Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MIRABEAU, by JOHN STERLING (1806-1844)

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

MIRABEAU, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Not oft has peopled earth sent up
Last Line: When I remember mirabeau.
Subject(s): Mirabeau (1715-1789)

NOT oft has peopled earth sent up
So deep and wide a groan before,
As when the word astounded France
-- "The life of Mirabeau is o'er!"
From its one heart a nation wail'd,
For well the startled sense divined
A greater power had fled away
Than aught that now remained behind.

The scathed and haggard face of will,
And look so strong with weapon'd thought,
Had been to many million hearts
The All between themselves and naught;
And so they stood aghast and pale,
As if to see the azure sky
Come shattering down, and show beyond
The black and bare Infinity.

For he, while all men trembling peer'd
Upon the Future's empty space,
Had strength to bid above the void
The oracle unveil its face;
And when his voice could rule no more,
A thicker weight of darkness fell,
And tomb'd in its sepulchral vault
The wearied master of the spell.

A myriad hands like shadows weak,
Or stiff and sharp as bestial claws,
Had sought to steer the fluctuant mass
That bore his country's life and laws;
The rudder felt his giant hand,
And quailed beneath the living grasp
That now must drop the helm of fate,
Nor pleasure's cup can madly clasp.

France did not reck how fierce a storm
Of rending passion, blind and grim,
Had ceased its audible uproar
When death sank heavily on him;
Nor heeded they the countless days
Of toiling smoke and blasting flame,
That now by this one fatal hour
Were summ'd for him as guilt and shame.

The wondrous life that flow'd so long
A stream of all commixtures vile,
Had seem'd for them in morning light
With gold and crystal waves to smile.
It roll d with mighty breadth and sound
A new creation through the land,
Then sudden vanish'd into earth,
And left a barren waste of sand.

To them at first the world appear'd
Aground, and lying shipwreck'd there,
And freedom's folded flag no more
With dazzling sun-burst filled the air;
But 't is in after years for men
A sadder and a greater thing,
To muse upon the inward heart
Of him who lived the people's king.

Oh! wasted strength! Oh! light and calm,
And better hopes so vainly given!
Like rain upon the herbless sea
Poured down by too benignant heaven --
We see not stars unfix'd by winds,
Or lost in aimless thunder-peals,
But man's large soul, the star supreme,
In guideless whirl how oft it reels!

The mountain hears the torrent dash,
But rocks will not in billows run;
No eagle's talons rend away
Those eyes that joyous drink the sun;
Yet man, by choice and purpose weak,
Upon his own devoted head
Calls down the flash, as if its fires
A crown of peaceful glory shed.

Alas! -- yet wherefore mourn? The law
Is holier than a sage's prayer;
The godlike power bestow'd on men
Demands of them a godlike care;
And noblest gifts, if basely used,
Will sternliest avenge the wrong,
And grind with slavish pangs the slave
Whom once they made divinely strong.

The lamp that, mid the sacred cell,
On heavenly forms its glory sheds,
Untended dies, and in the gloom
A poisonous vapor glimmering spreads.
It shines and flares, and reeling ghosts
Enormous through the twilight swell,
Till o'er the wither'd world and heart
Rings loud and slow the dooming knell.

No more I hear a nation's shout
Around the hero's tread prevailing,
No more I hear above his tomb
A nation's fierce bewilder'd wailing;
I stand amid the silent night,
And think of man and all his wo,
With fear and pity, grief and awe,
When I remember Mirabeau.

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