Gerald Massey: My Lyrical Life Part 3.

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(1890)

ROOT AND FLOWER.


AFLOAT unfolding from the bud
    The water-lily lies;
Her root of life is in the mud,
    While blossoming for the skies;
But root in mire, or flower in sun,
In Earth and Heaven they are one!

Her life gropes darkly down at root,
    But climbs with all its power;
And whether low on Earth afoot,
    Or head in Heaven a-flower—
In Shadow of cloud, or smile of Sun,
In Earth and Heaven the life is one.

My life is as the root in Earth
    That from its lowly tomb
Hath put a living flower forth
    For everlasting bloom;
And whatsoever tides may run
Betwixt us, Root and Flower are one.

The winds may rock, the waters roll,
    Our root of life above,
They cannot sever us in soul,—
    We who are one in love!
For Love hath warrant to defy
Even Death to break its tenderest tie.

They think that Death hath plucked my Bud
    And left a broken stalk
To bleed and wither in the mud:
    So blindly do they talk!
To both of us my life is Root;
For both, my Flower bears the fruit.

They think my Darling cannot come
    To visit me once more,
Who dream the dead are deaf and dumb;
    Who speak of life as o'er:
But 'twixt us, Root and Flower, we know
There is continual come and go.

My Darling breathes diviner air,
    And brings her Heaven down
Where low I lie but loftily wear
    Her glory for my crown;
I feel the heavenward impulse stir;
I know that new life comes from her!

'Tis in descending from above
    That love is most divine;
But as the tide returns, O Love!
    Bear back this love of mine,
And say love cannot be more true,
But now 'tis greater than we knew.

I see Her, strangely glorified,
    My Lily of the Light!
At times she lifts me to her side
    From out my earthly night:
I look through her illumined eyes
On lands where daylight never dies.

No thought of me must mar with pain
    The fairness of her face;
No blush for me must ever stain
    Her purity and grace.
I feel my Flower Above will show
How life is lived at root below.

Dear Love! and if my life can feed
    A Flower the Angels see,
Is thought and feeling, word and deed,
    How pure that life should be!
How rich the Root that hour by hour
Draws life from its immortal Flower!


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MY VISITANT.


I DREAMT my Darling came to bless
Me in my slumber, and impress
    Her spirit-seal on me.
To think of that divine caress!
It makes me bow with tenderness,
    And pray for purity.

O would I wore the robe of white
Celestial, when she comes by night,
    To make the Shadows flee;
And all within me kindled bright,
And pure and precious in her sight,
    When she stoops down to me.


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THE FLOWER-OFFERING.


"I COME unseen on silent feet,
    The same old flower-loving Self,
To find the dear Home doubly sweet
    With bud and blossom on My Shelf;
They show Affection fresh of hue;
    Their fragrance is of Love's own Breath;
The tears all turn to healing dew;
    A smile is on the face of Death."


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OPEN SIGHT.


MY Love in Heaven! love was not hid
By closing of a Coffin-lid!

Dear Love in Heaven! true love survives
All separation in our lives!

O Love in Heaven, from you I win
Sure help without, and hope within!

My Love in Heaven, for me she waits
Like Morning golden at her Gates!

Dear Love in Heaven, let your sunrise
Make the dews lighten in mine eyes!

O Love in Heaven, for one wee while
Let me reflect your vanished smile!

My Love in Heaven, bid me rejoice
To hear once more love's earthly voice!

Dear love in Heaven, your voice was low,
But the least whisper I should know!

O Love in Heaven, there is a way
To come back to me with your day!

My Love in Heaven can magnetize
And open wide my inner eyes!

Dear Love in Heaven, as in a glass
Into another self we pass!

O Love in Heaven, shut out the night,
That I may see by spirit-light!

My Love in Heaven, give me the grace
To glimpse the glory in your face!

Dear Love in Heaven! let me but see
You wear the crown of victory!

O Love in Heaven, from your dear eyes,
Two life-drops trembled crystal-wise,—

My Love in Heaven—those drops I stole
To anoint mine eyes with sight of soul!

