France: An Ode

Original Text: 
The Morning Post (April 16, 1798).
1  Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,
2    Whose pathless march no mortal may control!
3    Ye Ocean-Waves! that, wheresoe'er ye roll,
4Yield homage only to eternal laws!
5Ye Woods! that listen to the night-birds singing,
6    Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined.
7Save when your own imperious branches swinging,
8    Have made a solemn music of the wind!
9Where, like a man beloved of God,
10Through glooms, which never woodman trod,
11    How oft, pursuing fancies holy,
12My moonlight way o'er flowering weeds I wound,
13    Inspired, beyond the guess of folly,
14By each rude shape and wild unconquerable sound!
15O ye loud Waves! and O ye Forests high!
16    And O ye Clouds that far above me soared!
17Thou rising Sun! thou blue rejoicing Sky!
18    Yea, every thing that is and will be free!
19    Bear witness for me, wheresoe'er ye be,
20    With what deep worship I have still adored
21      The spirit of divinest Liberty.
22  When France in wrath her giant-limbs upreared,
23    And with that oath, which smote air, earth, and sea,
24    Stamped her strong foot and said she would be free,
25Bear witness for me, how I hoped and feared!
26With what a joy my lofty gratulation
27    Unawed I sang, amid a slavish band:
28And when to whelm the disenchanted nation,
29    Like fiends embattled by a wizard's wand,
30      The Monarchs marched in evil day,
31      And Britain joined the dire array;
32    Though dear her shores and circling ocean,
33Though many friendships, many youthful loves
34    Had swoln the patriot emotion
35And flung a magic light o'er all her hills and groves;
36Yet still my voice, unaltered, sang defeat
37    To all that braved the tyrant-quelling lance,
38And shame too long delayed and vain retreat!
39For ne'er, O Liberty! with partial aim
40I dimmed thy light or damped thy holy flame;
41    But blessed the paeans of delivered France,
42And hung my head and wept at Britain's name.
43  "And what," I said, "though Blasphemy's loud scream
44    With that sweet music of deliverance strove!
45    Though all the fierce and drunken passions wove
46A dance more wild than e'er was maniac's dream!
47    Ye storms, that round the dawning East assembled,
48The Sun was rising, though ye hid his light!"
49    And when, to soothe my soul, that hoped and trembled,
50The dissonance ceased, and all seemed calm and bright;
51    When France her front deep-scarr'd and gory
52    Concealed with clustering wreaths of glory;
53      When, insupportably advancing,
54    Her arm made mockery of the warrior's ramp;
55      While timid looks of fury glancing,
56    Domestic treason, crushed beneath her fatal stamp,
57Writhed like a wounded dragon in his gore;
58    Then I reproached my fears that would not flee;
59"And soon," I said, "shall Wisdom teach her lore
60In the low huts of them that toil and groan!
61And, conquering by her happiness alone,
62    Shall France compel the nations to be free,
63Till Love and Joy look round, and call the Earth their own."
64  Forgive me, Freedom! O forgive those dreams!
65    I hear thy voice, I hear thy loud lament,
66    From bleak Helvetia's icy caverns sent--
67I hear thy groans upon her blood-stained streams!
68    Heroes, that for your peaceful country perished,
69And ye that, fleeing, spot your mountain-snows
70    With bleeding wounds; forgive me, that I cherished
71One thought that ever blessed your cruel foes!
72    To scatter rage, and traitorous guilt,
73    Where Peace her jealous home had built;
74      A patriot-race to disinherit
75Of all that made their stormy wilds so dear;
76      And with inexpiable spirit
77To taint the bloodless freedom of the mountaineer--
78O France, that mockest Heaven, adulterous, blind,
79    And patriot only in pernicious toils!
80Are these thy boasts, Champion of human kind?
81    To mix with Kings in the low lust of sway,
82Yell in the hunt, and share the murderous prey;
83To insult the shrine of Liberty with spoils
84    From freemen torn; to tempt and to betray?
85      The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,
86    Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game
87    They burst their manacles and wear the name
88      Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!
89    O Liberty! with profitless endeavour
90Have I pursued thee, many a weary hour;
91    But thou nor swell'st the victor's strain, nor ever
92Didst breathe thy soul in forms of human power.
93    Alike from all, howe'er they praise thee,
94    (Nor prayer, nor boastful name delays thee)
95      Alike from Priestcraft's harpy minions,
96    And factious Blasphemy's obscener slaves,
97      Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions,
98The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves!
99And there I felt thee!--on that sea-cliff's verge,
100    Whose pines, scarce travelled by the breeze above,
101Had made one murmur with the distant surge!
102Yes, while I stood and gazed, my temples bare,
103And shot my being through earth, sea, and air,
104    Possessing all things with intensest love,
105      O Liberty! my spirit felt thee there.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
J. D. Robins
RPO Edition: 
2RP 2.114.