The Commonweal: A Song for Unionists

A poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Men, whose fathers braved the world in arms against our isles in union,
Men, whose brothers met rebellion face to face,
Show the hearts ye have, if worthy long descent and high communion,
Show the spirits, if unbroken, of your race.
What are these that howl and hiss across the strait of westward water?
What is he who floods our ears with speech in flood?
See the long tongue lick the dripping hand that smokes and reeks of slaughter!
See the man of words embrace the man of blood!
Hear the plea whereby the tonguester mocks and charms the gazing gaper,
"We are they whose works are works of love and peace;
Till disunion bring forth union, what is union, sirs, but paper?
Break and rend it, then shall trust and strength increase."
Who would fear to trust a double-faced but single-hearted dreamer,
Pure of purpose, clean of hand, and clear of guile?
"Life is well-nigh spent," he sighs; "you call me shuffler, trickster, schemer?
I am old, when young men yell at me, I smile."
Many a year that priceless light of life has trembled, we remember,
On the platform of extinction, unextinct;
Many a month has been for him the long year's last, life's calm December:
Can it be that he who said so, saying so, winked?
No; the lust of life, the thirst for work and days with work to do in,
Drove and drives him down the road of splendid shame;
All is well, if o'er the monument recording England's ruin
Time shall read, inscribed in triumph, Gladstone's name.
Thieves and murderers, hands yet red with blood and tongues yet black with lies,
Clap and clamour, "Parnell spurs his Gladstone well!"
Truth, unscared and undeluded by their praise or blame, replies,
"Is the goal of fraud and bloodshed heaven or hell?"
Old men eloquent, who truckle to the traitors of the time,
Love not office, power is no desire of theirs:
What if yesterday their hearts recoiled from blood and fraud and crime?
Conscience erred, an error which to-day repairs.
Conscience only now convinces them of strange though transient error:
Only now they see how fair is treason's face;
See how true the falsehood, just the theft, and blameless is the terror,
Which replaces just and blameless men in place.
Place and time decide the right and wrong of thought and word and action;
Crime is black as hell, till virtue gain its vote;
Then, but ah, to think or say so smacks of fraud or smells of faction!
Mercy holds the door while Murder hacks the throat.
Murder? Treason? Theft? Poor brothers who succumb to such temptations,
Shall we lay on you or take on us the blame?
Reason answers, and religion echoes round to wondering nations,
"Not with Ireland, but with England rests the shame."
Reason speaks through mild religion's organ, loud and long and lusty,
Profit speaks through lips of patriots pure and true,
"English friends, whose trust we ask for, has not England found us trusty?
Not for us we seek advancement, but for you.
"Far and near the world bears witness of our wisdom, courage, honour;
Egypt knows if there our fame burns bright or dim.
Let but England trust as Gordon trusted, soon shall come upon her
Such deliverance as our daring brought on him.
"Far and wide the world rings record of our faith, our constant dealing,
Love of country, truth to friends, contempt for foes.
Sign once more the bond of trust in us that here awaits but sealing,
We will give yet more than all our record shows.
"Perfect ruin, shame eternal, everlasting degradation,
Freedom bought and sold, truth bound and treason free."
Yet an hour is here for answer; now, if here be yet a nation,
Answer, England, man by man from sea to sea!

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