Dear Love in Heaven, that precious dew,
I took to gain the sight of you!

O Love in Heaven, reach down to me,
And lift my spirit up to see!

My Love in Heaven, the Euphrasy
Of sorrow purged mine eyes to see!

Dear Love in Heaven, with Purity
Of life I wash my soul to see!

O Love in Heaven, unveil for me;
To God I give my soul to see!


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LOVE IN HEAVEN.


DEAR God, how good to let me see
    The face of "Love in Heaven" once more!
The face that waits to welcome me
    On that torch-lighted shore;
When Life is growing dark enough
To kindle Beacon-fires of love!

A new life quivers through me, quick
    With longing never felt before:
But the old mortal life grows sick
    And ailing to the core;
As if 'twere sloughing off the earth
In pangs that give the new life birth.

Ay me! the momentary gain
    Was followed by abiding loss!
Bewildered Memory strives in vain
    To know the Vision was—
That left no likeness; and that I
Know nought on earth to know it by!

Last night unveiled its perfect Star,
    For one immortal moment seen;
Today the Vision fades afar
    As it had never been!
And yet the glory came to bless
With added sense of preciousness.

She would have had me share her calm,
    But thrilled me with divine desire;
She would have brought me cooling balm,
    But filled my soul with fire!
And O!   Her sweetness almost slew
Me as it pierced me through and through!

Eager as Lightning's was her glance;
    And lo! by light of day I find
My spirit must have fallen in trance,
    With that great splendour blind;
Her vanished face I shall not see
Until she comes to waken me!

O! sighting soul, we must be still,
    Now let sad breath the mirror dim,
Lest she descend once more to fill
    My being to the brim;
When 'tis again divinely given
To see the face of "Love in Heaven."


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THE DEAD BOY'S PORTRAIT AND HIS
DOG


DAY after day I have come and sat
Beseechingly upon the mat,
Wistfully wondering what you are at!

Why have they placed you on the wall.
So deathly still, so strangely tall?
You do not turn to me, nor call.

Why are you fastened in a frame?
Why do I never hear my name?
You are the same, and not the same!

Away from me why do you stare
So far out in the distance where
I am not?   I am here!   Not there!

What has your little Doggie done?
You used to whistle me to run
Beside you, or ahead, for fun!

You used to pat me, and a glow
Of pleasure through my life would go!
How is it that I shiver so?

My tail was once a waving flag
Of welcome!   Now I cannot wag
It for the weight I have to drag.

I know not what has come to me.
'Tis only in my sleep I see
Things smiling as they used to be.

I do not dare to bark; I plead
But dumbly, and you never heed;
Nor my protection seem to need.

I watch the door, I watch the gate;
I am watching early, watching late, 
Your Doggie still!—I watch and wait!


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STANLEY'S WAY.


A SONG.


HE strode o'er Streams and Mountains,
    To reach the leaguered band;
He stood by Nile's far fountains,
    Lord of the Old Dark Land!
Where death the Forest haunted
    And never dawned the day,
He pierced the dark undaunted,
    For that was Stanley's Way.

We watched him disappearing;
    The mist was in our eyes;
And hearts half fainted, fearing
    He sank no more to rise.
But onward, still breast-onward,
    Lit by the inward ray,
He clove his passage sunward,
    For that was—Stanley's Way.

No tale heroic ringeth
    More true since time began,
The Boy that reads upspringeth,
    The soul of him a Man,
To bear another's burden,
    Or keep long odds at bay,
And never mind the guerdon:
    For that was Stanley's Way.

We offer Henry Stanley
    The best we have to give.
Manliest among the manly,
    Long may his spirit live!
And when our need is sorest,
    Let us take heart and say
We, too, will cleave our forest,
    For that was Stanley's Way.


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OSIRIS.


                 URT-HAT, Un-Nefer sleeps!
And neither of the two dear Sisters weeps.

                 Osiris slumbers on
Without a soul to mourn his glory gone!

                 Nor would he break his sleep
Though nations gathered round his Bier to weep.

                 Har, his beloved son,
Brings help no more as the Avenging One.

                 The Feast "Come thou to me,
No longer celebrates their victory.

