Written on the occasion of the massacre carried out by the British Government
at Peterloo, Manchester 1819
As I lay asleep in Italy There came a voice from over the Sea, And with great power it forth led me To walk in the visions of Poesy. I met Murder on the way - He had a mask like Castlereagh - Very smooth he looked, yet grim; Seven blood-hounds followed him: All were fat; and well they might Be in admirable plight, For one by one, and two by two, He tossed the human hearts to chew Which from his wide cloak he drew. Next came Fraud, and he had on, Like Eldon, an ermined gown; His big tears, for he wept well, Turned to mill-stones as they fell. And the little children, who Round his feet played to and fro, Thinking every tear a gem, Had their brains knocked out by them. Clothed with the Bible, as with light, And the shadows of the night, Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy On a crocodile rode by. And many more Destructions played In this ghastly masquerade, All disguised, even to the eyes, Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies. Last came Anarchy: he rode On a white horse, splashed with blood; He was pale even to the lips, Like Death in the Apocalypse. And he wore a kingly crown; And in his grasp a sceptre shone; On his brow this mark I saw - 'I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!' With a pace stately and fast, Over English land he passed, Trampling to a mire of blood The adoring multitude. And a mighty troop around, With their trampling shook the ground, Waving each a bloody sword, For the service of their Lord. And with glorious triumph, they Rode through England proud and gay, Drunk as with intoxication Of the wine of desolation. O'er fields and towns, from sea to sea, Passed the Pageant swift and free, Tearing up, and trampling down; Till they came to London town. And each dweller, panic-stricken, Felt his heart with terror sicken Hearing the tempestuous cry Of the triumph of Anarchy. For with pomp to meet him came, Clothed in arms like blood and flame, The hired murderers, who did sing 'Thou art God, and Law, and King. 'We have waited, weak and lone For thy coming, Mighty One! Our Purses are empty, our swords are cold, Give us glory, and blood, and gold.' Lawyers and priests, a motley crowd, To the earth their pale brows bowed; Like a bad prayer not over loud, Whispering - 'Thou art Law and God.' - Then all cried with one accord, 'Thou art King, and God and Lord; Anarchy, to thee we bow, Be thy name made holy now!' And Anarchy, the skeleton, Bowed and grinned to every one, As well as if his education Had cost ten millions to the nation. For he knew the Palaces Of our Kings were rightly his; His the sceptre, crown and globe, And the gold-inwoven robe. So he sent his slaves before To seize upon the Bank and Tower, And was proceeding with intent To meet his pensioned Parliament When one fled past, a maniac maid, And her name was Hope, she said: But she looked more like Despair, And she cried out in the air: 'My father Time is weak and gray With waiting for a better day; See how idiot-like he stands, Fumbling with his palsied hands! He has had child after child, And the dust of death is piled Over every one but me - Misery, oh, Misery!' Then she lay down in the street, Right before the horses' feet, Expecting, with a patient eye, Murder, Fraud, and Anarchy. When between her and her foes A mist, a light, an image rose, Small at first, and weak, and frail Like the vapour of a vale: Till as clouds grow on the blast, Like tower-crowned giants striding fast, And glare with lightnings as they fly, And speak in thunder to the sky, It grew - a Shape arrayed in mail Brighter than the viper's scale, And upborne on wings whose grain Was as the light of sunny rain. On its helm, seen far away, A planet, like the Morning's, lay; And those plumes its light rained through Like a shower of crimson dew. With step as soft as wind it passed O'er the heads of men - so fast That they knew the presence there, And looked, - but all was empty air. As flowers beneath May's footstep waken, As stars from Night's loose hair are shaken, As waves arise when loud winds call, Thoughts sprung where'er that step did fall. And the prostrate multitude Looked - and ankle-deep in blood, Hope, that maiden most serene, Was walking with a quiet mien: And Anarchy, the ghastly birth, Lay dead earth upon the earth; The Horse of Death tameless as wind Fled, and with his hoofs did grind To dust the murderers thronged behind. A rushing light of clouds and splendour, A sense awakening and yet tender Was heard and felt - and at its close These words of joy and fear arose As if their own indignant Earth Which gave the sons of England birth Had felt their blood upon her brow, And shuddering with a mother's throe Had turned every drop of blood By which her face had been bedewed To an accent unwithstood, - As if her heart had cried aloud: 'Men of England, heirs of Glory, Heroes of unwritten story, Nurslings of one mighty Mother, Hopes of her, and one another; 'Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number, Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you - Ye are many - they are few. 'What is Freedom? - ye can tell That which slavery is, too well - For its very name has grown To an echo of your own. 'Tis to work and have such pay As just keeps life from day to day In your limbs, as in a cell For the tyrants' use to dwell, 'So that ye for them are made Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade, With or without your own will bent To their defence and nourishment. 'Tis to see your children weak With their mothers pine and peak, When the winter winds are bleak, - They are dying whilst I speak. 'Tis to hunger for such diet As the rich man in his riot Casts to the fat dogs that lie Surfeiting beneath his eye; 'Tis to let the Ghost of Gold Take from Toil a thousandfold More that e'er its substance could In the tyrannies of old. 