Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, by WILLIAM BLAKE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE FRENCH REVOLUTION, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The dead brood over europe: the cloud and vision descends over cheerful france
Last Line: Morning's beam.
Subject(s): Bible; French Revolution (1789); Mythology

Book the First.

The dead brood over Europe, the cloud and vision descends over
chearful France;
O cloud well appointed! Sick, sick: the Prince on his couch,
wreath'd in dim
And appalling mist; his strong hand outstetch'd, from his
shoulder down the bone
Runs aching cold into the scepter too heavy for mortal grasp. No
To be swayed by visible hand, nor in cruelty bruise the mild
flourishing mountains.

Sick the mountains, and all their vineyards weep, in the eyes of
the kingly mourner;
Pale is the morning cloud in his visage. Rise, Necker: the
ancient dawn calls us
To awake from slumbers of five thousands years. I awake, but my
soul is in dreams;
From my window I see the old mountains of France, like aged
men,fading away.

Troubled, leaning on Necker, descends the King, to his chamber of
council; shady mountains
In fear utter voices of thunder; the woods of France embosom the
Clouds of wisdom prophetic reply, and roll over the palace roof
Forty men: each conversing with woes in the infinite shadows of
his soul,
Like our ancient fathers in regions of twilight, walk, gathering
round the King;
Again the loud voice of France cries to the morning, the morning
prophecies to its clouds.

For the Commons convene in the Hall of the Nation. France shakes!
And the heavens of France
Perplex'd vibrate round each careful countenance! Darkness of old
times around them
Utters loud despair, shadowing Paris; her grey towers groan, and
the Bastile trembles.
In its terrible towers the Governor stood, in dark fogs list'ning
the horror;
A thousand his soldiers, old veterans of France, breathing red
clouds of power and dominion,
Sudden seiz'd with bowlings, despair, and black night, he stalk'd
like a lion from tower
To tower, his howlings were heard in the Louvre; from court to
court restless he dragg'd
His strong limbs; from court to court curs'd the fierce torment
Howling and giving the dark command; in his soul stood the purple
Tugging his iron manacles, and piercing through the seven towers
dark and sickly,
Panting over the prisoners like a wolf gorg'd; and the den nam'd
Horror held a man
Chain'd hand and foot, round his neck an iron band, bound to the
impregnable wall.
In his soul was the serpent coil'd round in his heart, hid from
the light, as in a cleft rock;
And the man was confin'd for a writing prophetic: in the tower
nam'd Darkness, was a man
Pinion'd down to the stone floor, his strong bones scarce cover'd
with sinews; the iron rings
Were forg'd smaller as the flesh decay'd, a mask of iron on his
face hid the lineaments
Of ancient Kings, and the frown of the eternal lion was hid from
the oppressed earth.
In the tower named Bloody, a skeleton yellow remained in its
chains on its couch
Of stone, once a man who refus'd to sign papers of abhorrence;
the eternal worm
Crept in the skeleton. In the den nam'd Religion, a loathsome
sick woman, bound down
To a bed of straw; the seven diseases of earth, like birds of
prey, stood on the couch,
And fed on the body. She refus'd to be whore to the Minister, and
with a knife smote him.
In the tower nam'd Order, an old man, whose white beard cover'd
the stone floor like weeds
On margin of the sea, shrivel'd up by heat of day and cold of
night; his den was short
And narrow as a grave dug for a child, with spiders webs wove,
and with slime
Of ancient horrors cover'd, for snakes and scorpions are his
companions; harmless they breathe
His sorrowful breath: he, by conscience urg'd, in the city of
Paris rais'd a pulpit,
And taught wonders to darken'd souls. In the den nam'd Destiny a
strong man sat,
His feet and hands cut off, and his eyes blinded; round his
middle a chain and a band
Fasten'd into the wall; fancy gave him to see an image of despair
in his den,
Eternally rushing round, like a man on his hands and knees, day
and night without rest.
He was friend to the favourite. In the seventh tower, nam'd the
tower of God, was a man
Mad, with chains loose, which he dragg'd up and down; fed with
hopes year by year, he pined
For liberty; vain hopes: his reason decay'd, and the world of
attraction in his bosom
Center'd, and the rushing of chaos overwhelm'd his dark soul. He
was confin'd
For a letter of advice to a King, and his ravings in winds are
heard over Versailles.