                 Gone is the living glow
That kindled men six thousand years ago!

                 Osiris in the skies
Nomore is glorified nor glorifies.

                 Osiris in the Nile
Hath ceased to gild the Desert with HIS smile.

                 Osiris in the Grain
Revives no more, nor germinates again.

                 Osiris in the Wine
No more transfigures into the Divine.

                 Osiris in the Soul
No longer strives to reach the human goal.

                 Mummied Osiris must
Crumble to undistinguishable dust!

                 Nor could you find the tomb
Typhoon hath buried in perpetual gloom.

                 Even I but come to strow
Flowers on a grave that are not meant to grow.

                 I see with eyes of ruth
Nothing can perish of eternal truth,

                 Though round Osiris clings
The parting pathos of all passing things.

                 No sands can overwhelm
Egypt that lives on in her Spirit-Realm.

                 Her altars cold and dark
Have sown the world with many a sacred spark.

                 Type after type out-worn,
Melts in the mould to be again re-born.

                 Heap up the fire with fuel!
Destruction means perennial renewal

                 For Truth.   But Woe betide
All Falsehood in the fiery furnace tried!


1890.


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(1895)

THE MOTHER NATURE.


TO Mother, great with her own Son,
First imaged the Eternal One.

All upward way the Child hath trod,
But is not yet a type of God.

Man for his God, sets on the shelf
A plaster image of Himself.

I leave the other sex to plan
Their God in likeness of the Man,

The Mother-Nature is for me
Ideal of Divinity.

Our human nature's better part
Is still the Mother at the heart.

In joys of Heaven or pangs of earth
The Mother is the bringer-forth.

Life of her life the Mother gives
For ever, and for ever lives.

And still the Mother-Mould will be
The Way of Life eternally.

And still her Child of soul would rest
Divinely on the Mother's breast.

Back to the Mother it would give
The life that made her Lover live.


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SONG.


LET others seek for Heaven on high
And pleasures promised by and by:
They do not pine for worlds above
Who live their Heaven in their Love.
We pluck the flowers at our feet,
    The fruit upon the bough;
Our Heaven is here and now, my Sweet,
    Our Heaven is here and now.

Let others look for Paradise
Upon the Desert-rim to rise,
As wearily their way they wend
For Heaven, where earth comes to an end;
We wait no close of day, my dear,
    For pleasure or for play,
Our Heaven is all the way, my Dear,
    Our Heaven is all the way.


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A PARTING.


YOU were a little Chap of three
When asked what you were "going to
        be;" 
"A Man:" the childish voice replied.
And thrilled a Parent's heart with pride.

You can't fulfil a better plan;
Now go, My Boy, and be the Man.
We part at Midnight, and I pray,
That when we meet again it may,
No matter where, be clear broad day.



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THE ROSE.

A ROSE that breathes its soul out on the tree,
Living its life, gives more delight to me
Than would a thousand gathered in a room
That faint in death to yield their last perfume.


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THE MORAL OF IT.


AROUND the Council-board were met
    The Chiefs of many a Clan;
A voice rang out, none could forget,
    And thus the warning ran—
"Ireland shall be a nation yet,
When Irishmen have learned to set
        The Cause above the Man!"

With proud heart-ache, with eyes tear-wet,
    They have done what true men can,
To-day 'tis ours to pay the debt,
    And end what they began!
Ireland shall be a Nation yet,
When Irishmen have learned to set
        The Cause above the Man.


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AN IRISH VOTER.


'TIS ours to climb the one and only way
    That all who ever conquered ever trod.
We have to turn the Mountains we surmount
To stepping-stones; their barriers to account;
I give my Vote for Truth and Right to-day;
    My Country and my God.

With hand upon his heart let each man say,
    "We keep the track our suffering Mother trod
Delusionists may try to lure astray;
Coereionists may torture; knaves betray;
I give my Vote for Truth and Right to-day;
    My Country and my God."


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A POLITICAL EPITAPH.


A WAVE from out the Sea of Time
    One moment towers with triumphing Crest;
The force recedes by which we climb,
    And I am levelled with the rest.


