Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Ode, Written During the Negociations with Buonaparte
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
In January, 1814

1.
  WHO counsels peace at this momentous hour,
When God hath given deliverance to the oppress’d,
          And to the injured power?
Who counsels peace, when Vengeance like a flood
    Rolls on, no longer now to be repress’d;        5
            When innocent blood
  From the four corners of the world cries out
      For justice upon one accursed head;
  When Freedom hath her holy banner spread
    Over all nations, now in one just cause        10
    United; when with one sublime accord
      Europe throws off the yoke abhorr’d,
  And Loyalty and Faith and Ancient Laws
          Follow the avenging sword!
 
2.
    Woe, woe to England! woe and endless shame,
        15
              If this heroic land,
      False to her feelings and unspotted fame,
      Hold out the olive to the Tyrant’s hand!
      Woe to the world, if Buonaparte’s throne
            Be suffer’d still to stand!        20
For by what names shall Right and Wrong be known,..
    What new and courtly phrases must we feign
  For Falsehood, Murder, and all monstrous crimes,
        If that perfidious Corsican maintain
            Still his detested reign,        25
And France, who yearns even now to break her chain,
      Beneath his iron rule be left to groan?
          No! by the innumerable dead
  Whose blood hath for his lust of power been shed,
      Death only can for his foul deeds atone;        30
  That peace which Death and Judgment can bestow,
      That peace be Buonaparte’s .. that alone!
 
3.
      For sooner shall the Ethiop change his skin,
      Or from the Leopard shall her spots depart,
    Than this man change his old flagitious heart.        35
    Have ye not seen him in the balance weighed,
  And there found wanting?—On the stage of blood
        Foremost the resolute adventurer stood;
            And when, by many a battle won,
          He placed upon his brow the crown,        40
        Curbing delirious France beneath his sway,
            Then, like Octavius in old time,
        Fair name might he have handed down,
        Effacing many a stain of former crime.
    Fool! should he cast away that bright renown!        45
    Fool! the redemption proffer’d should he lose!
When Heaven such grace vouchsafed him that the way
                To Good and Evil lay
            Before him, which to choose.
 
4.
                But Evil was his Good,
        50
    For all too long in blood had he been nurst,
    And ne’er was earth with verier tyrant curst.
                Bold man and bad,
    Remorseless, godless, full of fraud and lies,
    And black with murders and with perjuries,        55
      Himself in Hell’s whole panoply he clad;
  No law but his own headstrong will he knew,
      No counsellor but his own wicked heart.
    From evil thus portentous strength he drew,
      And trampled under foot all human ties,        60
          All holy laws, all natural charities.
 
5.
  O France! beneath this fierce Barbarian’s sway
    Disgraced thou art to all succeeding times;
Rapine, and blood, and fire have mark’d thy way,
        All loathsome, all unutterable crimes.        65
  A curse is on thee, France! from far and wide
It hath gone up to Heaven; all lands have cried
      For vengeance upon thy detested head;
  All nations curse thee, France! for wheresoe’er
  In peace or war thy banner hath been spread,        70
  All forms of human woe have follow’d there:
              The Living and the Dead
  Cry out alike against thee! They who bear,
  Crouching beneath its weight, thine iron yoke,
      Join in the bitterness of secret prayer        75
      The voice of that innumerable throng
Whose slaughtered spirits day and night invoke
    The everlasting Judge of right and wrong,
How long, O Lord! Holy and Just, how long!
 
6.
    A merciless oppressor hast thou been,
        80
  Thyself remorselessly oppress’d meantime;
Greedy of war, when all that thou couldst gain
  Was but to dye thy soul with deeper crime,
    And rivet faster round thyself the chain.
    O blind to honour, and to interest blind,        85
    When thus in abject servitude resign’d
  To this barbarian upstart, thou couldst brave
  God’s justice, and the heart of humankind!
  Madly thou thoughtest to enslave the world,
      Thyself the while a miserable slave;        90
    Behold the flag of vengeance is unfurl’d!
  The dreadful armies of the North advance;
While England, Portugal, and Spain combined
  Give their triumphant banners to the wind,
  And stand victorious in the fields of France.        95
 
7.
  One man hath been for ten long wretched years
  The cause of all this blood and all these tears;
    One man in this most aweful point of time
  Draws on thy danger, as he caused thy crime.
          Wait not too long the event,        100
  For now whole Europe comes against thee bent;
His wiles and their own strength the nations know;
  Wise from past wrongs, on future peace intent,
    The People and the Princes, with one mind,
  From all parts move against the general foe:        105
      One act of justice, one atoning blow,
          One execrable head laid low,
  Even yet, O France! averts thy punishment:
Open thine eyes! too long hast thou been blind;
Take vengeance for thyself, and for mankind!        110
 
8.
  France! if thou lov’st thine ancient fame,
    Revenge thy sufferings and thy shame!
  By the bones that bleach on Jaffa’s beach;
    By the blood which on Domingo’s shore
    Hath clogg’d the carrion-birds with gore;        115
By the flesh that gorged the wolves of Spain,
        Or stiffen’d on the snowy plain
            Of frozen Muscovy;
      By the bodies that lie all open to the sky,
  Tracking from Elbe to Rhine the Tyrant’s flight;        120
        By the widow’s and the orphan’s cry,
          By the childless parent’s misery,
          By the lives which he hath shed,
            By the ruin he hath spread,
  By the prayers that rise for curses on his head,        125
      Redeem, O France! thine ancient fame,
      Revenge thy sufferings and thy shame;
Open thine eyes!.. too long hast thou been blind;
  Take vengeance for thyself, and for mankind!
 
9.
        By those honors which the night
        130
        Witness’d, when the torches’ light
      To the assembled murderers show’d
      Where the blood of Condé flow’d;
      By thy murder’d Pichegru’s fame;
  By murder’d Wright,.. an English name;        135
        By murder’d Palm’s atrocious doom;
          By murder’d Hofer’s martyrdom;
  Oh! by the virtuous blood thus vilely spilt,
      The Villain’s own peculiar private guilt,
Open thine eyes! too long hast thou been blind!        140
  Take vengeance for thyself and for mankind!
 
 
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