But the dens shook and trembled, the prisoners look up and assay
to shout; they listen,
Then laugh in the dismal den, then are silent, and a light walks
round the dark towers.
For the Commons convene in the Hall of the Nation; like spirits
of fire in the beautiful
Porches of the Sun, to plant beauty in the desart craving abyss,
they gleam
On the anxious city; all children new-born first behold them;
tears are fled,
And they nestle in earth-breathing bosoms. So the city of Paris,
their wives and children,
Look up to the morning Senate, and visions of sorrow leave
pensive streets.

But heavy brow'd jealousies lower o'er the Louvre, and terrors of
ancient Kings
Descend from the gloom and wander thro' the palace, and weep
round the King and his Nobles.
While loud thunders roll, troubling the dead, Kings are sick
throughout all the earth,
The voice ceas'd: the Nation sat: And the triple forg'd fetters
of times were unloos'd.
The voice ceas'd: the Nation sat: but ancient darkness and
trembling wander thro' the palace.

As in day of havock and routed battle, among thick shades of
On the soul-skirting mountains of sorrow cold waving: the Nobles
fold round the King,
Each stern visage lock'd up as with strong bands of iron, each
strong limb bound down as with marble,
In flames of red wrath burning, bound in astonishment a quarter
of an hour.

Then the King glow'd: his Nobles fold round, like the sun of old
time quench'd in clouds;
In their darkness the King stood, his heart flam'd, and utter'd a
with'ring heat, and these words burst forth:

The nerves of five thousand years ancestry tremble, shaking the
heavens of France;
Throbs of anguish beat on brazen war foreheads, they descend and
look into their graves.
I see thro' darkness, thro' clouds rolling round me, the spirits
of ancient Kings
Shivering over their bleached bones; round them their counsellors
lookup from the dust,
Crying: Hide from the living! Our bands and our prisoners shout
in the open field,
Hide in the nether earth! Hide in the bones! Sit obscured in the
hollow scull.
Our flesh is corrupted, and we wear away. We are not numbered
among the living. Let us hide
In stones, among roots of trees. The prisoners have burst their
Let us hide; let us hide in the dust; and plague and wrath and
tempest shall cease.

He ceas'd, silent pond'ring, his brows folded heavy, his forehead
was in affliction,
Like the central fire: from the window he saw his vast armies
spread over the hills,
Breathing red fires from man to man, and from horse to horse;
then his bosom
Expanded like starry heaven, he sat down: his Nobles took their
ancient seats.

Then the ancientest Peer, Duke of Burgundy, rose from the
Monarch's right hand, red as wines
From his mountains, an odor of war, like a ripe vineyard, rose
from his garments,
And the chamber became as a clouded sky; o'er the council he
stretch'd his red limbs,
Cloth'd in flames of crimson, as a ripe vineyard stretches over
sheaves of corn,
The fierce Duke hung over the council; around him croud, weeping
in his burning robe,
A bright cloud of infant souls; his words fall like purple autumn
on the sheaves.

Shall this marble built heaven become a clay cottage, this earth
an oak stool, and these mowers
From the Atlantic mountains, mow down all this great starry
harvest of six thousand years?
And shall Necker, the hind of Geneva, stretch out his crook'd
sickle o'er fertile France,
Till our purple and crimson is faded to russet, and the kingdoms
of earth bound in sheaves,
And the ancient forests of chivalry hewn, and the joys of the
combat burnt for fuel;
Till the power and dominion is rent from the pole, sword and
scepter from sun and moon,
The law and gospel from fire and air, and eternal reason and
From the deep and the solid, and man lay his faded head down on
the rock
Of eternity, where the eternal lion and eagle remain to devour?
This to prevent, urg'd by cries in day, and prophetic dreams
hovering in night,
To enrich the lean earth that craves, furrow'd with plows; whose
seed is departing from her;
Thy Nobles have gather'd thy starry hosts round this rebellious
To rouze up the ancient forests of Europe, with clarions of cloud
breathing war;
To hear the horse neigh to the drum and trumpet, and the trumpet
and war shout reply;
Stretch the hand that beckons the eagles of heaven; they cry over
Paris, and wait
Till Fayette point his finger to Versailles; the eagles of heaven
must have their prey.

The King lean'd on his mountains, then lifted his head and look'd
on his armies, that shone
Through heaven, tinging morning with beams of blood, then turning
to Burgundy troubled:
Burgundy, thou wast born a lion! My soul is o'ergrown with
For the Nobles of France, and dark mists roll round me and blot
the writing of God
Written in my bosom. Necker rise, leave the kingdom, thy life is
surrounded with snares;
We have call'd an Assembly, but not to destroy; we have given
gifts, not to the weak;
I hear rushing of muskets, and bright'ning of swords, and visages
redd'ning with war,
Frowning and looking up from brooding villages and every
dark'ning city;
Ancient wonders frown over the kingdom, and cries of women and
babes are heard,
And tempests of doubt roll around me, and fierce sorrows, because
of the Nobles of France;
Depart, answer not, for the tempest must fall, as in years that
are passed away.
He ceas'd, and burn'd silent, red clouds roll round Necker, a
weeping is heard o'er the palace;
Like a dark cloud Necker paus'd, and like thunder on the just
man's burial day he paus'd;
Silent sit the winds, silent the meadows, while the husbandman
and woman of weakness‘
clay with love,
Then turn towards pensive fields; so Necker paus'd, and his
visage was cover'd with clouds.
Dropping a tear the old man his place left, and when he was gone
He set his face toward Geneva to flee, and the women and children
of the city
Kneel'd round him and kissed his garments and wept; he stood a
short space in the street,
Then fled; and the whole city knew he was fled to Geneva, and the
Senate heard it.

But the Nobles burn'd wrathful at Necker's departure, and
wreath'd their clouds and waters
In dismal volumes; as risen from beneath the Archbishop of Paris
In the rushing of scales and hissing of flames and rolling of
sulphurous smoke.

Hearken, Monarch of France, to the terrors of heaven, and let thy
soul drink of my counsel;
Sleeping at midnight in my golden tower, the repose of the
labours of men
Wav'd its solemn cloud over my head. I awoke; a cold hand passed
over my limbs, and behold
An aged form, white as snow, hov'ring in mist, weeping in the
uncertain light,
Dim the form almost faded, tears fell down the shady cheeks; at
his feet many cloth'd
In white robes, strewn in air sensers and harps, silent they lay
Beneath, in the awful void, myriads descending and weeping thro'
dismal winds,
Endless the shady train shiv'ring descended, from the gloom where
the aged form wept.
At length, trembling, the vision sighing, in a low voice, like
the voice of the grasshopper whisper'd:
My groaning is heard in the abbeys, and God, so long worshipp'd,
departs as a lamp
Without oil; for a curse is heard hoarse thro' the land, from a
godless race
Descending to beasts; they look downward and labour and forget
my holy law;
The sound of prayer fails from lips of flesh, and the holy hymn
from thicken'd tongues;
For the bars of Chaos are burst; her millions prepare their fiery
Thro' the orbed abode of the holy dead, to root up and pull down
and remove,
And Nobles and Clergy shall fail from before me, and my cloud and
vision be no more;
The mitre become black, the crown vanish, and the scepter and
ivory staff
Of the ruler wither among bones of death; they shall consume from
the thistly field,
And the sound of the bell, and voice of the sabbath, and singing
of the holy choir,
Is turn'd into songs of the harlot in day, and cries of the
virgin in night.
They shall drop at the plow and faint at the harrow, unredeem'd,
unconfess'd, unpardon'd;
The priest rot in his surplice by the lawless lover, the holy
beside the accursed,
The King, frowning in purple, beside the grey plowman, and their
worms embrace together.
The voice ceas'd, a groan shook my chamber; I slept, for the
cloud of repose returned,
But morning dawn'd heavy upon me. I rose to bring my Prince
heaven utter'd counsel.
Hear my counsel, O King, and send forth thy Generals, the command
of heaven is upon thee;
Then do thou command, O King, to shut up this Assembly in their
final home;
Let thy soldiers possess this city of rebels, that threaten to
bathe their feet
In the blood of Nobility; trampling the heart and the head; let
the Bastile devour
These rebellious seditious; seal them up, O Anointed, in
everlasting chains.
He sat down, a damp cold pervaded the Nobles, and monsters of
worlds unknown
Swam round them, watching to be delivered; When Aumont, whose
chaos-born soul
Eternally wand'ring a Comet and swift-failing fire, pale enter'd
the chamber;
Before the red Council he stood, like a man that returns from
hollow graves.

Awe surrounded, alone thro' the army a fear and a with'ring
blight blown by the north;
The Abbe de Seyes from the Nation's Assembly. O Princes and‘
Unquestioned, unhindered, awe-struck are the soldiers; a dark
shadowy man in the form
Of King Henry the Fourth walks before him in fires, the captains
like men bound in chains
Stood still as he pass'd, he is come to the Louvre, O King, with
a message to thee;
The strong soldiers tremble, the horses their manes bow, and the
guards of thy palace are fled.

Up rose awful in his majestic beams Bourbon's strong Duke; his
proud sword from his thigh
Drawn, he threw on the Earth! the Duke of Bretagne and the Earl
of Borgogne
Rose inflam'd, to and fro in the chamber, like thunder-clouds
ready to burst.

What damp all our fires, O spectre of Henry, said Bourbon; and
rend the flames
From the head of our King! Rise, Monarch of France; command me,
and I will lead
This army of superstition at large, that the ardor of noble souls
May yet burn in France, nor our shoulders be plow'd with the
furrows of poverty.
Then Orleans generous as mountains arose, and unfolded his robe,
and put forth
His benevolent hand, looking on the Archbishop, who changed as
pale as lead;
Would have risen but could not, his voice issued harsh grating;
instead of words harsh hissings
Shook the chamber; he ceas'd abash'd. Then Orleans spoke, all was
He breath'd on them, and said, O princes of fire, whose flames
are for growth not consuming,
Fear not dreams, fear not visions, nor be you dismay'd with
sorrows which flee at the morning;
Can the fires of Nobility ever be quench'd, or the stars by a
stormy night?
Is the body diseas'd when the members are healthful? can the man
be bound in sorrow
Whose ev'ry function is fill'd with its fiery desire? can the
soul whose brain and heart
Cast their rivers in equal tides thro' the great Paradise,
languish because the feet
Hands, head, bosom, and parts of love, follow their high
breathing joy?
And can Nobles be bound whe the people are free, or God weep
when his children are happy?
Have you never seen Fayette's forehead, or Mirabeau's eyes, or
the shoulders of Target,
Or Bailly the strong foot of France, or Clermont the terrible
voice, and your robes
Still retain their own crimson? mine never yet faded, for fire
delights in its form.
But go, merciless man! enter into the infinite labyrinth of
another's brain
Ere thou measure the circle that he shall run. Go, thou cold
recluse,into the fires
Of another's high flaming rich bosom, and return unconsum'd, and
write laws.
If thou canst not do this, doubt thy theories, learn to consider
all men as thy equals,
Thy brethren, and not as thy foot or thy hand, unless thou first
fearest to hurt them.
The Monarch stood up, the strong Duke his sword to its golden
scabbard return'd,
The Nobles sat round like clouds on the mountains, when the storm
is passing away.
Let the Nation's Ambassador come among Nobles, like incense of
the valley.

Aumont went out and stood in the hollow porch, his ivory wand in
his hand;
A cold orb of disdain revolv'd round him, and covered his soul
with snows eternal.
Great Henry's soul shuddered, a whirlwind and fire tore furious
from his angry bosom;
He indignant departed on horses of heav'n. Then the Abbe de
Seyes rais'd his feet
On the steps of the Louvre, like a voice of God following a
storm, the Abbe follow'd
The pale fires of Aumont into the chamber, as a father that bows
to his son;
Whose rich fields inheriting spread their old glory, so the voice
of the people bowed
Before the ancient seat of the kingdom and mountains to be

Hear, O Heavens of France, the voice of the people, arising from
valley and hill,
O'erclouded with power. Hear the voice of vallies, the voice of
meek cities,
Mourning oppressed on village and field, till the village and
field is a waste.
For the husbandman weeps at blights of the fife, and blasting of
trumpets consume
The souls of mild France; the pale mother nourishes her child to
the deadly slaughter.
When the heavens were seal'd with a stone, and the terrible sun
clos'd in an orb, and the moon
Rent from the nations, and each star appointed for watchers of
The millions of spirits immortal were bound in the ruins of
sulphur heaven
To wander inslav'd; black, deprest in dark ignorance, kept in awe
with the whip,
To worship terrors, bred from the blood of revenge and breath of
In beastial forms; or more terrible men, till the dawn of our
peaceful morning,
Till dawn, till morning, till the breaking of clouds, and
swelling of winds, and the universal voice,
Till man raise his darken'd limbs out of the eaves of night, his
eyes and his heart
Expand: where is space! where O Sun is thy dwelling! where thy
tent, O faint slumb'rous Moon,
Then the valleys of France shall cry to the soldier, throw down
thy sword and musket,
And run and embrace the meek peasant. Her nobles shall hear and
shall weep, and put off
The red robe of terror, the crown of oppression, the shoes of
contempt, and unbuckle
The girdle of war from the desolate earth; then the Priest in his
thund'rous cloud
Shall weep, bending to earth embracing the valleys, and putting
his hand to the plow,
Shall say, no more I curse thee; but now I will bless thee: No
more in deadly black
Devour thy labour; nor lift up a cloud in thy heavens, O
laborious plow,
That the wild raging millions, that meander in forests, and howl
in law blasted wastes,
Strength madden'd with slavery, honesty, bound in the dens of
May sing in the village, and shout in the harvest, and woo in
pleasant gardens,
Their once savage loves, now beaming with knowledge, with gentle
awe adorned;
And the saw, and the hammer, the chisel, the pencil, the pen, and
the instruments
Of heavenly song sound in the wilds once forbidden, to teach the
laborious plowman
And shepherd deliver'd from clouds of war, from pestilence, from
night-fear, from murder,
From falling, from stifling, from hunger, from cold, from
slander, discontent and sloth;
That walk in beasts and birds of night, driven back by the sandy
Like pestilent fogs round cities of men: and the happy earth sing
in its course,
The mild peaceable nations be opened to heav'n, and men walk with
their fathers in bliss.
Then hear the first voice of the morning: Depart, O clouds of
night, and no more
Return; be withdrawn cloudy war, troops of warriors depart, nor
around our peaceable city
Breathe fires, but ten miles from Paris, let all be peace, nor a
soldier be seen.
He ended; the wind of contention arose and the clouds cast their
shadows, the Princes
Like the mountains of France, whose aged trees utter an awful
voice, and their branches
Are shatter'd, till gradual a murmur is heard descending into the
Like a voice in the vineyards of Burgundy, when grapes are
shaken on grass;
Like the low voice of the labouring man, instead of the shout of
And the palace appear'd like a cloud driven abroad; blood ran
down, the ancient pillars,
Thro' the cloud a deep thunder, the Duke of Burgundy, delivers
the King's command.

Seest thou yonder dark castle, that moated around, keeps this
city of Paris in awe.
Go command yonder tower, saying, Bastile depart, and take thy
shadowy course.
Overstep the dark river, thou terrible tower, and get thee up
into the country ten miles.
And thou black southern prison, move along the dusky road to
Versailles; there
Frown on the gardens, and if it obey and depart, then the King
will disband
This war-breathing army; but if it refuse, let the Nation's
Assembly thence learn,
That this army of terrors, that prison of horrors, are the bands
of the murmuring kingdom.

Like the morning star arising above the black waves, when a
shipwreck'd soul sighs for morning,
Thro' the ranks, silent, walk'd the Ambassador back to the
Nation's Assembly, and told
The unwelcome message; silent they heard; then a thunder roll'd
round loud and louder,
Like pillars of ancient halls, and ruins of times remote they
Like a voice from the dim pillars Mirabeau rose; the thunders
subsided away;
A rushing of wings around him was heard as he brighten'd, and
cried out aloud,
Where is the General of the Nation? the walls re-echo'd: Where is
the General of the Nation?

Sudden as the bullet wrapp'd in his fire, when brazen cannons
rage in the field,
Fayette sprung from his seat saying, Ready! then bowing like
clouds, man toward man, the Assembly
Like a council of ardors seated in clouds, bending over the
cities of men,
And over the armies of strife, where their children are
marshall'd together to battle;
They murmuring divide, while the wind sleeps beneath, and the
numbers are counted in silence,
While they vote the removal of War, and the pestilence weighs his
red wings in the sky.

So Fayette stood silent among the Assembly, and the votes were
given and the numbers numb'red;
And the vote was, that Fayette should order the army to remove
ten miles from Paris.

The aged sun rises appall'd from dark mountains, and gleams a
dusky beam
On Fayette, but on the whole army a shadow, for a cloud on the
eastern hills
Hover'd, and stretch'd across the city and across the army, and
across the Louvre,
Like a flame of fire he stood before dark ranks, and before
expecting captains
On pestilent vapours around him flow frequent spectres of
religious men weeping
In winds driven out of the abbeys, their naked souls shiver in
keen open air,
Driven out by the fiery cloud of Voltaire, and thund'rous rocks
of Rousseau,
They dash like foam against the ridges of the army, uttering a
faint feeble cry.
Gleams of fire streak the heavens, and of sulpur the earth,
from Fayette as he lifted his hand;
But silent he stood, till all the officers rush round him like
Round the shore of France, in day of the British flag, when heavy
Affright the coasts, and the peasant looks over the sea and wipes
a tear;
Over his head the soul of Voltaire shone fiery, and over the army
Rousseau his white cloud
Unfolded, on souls of war-living terrors silent list'ning toward
His voice loud inspir'd by liberty, and by spirits of the dead,
thus thunder'd.

The Nation's Assembly command, that the Army remove ten miles
from Paris;
Nor a soldier be seen in road or in field, till the Nation
command return.

Rushing along iron ranks glittering the officers each to his
Depart, and the stern captain strokes his proud steed, and in
front of his solid ranks
Waits the sound of trumpet; captains of foot stand each by his
cloudy drum;
Then the drum beats, and the steely ranks move, and trumpets
rejoice in the sky.
Dark cavalry like clouds fraught with thunder ascend on the
hills, and bright infantry, rank
Behind rank, to the soul shaking drum and shrill fife along the
roads glitter like fire.
The noise of trampling, the wind of trumpets, smote the palace
walls with a blast.
Pale and cold sat the king in midst of his peers, and his noble
heart stink, and his pulses
Suspended their motion, a darkness crept over his eye-lids, and
chill cold sweat
Sat round his brows faded in faint death, his peers pale like
mountains of the dead,
Cover'd with dews of night, groaning, shaking forests and floods.
The cold newt
And snake, and damp toad, on the kingly foot crawl, or croak on
the awful knee,
Shedding their slime, in folds of the robe the crown'd adder
builds and hisses
From stony brows; shaken the forests of France, sick the kings of
the nations,
And the bottoms of the world were open'd, and the graves of
arch-angels unseal'd;
The enormous dead, lift up their pale fires and look over the
rocky cliffs.

A faint heat from their fires reviv'd the cold Louvre; the frozen
blood reflow'd.
Awful up rose the king, him the peers follow'd, they saw the
courts of the Palace
Forsaken, and Paris without a soldier, silent, for the noise was
gone up
And follow'd the army, and the Senate in peace, sat beneath
morning's beam.

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