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THE TAIL MUST WAG THE HEAD.


YOU tell us with the wheezy laugh
Of some old Pantaloon whose chaff
Is as the ghost of Wit long dead,
The Tail with us must wag the Head!

Even so.   Before the bark of State
Can face the winds and waves of fate,
And into Port be piloted,
The Tail has got to wag the Head.

Long time the Head has wagged the Tail,
But now we find your steering fail,
And you are all at sea, instead,
The Tail perforce must wag the Head.

When Statesmen beg for starving Pat,
And carry round his crownless hat,
To feed the Victim whom they tread,
The Tail with laughter wags the Head.

In proving knowledge cheaper than
Debasing ignorance for Man;
Starved Labour dearer than well-fed,
The Tail presumes to wag the Head.

When Workers show they are no mere helves
For others, but can help themselves
With sharpened blades at Nature's "spread,"
The Tail triumphant wags the Head.

When all you thought most stable rocks;
Your Urn of fate the Ballot -Box,
In which your Lot is cast unread,
The Tail, indeed, doth wag the the Head.

'Twas "Head" alone for which you tossed,
But now the Tail comes uppermost:
And, if by you we still are led,
You must turn Tail to wag the Head.

Instead of outcries, squeals and squirms,
Dear friends, you should be making terms,
Before your day of grace hath sped
The the Tail wags off the Head.


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WEALTH AND POVERTY.


'TIS not the Paupers of the poorest class,
    The submerged Tenth, it is the Upper Ten.
Devouring as the Locusts on the grass,
    Most need relieving by their fellow-men.

'Tis not the Poverty that drains the health.
    Like Cancers and gross Wens that need the
        knife:
Our Country faints beneath its weight of wealth
    That fails to fertilise the source of life.

The Wrecks are sad, but sadder still their shelves
    Of Salvage, they who fleece and sweat and kill:
Wreckers of others to enrich themselves,
    Who make the Nation pay the Insurance Bill!

Tis not the load of worldwide Empiries
    Bows England down to make her strength
        depart:
Most fatal of her future dangers is
    FATTY DEGENERATION OF THE HEART.


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"JOHNNY RAW."


THE Primrose Dame in your Cottage
    Will cluck and cackle and caw,
Now you've attained your Votage,
But, sell for no promise of pottage,
    Your liberty, Johnny Raw!

Show that the Toilers are thinking,
    Silent 'mid blather and jaw,
That life's not all slaving and slinking,
With bouts of occasional drinking
    For down-trodden Johnny Raw.

No more of their "Come-Goosey-Gander."
    Strike Mammon a blow in the maw,
One glorious, bloody back-hander!
'Tis time they HAD raised up the dander
    Of down-trodden Johnny Raw.

The Wealthy in luxury revel;
    They toss you the bone to gnaw.
You crouch in the desolate hovel,
When old you may go to the Devil;
    Be thankful for that, Johnny Raw!

You reap, and your share is the stubble;
    You thresh, and your bed is the straw;
That the pile of the Rich may still double
The pay of the spiritless "Rabble"
    Has still to be halved, Johnny Raw.

You fare worse than felons in prison,
    The pittance that weekly you draw,
In the name of your "wage," has not risen
For six hundred years,—Now listen
    To that for a fact, Johnny Raw!*

Up, and give them a touch of the Bowmen
    Who shot in the Greenwood-shaw;
Full in the face of your foemen
Show you are flunkies of no men,
    Though down-trodden, Johnny Raw.

Join in the march of the Nation,
    Step it out gallant and braw;
Vote for your own salvation,
Down with the ancient damnation,
    And raise up yourselves, Johnny Raw.


* Taking wheat as the standard of value.  Six centuries
ago two-thirds of a bushel of wheat was the price of a day's
labour.


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LABOUR.


            DEEP-BURIED underground,
The Earth-worm, Labour, through long ages lay,
Nor dared to dream of working out a way
            Toward Heaven opening round.

            Living within his grave,
He toiled on darkly where the lack of light
Did blind him like the fish that lose their sight
            In some Cimmerian cave.

            The Worm that MADE the earth,
And with its daily life prepared the soil
For seed, and nourished it with sweat of toil,
            To bring the seed to birth,—

            He cast up from his hole
The ground for planting all the future fruits
Which draw his life out now to feed their roots
            And sap him of his soul!

            The more he heaped on high
The plenty gathered by him from the gloom,
The deeper was he buried in the tomb
            Where he self-bound did lie.

            Still with his strength has grown
The pile of wealth, increasing more and more
The heavy burden the Producer bore
            As weight to keep him down!

            At last the Earth-worm breaks
Up from the pit to breathe the glad, free air
Of Heaven: Labour sternly claims to share
            The feast that labour makes.

            Some think the Dragon has come
Back from the foreworld to devour!   The Worm
To their sick sight doth terribly transform,
            As if to bring their doom.

            "To think the Worm we trod
On, one with th' ground beneath our feet, the rock
We built on, should up-rise with earthquake-shock!
 
            GOD HELP US!    HELP US GOD!"


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ANNIE BESANT.


ANNIE BESANT, brave and dear,
May some message, uttered here,
Reach you, ringing clarion-clear.

Though we stand not side by side
In the front of battle wide,
Oft I think of you with pride,

Fellow-soldier in the fight!
Oft I see you flash by night,
Fiery-hearted for the Right!

You for others sow the Grain;
Yours the tears of ripening rain;
Theirs the smiling harvest-gain.

Fellow-worker! we shall be
Workers for Eternity;
Such my faith.   And you shall see

Life's no bubble, blown of breath
To delude the sight till death;
Whatsoe'er the Un-Seeing saith.

Love that closes dying eyes,
Wakes them too, in glad surprise:
Love that makes for ever wise.

Soul—whilst murmuring "There's no soul,"—
Shall upspring like flame from coal:
Death is not Life's final goal.

Bruno lives!   Such Spirits come,
Swords, immortal-tempered, from
Fire and Forge of Martyrdom.

You have Soul enough for seven;
Life enough our earth to leaven,
Love enough to create heaven.

One of God's own faithful Few,
Whilst unknowing it, are you,
Annie Besant, bravely true.

    *             *             *             *

Now there's woe and wail for her,
True hearts ache and ail for her,
Poor wee faces pale for her,

And the deeds she might have done
Not as Sophist, but as one
Worker in a Million.

Ignis Fatuii of the fog
Lured and led her all agog
Into the Blavatsky Bog.

Curséd fraud that could entice
Her to that great Sacrifice!
Priceless, SOLD without her price.

Is she dreaming?  Let us make
One more call for Love's dear sake.
Annie Besant, won't you wake?


* Ignis Fatuii: a phosphorescent light that appears, in the night,
  over marshy ground, supposed to be occasioned by the
  decomposition of animal or vegetable substances, or by some
  inflammable gas; — popularly called also Will-with-the-wisp,
  or Will-o'-the-wisp , and Jack-with-a-lantern , or Jack-o'-lantern.


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BRADLAUGH'S BURIAL.


"SPONGE out the Record, make tardy amends
    With tears of contrition that shame as they flow.
Blot out the Past, forgive and be friends;
    Up from his grave may the Olive-branch grow!
"
                        Ah!    No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

    They who have harried him till he is dead,
For their cowardly deeds shall reap as they
        sow.
Not at his tomb is the last word said:
    We shall pay back to them all that we owe.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

Over his ashes you pray for peace,
    Who have helped to quench his fiery glow;
But not for an hour is our battle to cease;
    Spoils of triumph his tomb shall strow.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so !

Do they think we have ever forgotten the way
    He was badgered and bandied to and fro?
Do they think we shall ever forgive that day
    Of the cruellest gladiatorial show?
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

Tis one more lost of unnumbered lives,
    Wrecked or taken by tortures slow!
'Tis the common lot of the Thinker who strives
    To the death for Tyranny's overthrow.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

Birds of the night from their hiding-place
    Will venture to mount their middens and
        crow:
There are those who will feel he has turned his face
    On the other side for the safer blow.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

Deeds, not words, for your Champion brave;
    Deeds that will lighten the weight of woe.
I may not follow his dust to the grave;
    But I shall be with with you when facing the foe.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!

