communists, like you.

            13You would have burned the palace? Just because
            14    You did not live in it yourself! Oh! Why?
            15Have I not taught you to respect the laws?
            16You would have burned the palace. Would not I?

            17Would I? Go to your play. Would I, indeed?
            18    I? Does the boy not know my soul to be
            19Languid and worldly, with a dainty need
            20    For light and music? Yet he questions me.

            21Can he have seen my soul more nearer than I?
            22    Ah! in the dusk and distance sweet she seems,
            23With lips to kiss away a baby’s cry,
            24    Hands fit for flowers, and eyes for tears and dreams.

            25Can he have seen my soul? And could she wear
            26    Such utter life upon a dying face,
            27Such unappealing, beautiful despair,
            28    Such garments – soon to be a shroud – with grace?

            29Has she a charm so calm that it could breathe
            30    In damp, low places till some frightened hour;
            31Then start, like a fair, subtle snake, and wreathe
            32    A stinging poison with a shadowy power?

            33Would I burn palaces? The child has seen
            34    In this fierce creature of the Commune here,
            35So bright with bitterness and so serene,
            36    A being finer than my soul, I fear.


1] The Paris Commune (March 18 – May 28, 1871), a revolutionary government that destroyed the Tuileries Palace. Piatt writes about a woman revolutionary, shortly destined for execution, pictured in a newspaper.

12] Over 17,000 were executed.

Online text copyright © 2004, 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: cf. Palace–Burner: The Selected Poetry of Sarah Piatt, ed. Paula Bennett (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001): 39-40.
Publication date note: The Independent, 1872
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/4/15*1:2004/4/15

Form: quatrains
Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt