Category Archives: poetry

Joseph Verey, “Vera Sassulitch” (1880)

VERA SASSULITCH.
Joseph Verey

If any asked the student, which
He thought the prettiest among
A score of Moscow school-girls, “Young
And gentle Vera Sassulitch,”
He answered with a ready tongue.

Netchaieff was the student named,
And Vera and his sister moved
In the same social grade, and loved
Each other, and the student claimed
The heart of Vera unreproved.

But oft Netchaieffs mind was bent—
With passion which to youth belongs—
Upon the many cruel wrongs
Of a despotic Government,
Deriding it in tales and songs.

And some of these to Vera given,
Around her drew the fatal coil
Of eager spies, whose hateful toil
Already had the student driven
For ever from his native soil.

And Vera, only seventeen,
A maiden spotless as the snow—
Still troubled by the heavy blow
Of broken love, which youth is keen
To feel, in all its bitter woe—

Suspected by the grim police,
Despite her innocence, her tears,
To satisfy a despot’s fears
Was dragged from home and love and peace,
To pine in prison two long years.

There time rolled, like a viewless sea,
In breaking waves of nights and days,
And dull, monotonous prison ways;
And not a face did Vera see
Save the stern jailor’s sphinx-like gaze.

The clanking of the shouldered gun,
The sentinel’s unfailing stride,
The wind blown through the courtyard wide,
Free, while of freedom there was none
For any human soul inside:

The striking of the fortress clock,
Making the weary prisoner weep-
So many hours remained ‘ere sleep
Would come, her sinking heart to mock
With dreams of home, in slumber deep—

Such was her life; and Vera strove
To guess what purpose there could be
In robbing her of liberty,
And gentle friends, and holy love—
And when the jailor turned the key

At night and morn to bring her food,
From day to day, from year to year,
She questioned him with many a tear—
“If you are human flesh and blood,
Tell me, why am I lingering here?”

But silent as the blocks of stone
Of which the fortress walls were built,
Where many a patriot’s blood was spilt,
He answered not a single tone,
And left her ignorant of guilt.

At length (in secret, as of old
They brought her to the dreary cell)
One night, when the slow prison bell
The Janitor’s approach foretold,
On her astonished ears there fell

The magic sentence, “You are free!”
No reason could her tyrants find
Longer a simple girl to bind;
And Vera gained her liberty
To pacify the public mind.

Soothed by a tender mother’s care,
A glimpse of happiness returned—
New life within her bosom burned,
With wholesome food and pleasant air;
And not a cloud could be discerned

O’er those brief days of freedom, rich
In love and tenderness, and blest
With simple joys and needed rest,
When fated Vera Sassulitch
Once more was taken in arrest;

But a “paternal Government,”
Fearing the wrath of honest men,
Or sting of democratic pen,
Resolved upon her banishment
Afar beyond the public ken.

Therefore, one leaden wintry day—
Giving no time for fond caress,
For parting word, or change of dress—
They bore her many a league away,
To spend her days in loneliness.

The frost was keen, she scarce could stir,
And might have perished of the cold,
But pity, dear to Christ of old,
Touched the rude soldiers guarding her—
Would that in characters of gold

I might the simple record tell!
How, with pure, sacred, human love—
Love such as cynics scarce reprove,
Love which, from earth whereon we dwell,
Doth many a heavy yoke remove—

A soldier covered Vera warm,
In his own furs, against the blast,
As o’er the frozen wastes they passed;
And, after weeks of snow and storm,
They reached the exile’s home at last.

A rouble and a book in French,
A tiny box of homely sweets—
A remnant of her school-girl treats—
Was all her store. Well might she blench,
Thus cast adrift in lonely streets,

Beneath a wintry northern sky,
Ill clad, to wander o’er the snow,
And watched wherever she might go
By sleepless iron tyranny,
Indifferent to human woe.

Thus Vera, friendless and unhoused,
With bitter want and bitter tears,
In exile passed eleven years,
Until her very soul was roused
To trample on her woman’s fears.

Her own distresses she had borne
As meekly as a cloistered nun,
And her unhappy fate had won
Pity from people as forlorn
As any underneath the sun.

But Vera had an honoured friend
With whom, when youth was in its flower,
She often passed a blissful hour;
He, daring boldly to contend
With some extreme abuse of power,

Soon with authority at odds,
And marked by the detested race
Of spies, was in a public place
Scourged, like the vilest slave, with rods,
And scarce survived the foul disgrace,

Not woman, but avenger now,
Vera appeared to feel the blows
Dealt to her friend, and fiercely rose,
With sacred wrath upon her brow,
The cruel tyrants to oppose.

The instigator of the wrong,
Of which none dared to speak aloud,
Was Trepoff, insolent and proud—
Ever with fetter, brand, and thong
Striving to quell the timid crowd.

Without a thought, or plan, or plot,
None giving counsel or advice,
Without considering the price
The act might cost her, Vera shot
The hated chief of the police!

He was but wounded—Vera’s aim
Was not intended for his heart,
She only sought in hovel, mart,
And palace, to awake the claim
Of justice, and thus bore her part;

And made no effort to obtain
Her freedom when they came to seize
Their victim, binding her with ease,
And to the gloomy cells again
Taking her by the law’s decrees.

But, spite of despots, holy truth
Had pierced the sullen prison wall,
And bolder tongues began to call
For justice. Vera’s wrongs, her youth,
Her provocation, touched them all.

And when, to the Tribunal brought,
Her advocate the story told
With simple truth and accents bold,
And swiftly, eloquently wrought
Upon the hearts of young and old,

Telling the poor excuse for which
(When little older than a child)
A jealous Government exiled
Unhappy Vera Sassulitch,
Into the chill Siberian wild:

The jurors, through oppression bold,
Acquitted her, and students leapt,
And workmen cheered, and women wept,
As through the streets the tale was told,
When Vera from the prison stept,

Quitting the fortress that glad morn,
Welcomed by thousands, rich and poor;
Yet ‘ere she reached her mother’s door,
Again she was from freedom torn,
And saw her peaceful home no more!

What dreams of vengeance since have filled
The heart of Vera few can tell;
Yet this we know, that freedom’s spell,
Until life’s latest pulse is stilled,
Will strife with tyranny compel.

Whether amid Siberian snows,
Or exiled far beyond the sea,
She yet may wander sad but free,
Or in the grave may find repose,
Her name a household word will be!

Poems: Grave and Gay (London: Tinsley, Brothers, 1880): 65-74.

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Joaquin Miller, “Sophia Perovskaya” (1881)

Sophie Perovskaya,

220px-S_Perovskaya

LIBERTY’S MARTYRED HEROINE.

Hanged April 15, 1881,

For Helping to Rid the World of a Tyrant.


Down from her high estate she stept,

            A maiden, gently born

And by the icy Volga kept

            Sad watch, and waited morn;

And peasants say that where she slept

            The new moon dipped her horn.

                        Yet on and on, through shoreless snows

                                    Stretched tow'rd the great north pole,

                        The foulest wrong the good God known

                                    Rolls as dark rivers roll.

                        While never once for all these woes

                                    Upspeaks one human soul.




She toiled, she taught the peasant, taught

            The dark-eyed Tartar. He,

Inspired with her lofty thought,

            Rose up and sought to be,

What God at the creation wrought,

            A man! God-like and free.

                        Yet e'er before him yawn the black

                                    Siberian mines! And oh,

                        The knout upon the bare white back!

                                    The blood upon the snow!

                        The gaunt wolves, close upon the track,

                                    Fight o'er the fallen so!




And this that one might wear a crown

            Snatched from a strangled sire!

And this that two might mock or frown,

            From high thrones climblng higher,

To where the parricide looks down

            With harlot in desire!

                        Yet on, beneath the great north star,

                                    Like some lost, living thing,

                        That long line stretches black and far

                                    Till buried by death's wing!

                        And great men praise the goodly czar —

                                    But God sits pitying.




The storm burst forth! From out that storm

            The clean, red lightning leapt!

And lo, a prostrate royal form!

            Like any blood, his crept

Down through the snow, all smoking warm,

            And Alexander slept!

                        Yea, one lies dead, for millions dead!

                                    One red spot in the snow

                        For one long damning line of red;

                                    While exiles endless go —

                        The babe at breast, the mother's head

                                    Bowed down, and dying so!




And did a woman do this deed?

            Then build her scaffold high,

That all may on her forehead read

            Her martyr's right to die!

Ring Cossack round on royal steed!

            Now lift her to the sky!

                        But see! From out the black hood shines

                                    A light few look upon!

                        Poor exile, see! from dark deep mines,

                                    Your star at burst of dawn !

                        A thud! a creak of hangman's lines —

                                    A frail shape jerked and drawn !




The czar is dead; the woman dead.

            About her neck a cord.

In God's house rests his royal head —

            Here in a place abhorred;

Yet I would rather have her bed

            Than thine, most royal lord!

                        Yea, rather be that woman dead,

                                    Than this new living czar,

                        To hide in dread, with both hands red,

                                    Behind great bolt and bar —

                        While like the dead, still endless tread

                                   Sad exiles tow'rd their star.

Joaquin Miller.


Joaquin Miller, “Sophie Perovskaya, Liberty’s Martyred Heroine,” Liberty 1, no. 1 (August 6, 1881): 1.

 

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George Barlow, “Sophia Perovskaia” (1895)

SOPHIA PEROVSKAIA.

Blue-eyed, fair-haired, a girl in outward seeming,
With lips, men held, that only cared to sing,
When thy foot passed along the meadows dreaming
Soft dreams and tender of the gold-haired Spring—

When other maidens dreamed with longing wonder
Of love, thou crowned with Spring’s most loving light
Beneath blue skies wast dreaming of the thunder,
Beneath the morn wast dreaming of the night .

High-born, thou didst forsake the lordly places;
Thy young heart thrilled at Freedom’s trumpet-call:
Thou wanderedst forth, a light for poor men’s faces;
Love, wealth, repose,—thou didst surrender all.

And has not yet from our free isle resounded
One song, one hymn of passionate love for thee,
Who, when the tyrant’s red-stained deeds abounded,
Didst say, “One soul in Russia still is free”?

When thou didst strike, were all our singers staggered
At thy vast force of soul that none could say,
“A strong god at a touch turned pale and haggard,
A Czar before a girl’s stroke passed away “?

I would not die without one true word spoken
Whereby, if but for one short moment’s space,
The English chill grim silence may be broken:
I love, who never looked upon thy face.

Singing, I hail thee from a land that never
For all its errors, countless though they are,
Stooped to endure, nor will it stoop for ever
To endure, the smile or sceptre of a Czar.

The message of our English ringing fountains,
The message of the fells, to thee I bear:
For thee speaks once again from cloud-crowned mountains
The voice at which world-tyrannies despair.

The greeting of our English oaks and willows,
The greeting of our flowers, I send to thee;
The royal love-song of our kingless billows,
And our sun’s song, wherewith he loves our sea:

The solemn kiss of England’s pure-souled daughters
That should have been, that one day will be, thine;
The song of stars that gleam o’er English waters;
The song that makes the enchanted night divine:

The song of English cliff and gold-flowered hollow;
The chant of poet-souls as yet unborn,
Whose stronger footsteps on my step shall follow;
The love-song of the winds that woo the morn:

All these are thine for ever.—When Love hearkened
With listening heart and tearful eyes to thee,
Thou then didst choose the loveless road that darkened;
Beloved by Time, didst choose Eternity.

Behind, a thousand flowers of varied pleasure;
In front, the scentless air, the starless gloom!
A life that might yield joy in sumptuous measure,
Glad rainbow-hopes, behind. In front, the tomb!

Yet thou didst choose the tomb. With stern lips firmer
Than hers by whom foul Marat’s fate was planned
Thou chosest death. Thou diedst without a murmur,
Thy white hand locked in Charlotte Corday’s hand.


George Barlow, From Dawn to Sunset (London: Roxburghe Press, 1895): 190-191.

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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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Hubert Church, “Vera Figner” (1908)

[Vera Figner, Russian Revolutionary; a woman of great charm and radiant beauty. She was condemned to imprisonment for life, and for twenty years was immured in the living rave of the Schlusselburg Fortress. When these lines were composed the writer thought that Vera Figner was still in prison. By a strange chance, on three days after the lines were written, he read that Vera Figner had been released.]

I.

Vera Figner, when the breezes blow,
Do you awaken to the hostile morn?
Or do you live so numbed you do not know,
Like a toad in a granite tempest-worn?
Vera Figner, are the eyes bedewed
That men had died for in the far-away?
Is your face like a wounded soul—subdued
To grief that never heals for any day?

II.

Does the clock in the turret tell you now
The morn is vanishing, the day declines?
Or is all thought beneath the drooping brow
Vacant and gloomy as the winter pines?
Have men betrampled through the many years
Your soul submitting till its very deep
Has oozed away to dust: till you lack tears,
Denied the unhappy ones who cannot weep?

III.

Oh marvel of misfortune that a soul
So full of liberty and love should be
Tired, ever tired, to creep like any mole
From wall to wall in darkling vacancy.
To wrap the rich thought of the brain in death,
For never any sound may let it forth.
Oh God, that givest consecrated breath
To holy truth, why tarryeth Thy wrath?

IV.

Beloved of all spirits that achieve
Through agony—Oh, miserable, thou,
Who hast all suffering, but cannot leave
Thy burden ever! What is breathing now
But a poor disinheritance of days?
And even that poor remnant is defiled;
For thee that shouldst have trod delicious ways
No morn, no eve, no love, no roof, no child.

V.

Thou canst not be endungeoned evermore:
Thy soul is where the breezes blow with pain
Past Ladoga: there is not any shore
That hath not felt thy yearning. If again
Thou hast all agony, thou hast the crown,
The heaven within the spirit that shall save,
Though earth be cruel. Death hath his renown,
But cannot pass our conquerable grave.


Hubert Church, “Vera Figner,” Egmont (Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1908): 52-53.

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