Let the war-drums louder and louder roll
    Defiance, as on for the goal we go!
Rise to the Hero's stature in soul;
    Cower not down with the Corse laid low.
                        Ah!     No!
        We do not bury the hatchet so!


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AN EPITAPH.


THINK not, O visitor, this grave contains
The Man, Charles Bradlaugh, or his true remains:
There is no burial for the nobler part
Save in the seed-plots of the human heart.


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CAPTAIN RAWDON.


"THROUGH all the deluge of the dark,
I led the Stormers to their mark,
And fall outside the open gate
They enter: But . . . I led them straight.
"

All ye who fail to enter in
With Triumph that ye die to win;
'Twill sweeten death outside the Gate
To know we led the Stormers straight.


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PRINCESS MAY.


A MARRIAGE-LOVER is the Muse,
And mine was out amid the dews
And dawn to pluck a flower and say
A matin for the Princess May.

Some daintier Offering still she sought,
And then remembered there was nought
In bloom to-day but Orange-spray
To match the bonny English May.

When'er you walk this land of ours
May Earth present her sweetest flowers,
And as your name is may your day
Be, Spring-in-Flower, Princess May.

May Heaven uplift its widest dome
To embrace your happiness and home,
And smile from out our cloudy grey
With blithest blue for Princess May.

May Sceptred Sorrow of the past
Fade in the light that laughs at last,
To end the long, lone night : and stay,
All thought of mourning, Princess May.

May Vanished dear ones who have died
Wear garlands of the Glorifled,
As Wedding-guests that come to pray
For blessings on the Princess May.

Sorrow is always rife on earth;
The Blest would bring more joy to birth;
Be it your pleasure, proudly-gay,
To scatter Sunshine, Princess May.

It is the natures that o'erflow
With happiness, make others so;
Their life is led the worthiest way
Who live for others, Princess May.

There is imperial work to do
In England yet, for such as you
To give the nobler fashions sway:
Be England's Darling, Princess May.

Glory will follow as the wake
Of work fulfilled for suffering's sake,
To help the people, who will pay
Their love for tribute, Princess May.

The way of glory high above
All other is the way of Love
Which brightens them with kindly ray
That droop in darkness, Princess May.

Our England grieves for those gone down,*
But all the Oceans cannot drown
Her Sailor-Spirit that for aye
Will swim victorious, Princess May.

The Sea that weds in death makes one
In life, till England's days are done.
The Mother thinks with pride to-day,
Her Tar has won the Princess May.


* With the ship Victoria.


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TENNYSON'S LAST POEM.


IN Poetry, the deepest things are done.
        Beside the acted poem poor are words
        As printed notes compared with songs of
                birds:
Supreme was that last poem by Tennyson.

How She had been his very life of life
        Men could not know from him whose words
                were few;
        But there was one sweet Woman all men
                knew
Imogen, the purely-perfect wife.

He could not paint her likeness if he tried,
        But left the open book as though to say
        Shakspeare had done it: when in death he
                lay
With smiling soul divinely satisfied.

Strong leader of the proud Victorian band,
        But stricken down at last, he stretched full-
                length:
        His weakness folded round by Shakspeare's
                strength;
And rested with his hand on Shakspare's hand.

It stirs us like the Judgment's trumpet-call.
        Not all may write, but this reveals a way
        To fill the earth, like universal day,
With poetry that's lived by all, for all.

He moved already in the realm of mind
        Where poems are the actions wrought by
                them
        Who wear the most enduring diadem
Of poetry performed for human kind.

The written poem yields both flower and seed,
        But here's a rootage in the Infinite
        Beyond the reach of all poetic Writ;
The poem lived is poetry indeed.

In Poetry, the deepest things are done.
        Beside the acted poem poor are words
        As printed notes compared with songs of 
                birds:
Supreme was that last poem by Tennyson.

 


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Historical Notes:


Annie Besant, the daughter of William Wood and Emily Morris, was born in 1847. Annie's father, a doctor, died when she was only five years old. Without any savings, Annie's mother found work looking after boarders at Harrow School. Mrs. Wood was unable to care for Annie and she persuaded a friend, Ellen Marryat, to take responsibility for her upbringing.

In 1866 Annie met the Rev. Frank Besant. Although only nineteen, Annie agreed to marry the young clergyman. By the time she was twenty-three Annie had two children. However, Annie was deeply unhappy because her independent sprit clashed with the traditional views of her husband. Annie also began to question her religious beliefs. When Annie refused to attend communion, Frank Besant ordered her to leave the family home. A legal separation was arranged and Digby, the son, stayed with his father, and Mabel went to live with Annie in London.

After leaving her husband Annie Besant completely rejected Christianity and in 1874 joined the Secular Society. Annie soon developed a close relationship with Charles Bradlaugh, editor of the radical National Reformer and leader of the secular movement in Britain. Bradlaugh gave Annie a job working for the National Reformer and during the next few years wrote many articles on issues such as marriage and women's rights.

In 1877 Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh decided to publish The Fruits of Philosophy, Charles Knowlton's book advocating birth control. Besant and Bradlaugh were charged with publishing material that was "likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences". In court they argued that "we think it more moral to prevent conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air and clothing." Besant and Bradlaugh were both found guilty of publishing an "obscene libel" and sentenced to six months in prison. At the Court of Appeal the sentence was quashed. 

After the court-case Besant wrote and published her own book advocating birth control entitled The Laws of Population. The idea of a woman advocating birth-control received wide-publicity. Newspapers like The Times accused Besant of writing "an indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene book". Rev. Besant used the publicity of the case to persuade the courts that he, rather than Annie Besant, should have custody of their daughter Mabel.

In 1880 Charles Bradlaugh was elected MP for Northampton, but as he was not a Christian he refused to take the oath, and was expelled from the House of Commons. As well as working with Bradlaugh, Besant also became friends with socialists such as Walter Crane, Edward Aveling and George Bernard Shaw.

After joining the Social Democratic Federation, Annie started her own campaigning newspaper called The Link. Like Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army, Annie was concerned about the health of young women workers at the Bryant & May match factory. On 23rd June, 1888, Annie published an article White Slavery in London where she drew attention to the dangers of phosphorus fumes and complained about the low wages paid to the women who worked at Bryant & May. 

Three women who provided information for Annie's article were sacked. Annie responded by helping the women at Bryant & May to form a Matchgirls Union. After a three week strike, the company was forced to make significant concessions including the re-employment the three victimized women. 

Besant also join the socialist group, the Fabian Society, and in 1889 contributed to the influencial book, Fabian Essays. As well as Besant, the book included articles by George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Webb, Sydney Olivier, Graham Wallas, William Clarke and Hubert Bland. Edited by Shaw, the book sold 27,000 copies in two years. 

In 1889 Annie Besant was elected to the London School Board. After heading the poll with a fifteen thousand majority over the next candidate, Besant argued that she had been given a mandate for large-scale reform of local schools. Some of her many achievements included a programme of free meals for undernourished children and free medical examinations for all those in elementary schools. 

In the 1890s Annie Besant became a supporter of Theosophy, a religious movement founded by Madame Blavatsky in 1875. Theosophy was based on Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation with nirvana as the eventual aim. Annie Besant went to live in India but she remained interested in the subject of women's rights. She continued to write letters to British newspapers arguing the case for women's suffrage and in 1911 was one of the main speakers at an important NUWSS rally in London. 

While in India, Annie joined the struggle for Indian Home Rule, and during the First World War was interned by the British authorities. Annie Besant died in India in 1933.

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Charles Bradlaugh, the son of a solicitor's clerk, was born in Hoxton, London on 26th September, 1833. At the age of twelve he became an office boy in the company where his father worked. As a young man he came under the influence of the ideas of Richard Carlile, the man who had been sent to prison for blasphemy and seditious libel in 1819. Like Carlile, Bradlaugh began to question the truth of Christianity and this led to arguments with his father. 