'Paper coin - that forgery Of the title-deeds, which ye Hold to something of the worth Of the inheritance of Earth. 'Tis to be a slave in soul And to hold no strong control Over your own wills, but be All that others make of ye. 'And at length when ye complain With a murmur weak and vain 'Tis to see the Tyrant's crew Ride over your wives and you - Blood is on the grass like dew. 'Then it is to feel revenge Fiercely thirsting to exchange Blood for blood - and wrong for wrong - Do not thus when ye are strong. 'Birds find rest, in narrow nest When weary of their wingèd quest Beasts find fare, in woody lair When storm and snow are in the air. 'Asses, swine, have litter spread And with fitting food are fed; All things have a home but one - Thou, Oh, Englishman, hast none! 'This is slavery - savage men Or wild beasts within a den Would endure not as ye do - But such ills they never knew. 'What art thou Freedom? O! could slaves Answer from their living graves This demand - tyrants would flee Like a dream's dim imagery: 'Thou art not, as impostors say, A shadow soon to pass away, A superstition, and a name Echoing from the cave of Fame. 'For the labourer thou art bread, And a comely table spread From his daily labour come In a neat and happy home. 'Thou art clothes, and fire, and food For the trampled multitude - No - in countries that are free Such starvation cannot be As in England now we see. 'To the rich thou art a check, When his foot is on the neck Of his victim, thou dost make That he treads upon a snake. 'Thou art Justice - ne'er for gold May thy righteous laws be sold As laws are in England - thou Shield'st alike the high and low. 'Thou art Wisdom - Freemen never Dream that God will damn for ever All who think those things untrue Of which Priests make such ado. 'Thou art Peace - never by thee Would blood and treasure wasted be As tyrants wasted them, when all Leagued to quench thy flame in Gaul. 'What if English toil and blood Was poured forth, even as a flood? It availed, Oh, Liberty, To dim, but not extinguish thee. 'Thou art Love - the rich have kissed Thy feet, and like him following Christ, Give their substance to the free And through the rough world follow thee, 'Or turn their wealth to arms, and make War for thy belovèd sake On wealth, and war, and fraud - whence they Drew the power which is their prey. 'Science, Poetry, and Thought Are thy lamps; they make the lot Of the dwellers in a cot So serene, they curse it not. 'Spirit, Patience, Gentleness, All that can adorn and bless Art thou - let deeds, not words, express Thine exceeding loveliness. 'Let a great Assembly be Of the fearless and the free On some spot of English ground Where the plains stretch wide around. 'Let the blue sky overhead, The green earth on which ye tread, All that must eternal be Witness the solemnity. 'From the corners uttermost Of the bounds of English coast; From every hut, village, and town Where those who live and suffer moan, 'From the workhouse and the prison Where pale as corpses newly risen, Women, children, young and old Groan for pain, and weep for cold - 'From the haunts of daily life Where is waged the daily strife With common wants and common cares Which sows the human heart with tares - 'Lastly from the palaces Where the murmur of distress Echoes, like the distant sound Of a wind alive around 'Those prison halls of wealth and fashion, Where some few feel such compassion For those who groan, and toil, and wail As must make their brethren pale - 'Ye who suffer woes untold, Or to feel, or to behold Your lost country bought and sold With a price of blood and gold - 'Let a vast assembly be, And with great solemnity Declare with measured words that ye Are, as God has made ye, free - 'Be your strong and simple words Keen to wound as sharpened swords, And wide as targes let them be, With their shade to cover ye. 'Let the tyrants pour around With a quick and startling sound, Like the loosening of a sea, Troops of armed emblazonry. Let the charged artillery drive Till the dead air seems alive With the clash of clanging wheels, And the tramp of horses' heels. 'Let the fixèd bayonet Gleam with sharp desire to wet Its bright point in English blood Looking keen as one for food. 'Let the horsemen's scimitars Wheel and flash, like sphereless stars Thirsting to eclipse their burning In a sea of death and mourning. 'Stand ye calm and resolute, Like a forest close and mute, With folded arms and looks which are Weapons of unvanquished war, 'And let Panic, who outspeeds The career of armèd steeds Pass, a disregarded shade Through your phalanx undismayed. 'Let the laws of your own land, Good or ill, between ye stand Hand to hand, and foot to foot, Arbiters of the dispute, 'The old laws of England - they Whose reverend heads with age are gray, Children of a wiser day; And whose solemn voice must be Thine own echo - Liberty! 'On those who first should violate Such sacred heralds in their state Rest the blood that must ensue, And it will not rest on you. 'And if then the tyrants dare Let them ride among you there, Slash, and stab, and maim, and hew, - What they like, that let them do. 'With folded arms and steady eyes, And little fear, and less surprise, Look upon them as they slay Till their rage has died away. 'Then they will return with shame To the place from which they came, And the blood thus shed will speak In hot blushes on their cheek. 'Every woman in the land Will point at them as they stand - They will hardly dare to greet Their acquaintance in the street. 'And the bold, true warriors Who have hugged Danger in wars Will turn to those who would be free, Ashamed of such base company. 'And that slaughter to the Nation Shall steam up like inspiration, Eloquent, oracular; A volcano heard afar. 'And these words shall then become Like Oppression's thundered doom Ringing through each heart and brain, Heard again - again - again - 'Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable number - Shake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you - Ye are many - they are few.'