A Word for the Country

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Men, born of the land that for ages
Has been honoured where freedom was dear,
Till your labour wax fat on its wages
You shall never be peers of a peer.
Where might is, the right is:
Long purses make strong swords.
Let weakness learn meekness:
God save the House of Lords!
You are free to consume in stagnation:
You are equal in right to obey:
You are brothers in bonds, and the nation
Is your mother, whose sons are her prey.
Those others your brothers,
Who toil not, weave, nor till,
Refuse you and use you
As waiters on their will.
But your fathers bowed down to their masters
And obeyed them and served and adored.
Shall the sheep not give thanks to their pastors?
Shall the serf not give praise to his lord?
Time, waning and gaining,
Grown other now than then,
Needs pastors and masters
For sheep, and not for men.
If his grandsire did service in battle,
If his grandam was kissed by a king,
Must men to my lord be as cattle
Or as apes that he leads in a string?
To deem so, to dream so,
Would bid the world proclaim
The dastards for bastards,
Not heirs of England’s fame.
Not in spite but in right of dishonour,
There are actors who trample your boards
Till the earth that endures you upon her
Grows weary to bear you, my lords.
Your token is broken,
It will not pass for gold:
Your glory looks hoary,
Your sun in heaven turns cold.
They are worthy to reign on their brothers,
To contemn them as clods and as carles,
Who are Graces by grace of such mothers
As brightened the bed of King Charles.
What manner of banner,
What fame is this they flaunt,
That Britain, soul-smitten,
Should shrink before their vaunt?
Bright sons of sublime prostitution,
You are made of the mire of the street
Where your grandmothers walked in pollution
Till a coronet shone at their feet.
Your Graces, whose faces
Bear high the bastard’s brand,
Seem stronger no longer
Than all this honest land.
But the sons of her soldiers and seamen,
They are worthy forsooth of their hire.
If the father won praise from all free men,
Shall the sons not exult in their sire?
Let money make sunny
And power make proud their lives,
And feed them and breed them
Like drones in drowsiest hives.
But if haply the name be a burden
And the souls be no kindred of theirs,
Should wise men rejoice in such guerdon
Or brave men exult in such heirs?
Or rather the father
Frown, shamefaced, on the son,
And no men but foemen,
Deriding, cry ‘Well done’?
Let the gold and the land they inherit
Pass ever from hand into hand:
In right of the forefather’s merit
Let the gold be the son’s, and the land.
Soft raiment, rich payment,
High place, the state affords;
Full measure of pleasure,
But now no more, my lords.
Is the future beleaguered with dangers
If the poor be far other than slaves?
Shall the sons of the land be as strangers
In the land of their forefathers’ graves?
Shame were it to bear it,
And shame it were to see:
If free men you be, men,
Let proof proclaim you free.
‘But democracy means dissolution:
See, laden with clamour and crime,
How the darkness of dim revolution
Comes deepening the twilight of time!
Ah, better the fetter
That holds the poor man’s hand
Than peril of sterile
Blind change that wastes the land.
‘Gaze forward through clouds that environ;
It shall be as it was in the past.
Not with dreams, but with blood and with iron,
Shall a nation be moulded to last.’
So teach they, so preach they,
Who dream themselves the dream
That hallows the gallows
And bids the scaffold stream.
‘With a hero at head, and a nation
Well gagged and well drilled and well cowed,
And a gospel of war and damnation,
Has not empire a right to be proud?
Fools prattle and tattle
Of freedom, reason, right,
The beauty of duty,
The loveliness of light.
‘But we know, we believe it, we see it,
Force only has power upon earth.’
So be it! and ever so be it
For souls that are bestial by birth!
Let Prussian with Russian
Exchange the kiss of slaves:
But sea-folk are free folk
By grace of winds and waves.
Has the past from the sepulchres beckoned?
Let answer from Englishmen be,
No man shall be lord of us reckoned
Who is baser, not better, than we.
No coward, empowered
To soil a brave man’s name;
For shame’s sake and fame’s sake,
Enough of fame and shame.
Fame needs not the golden addition;
Shame bears it abroad as a brand.
Let the deed, and no more the tradition,
Speak out and be heard through the land.
Pride, rootless and fruitless,
No longer takes and gives:
But surer and purer
The soul of England lives.
He is master and lord of his brothers
Who is worthier and wiser than they.
Him only, him surely, shall others,
Else equal, observe and obey.
Truth, flawless and awless,
Do falsehood what it can,
Makes royal the loyal
And simple heart of man.
Who are these, then, that England should hearken,
Who rage and wax wroth and grow pale
If she turn from the sunsets that darken
And her ship for the morning set sail?
Let strangers fear dangers:
All know, that hold her dear,
Dishonour upon her
Can only fall through fear.
Men, born of the landsmen and seamen
Who served her with souls and with swords,
She bids you be brothers, and free men,
And lordless, and fearless of lords.
She cares not, she dares not
Care now for gold or steel:
Light lead her, truth speed her,
God save the Commonweal!

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