In 1849 Bradlaugh left home due to religious differences with his family. The following year Bradlaugh enlisted in the Seventh Dragoon Guards. However, Bradlaugh disliked army life and in 1853 he obtained a discharge and found work in a law office. Bradlaugh was now a committed republican and freethinker and in 1860 joined Joseph Barker, a former Chartist from Sheffield, to establish the radical journal, The National Reformer. 

Bradlaugh wrote a series of pamphlets on politics and religion and by the early 1860s was recognised as one of the leading freethinkers in Britain. In 1866 Bradlaugh helped to establish the National Secular Society, an organisation opposed to Christian dogma. Bradlaugh met Annie Besant and the two of them became close friends. Bradlaugh employed Besant on The National Reformer and over the next few years she wrote many articles on issues such as marriage and women's rights.

In 1877 Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant decided to publish The Fruits of Philosophy, Charles Knowlton's book advocating birth control. Besant and Bradlaugh were charged with publishing material that was "likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences". In court they argued that "we think it more moral to prevent conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air and clothing." Besant and Bradlaugh were both found guilty of publishing an "obscene libel" and sentenced to six months in prison. At the Court of Appeal the sentence was quashed. 

The authorities attempted to obstruct the activities of Bradlaugh and other freethinkers. Pamphlets on religion were seized by the Post Office and on several occasions they were excluded from using public buildings for their meetings. In 1882 the staff of the journal, The Freethinker, were prosecuted for blasphemy, and two of them were found guilty and sent to prison.

Bradlaugh had tried several times to be elected to represent Northampton in Parliament. He was eventually elected in 1880, but as he was not a Christian he asked for permission to affirm rather the oath of office. The Speaker of the House of Commons refused this request and Bradlaugh was expelled from Parliament. William Gladstone, the Prime Minister, supported Bradlaugh's right to affirm, but he had upset a lot of people with his views on Christianity, the monarchy and birth control and when the issue was put before Parliament, MPs voted to support the Speaker's decision to expel him. 

Bradlaugh now mounted a national campaign in favour of atheists being allowed to sit in the House of Commons. Bradlaugh gained some support from some Nonconformists but he was strongly opposed by the Conservative Party and the leaders of the Anglican and Catholic clergy. When Bradlaugh attempted to take his seat in Parliament in June 1880, he was arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Benjamin Disraeli, leader of the Conservative Party, warned that Bradlaugh would become a martyr and it was decided to release him. 

On 26th April, 1881, Charles Bradlaugh was once again refused permission to affirm. William Gladstone promised to bring in legislation to enable Bradlaugh to do this, but this would take time. Bradlaugh was unwilling to wait and when he attempted to take his seat on 2nd August he was once forcibly removed from the House of Commons. Bradlaugh and his supporters organised a national petition and on 7th February, 1882, he presented a list of 241,970 signatures calling for him to be allowed to take his seat. However, when he tried to take the Parliamentary oath, he was once again removed from Parliament. 

Gladstone's Affirmation Bill was discussed by Parliament in the spring of 1883. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Manning, head of the Catholic Church, argued against the right of atheists to be MPs and when the vote was taken in May 1883, the Affirmation Bill was defeated. In 1884 Bradlaugh was once again elected to represent Northampton in the House of Commons. He took his seat and voted three times before he was excluded. He was later fined £1,500 for voting illegally. 

Bradlaugh decided to try again to take the oath on 13th January, 1886. The new Speaker, Sir Arthur Wellesley Peel, did not object, arguing that he had to authority to interfere with the oath-taking. Bradlaugh now had the right to speak and vote in the House of Commons, and over the next few years he supported Irish Home Rule and the redistribution of land. He continued to argue for republicanism and was a fierce critic of pensions, such as the £4,000 a year to the Duke of Marlborough, being paid to members of the royal family. Bradlaugh was also a strong critic of Britain's foreign policy and opposed the military involvement in South Africa, Sudan, Afghanistan and Egypt. Charles Bradlaugh died on 30th January, 1891. His funeral was attended by 3,000 mourners who saw him buried in unconsecrated ground.

 



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