Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
II. Freedom
Rienzi to the Romans
Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855)
 
From “Rienzi”

                            FRIENDS!
I come not here to talk. Ye know too well
The story of our thraldom. We are slaves!
The bright sun rises to his course, and lights
A race of slaves! he sets, and his last beam        5
Falls on a slave! Not such as, swept along
By the full tide of power, the conqueror leads
To crimson glory and undying fame,
But base, ignoble slaves!—slaves to a horde
Of petty tyrants, feudal despots; lords        10
Rich in some dozen paltry villages,
Strong in some hundred spearmen, only great
In that strange spell,—a name! Each hour, dark fraud,
Or open rapine, or protected murder,
Cries out against them. But this very day        15
An honest man, my neighbor  (pointing to PAOLO),—there he stands,—
Was struck—struck like a dog—by one who wore
The badge of Ursini! because, forsooth,
He tossed not high his ready cap in air,
Nor lifted up his voice in servile shouts,        20
At sight of that great ruffian! Be we men,
And suffer such dishonor? men, and wash not
The stain away in blood? Such shames are common.
I have known deeper wrongs. I, that speak to ye,
I had a brother once, a gracious boy,        25
Full of all gentleness, of calmest hope,
Of sweet and quiet joy; there was the look
Of Heaven upon his face which limners give
To the beloved disciple. How I loved
That gracious boy! younger by fifteen years,        30
Brother at once and son! He left my side;
A summer bloom on his fair cheeks, a smile
Parting his innocent lips. In one short hour
The pretty, harmless boy was slain! I saw
The corse, the mangled corse, and then I cried        35
For vengeance! Rouse ye, Romans! Rouse ye, slaves!
Have ye brave sons?—Look in the next fierce brawl
To see them die! Have ye fair daughters?—Look
To see them live, torn from your arms, distained,
Dishonored; and, if ye dare call for justice,        40
Be answered by the lash! Yet this is Rome,
That sat on her seven hills, and from her throne
Of beauty ruled the world! Yet we are Romans!
Why, in that elder day, to be a Roman
Was greater than a king! And once again—        45
Hear me, ye walls, that echoed to the tread
Of either Brutus!—once again, I swear,
The eternal city shall be free; her sons shall walk with princes.
 
 
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