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Sir Henry Parkes, “The Beauteous Terrorist” (Sophie Perovskaya, 1885)

“She was beautiful. It was not the beauty which dazzles at first sight, but that which fascinates the more, the more it is regarded.

“A blonde, with a pair of blue eyes, serious and penetrating, under a broad and spacious forehead. A delicate little nose; a charming mouth, which showed, when she smiled, two rows of very fine white teeth.

“It was, however, her countenance as a whole which was the attraction. There was something brisk, vivacious, and at the same time, ingenuous in her rounded face. She was girlhood personified. Notwithstanding her twenty-six years, she seemed scarcely eighteen. A small, slender, and very graceful figure, and a voice as charming, silvery, and sympathetic as could be, heightened the illusion. It became almost a certainty when she began to laugh, which very often happened. She had the ready laugh of a girl, and laughed with so much heartiness, and so unaffectedly, that she really seemed a young lass of sixteen.

“She gave little thought to her appearance. She dressed in the most modest manner, and perhaps did not even know what dress or ornament was becoming or unbecoming. But she had a passion for neatness, and in this was as punctilious as a Swiss girl.

“She was very fond of children, and was an excellent schoolmistress. There was, however, another office which she filled even better, that of nurse. When any of her friends fell ill, Sophia was the first to offer herself for this difficult duty, and she performed that duty with such gentleness, cheerfulness, and patience that she won the hearts of her patients for all time.

“Yet this woman, with such an innocent appearance and with such a sweet and affectionate disposition, was one of the most dreaded members of the Terrorist party.

“Sophia Perovskaia belonged, like Krapotkine, to the highest aristocracy of Russia. The Perovski are the younger branch of the family of the famous Rasumousky, the morganatic husband of the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, who occupied the throne of Russia in the middle of last century (1741-1762).

“Such was the family to which this woman belonged, who gave such a tremendous blow to Czarism.”— Underground Russia


The Beauteous Terrorist

Sir Henry Parkes

 

Soft as the morning’s pearly light,
Where yet may rise the thunder-cloud,
Her gentle face was ever bright
With noble thought and purpose proud.

Dreamt ye that those divine blue eyes,
That beauty free from pride or blame,
Were fashion’d but to terrorize
O’er Despot’s power of sword and flame?

Beware! Those beauteous lineaments
Of girlhood shrine a force sublime,
Which moulds to fearful use events,
And dares arraign Imperial crime.

A fear was in the peasants’ eyes,
A palsy smote both tongue and hand;
A network of police and spies
O’erspread the tyrant-tortured land.

The dungeons swallowed all our best—
Who next should perish none could say;
A thousand victims of arrest
Were torn from us one summer day.

The judges, sworn to guard the right,
Interpreted the tyrant’s bent;
Though cleared by witnesses of light,
‘Twas hard to save the innocent.

The Senate, in its ordered state,
Might free — its voice inspired no awe
Acquittal did not liberate —
The Autocrat annulled the law.

The tender, sweet Enthusiast,
The bright-eyed maid with hero’s soul,
Had watched the thickening shadow cast
O’er all the land, in death and dole.

Her girlhood’s secret studies, late
And early, in her princely home;
Her converse with the good and great,
The lessons taught by Greece and Rome,

Had nerved her heart to action strong ;
She joined the few who dared the worst,
Resolved to strike the monster Wrong —
To wrestle with the Thing accurst!

Pale Freedom’s devotees, whose creed
Was vengeance, who in silent trust
Prepared themselves to bear and bleed,
And bravely die — if die they must.

What matter’d, so the Despot’s doom
And Freedom’s advent, nearer drew ?
Their chosen path was through the gloom —
The perils of their choice they knew.

To give their all, even life, were sweet —
Not half, as Ananias gave —
So they might see the work complete,
Or feel it finished in the grave.

The early rose of womanhood
Had scarce illumed her angel face,
When ‘mongst conspirators she stood —
The bravest in the darkest place.

In danger, failure, suffering, she
Cheer’d on with her unchanging smile,
Still looking forth to victory,
As free from doubt as far from guile.

Stern men pursued the work of death —
No war-cry raised, no flag, unfurled —
They laid the mine whose nitric breath
Should blow the tyrant from the world.

Dark warfare! — oh, how pitiless!
What else for them? — no right of speech,
No right of meeting for redress,
No right the rights of man to teach:

How plead their cause in burning words?
How arm’d in just rebellion rise? —
Where gleam a million servile swords,
Where Drown for prey a million spies.

To counsel, organize, sustain,
To plan escape, to lead attack,
Her steady hand and luminous brain
Were ever Onward — never Back!

Her voice was like a holy bell,
Calling to highest sacrifice;
When black disaster heaviest fell,
She stood all smiles to pay the price!

Baffled surprise and bold escape,
Endurance long, at last are o’er;
The Monster’s jaws insatiate gape,
Whose cry for blood is ever “More!”

The hunters close around her path,
Her forfeit life is in their hands;
She neither bends before their wrath,
Nor braves her captor’s hireling bands.

She meets her fate serene and still,
Above all earthly hopes and fears;
If once her eyes the teardrops fill,
Her mother’s grief unlocks the tears.

The mockery of trial came,
And follow’d swift the words of doom;
But ignominy, woe, and shame
Were far from her — her dungeon-tomb

Held spiritual companions; there
A light, which others could not see,
Shone in her heart, and everywhere —
To die was only to be free!

Six days no friendly face came near,
No sister’s clinging arm, no word
From all the loved ones reach’d her ear —
Her mother’s voice no more was heard.

Six days the weeping mother sought
To see her sentenced child in vain;
Their eyes ne’er met till she was brought
Forth in the daylight — to be slain!

She stood beneath the felon rope —
Her beauty felt the hangman’s hand;
But, steadfast in her life-long hope,
She only saw “the promised land!”

The promised land of Truth and Right —
The holy cause of Freedom won!
She only saw the far-off Light,
And heard the People marching on!

She stood — her cheek rose-lighted still —
A moment, calm and iron-willed;
Then all of her which Power could kill
Was mercilessly crushed and killed.

The scaffold had its radiant prey,
The Despot’s minions breathed secure —
The proud and haughty went their way,
Spurning the dead so young and pure.

But souls like her’s survive the fate
Which tyrants in their might decree,
And ever live to animate
The nations struggling to be free.

Purged of the dross of earth, the fire
Of one great spirit’s holocaust
Will thousands wake to patriot ire —
Will raise to life a patriot host!


Sir Henry Parkes, “The Beauteous Terrorist,” The Beauteous Terrorist and Other Poems,” (Melbourne: George Robertson: 1885): 1.

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