Ode, to France

A poem deploring the French revolution’s turn to Bonaparte, and despotism.

Morning Chronicle (24 August 1802)

Canst thou, who burst with proud disdain
Each high-wrought link in Slavery’s Chain,
Canst thou, who cleans’d with noble rage,
The Augean Filth of many an age,
Canst thou, whose mighty vengeance hurl’d,
Destruction on thy foes — the World,
Yet bade the infuriate slaughter cease,
When vanquish’d Despots whin’d for peace,
Canst thou, O, FRANCE, from heights like these descend,
And with each nerve unbrac’d, to BONAPARTE bend!

Was it for this thy Warriors rose,
And paralyz’d vast hordes of Foes;
For this, all prodigal of life,
They rush’d amid the bellowing strife,
And, like the Desert’s burning breath,
Where’er they rush’d they scatter’d Death;
For this, with many a gaping wound,
Thy daring Sons have strew’d the ground,
And girt with smoking gore and hills of slain,
Have gloried in their CAUSE and spurn’d th’ Oppressor’s Chain!

When BRITAIN join’d th’ unjust array,
And her proud navy plough’d the sea,
Was it for this beneath the wave,
Thy Seamen found a watry grave;
For this, when all around was wreck,
And mingled horrors stain’d the deck,
When slowly settling towards their fate,
While the broad banners wav’d elate—
Was it for this they “Vive la Nation” cried,
Scorn’d the submissive act, and felt the o’erwhelming tide.

Was it for this the sorrowing Sire,
Has seen his bleeding boy expire,
For this the Matron sad and pale,
Has told her Son’s disastrous tale,
For this the Widow oft has prest,
With tears the Nursling to her breast;
Was it, to lift th’ ambitious soul
Of ONE above the law’s controul,
That thus dire War left millions to deplore,
An the broad Earth and Seas were ting’d with Human Gore.

No! — Fearless FRANCE shall ne’er be found,
Like the huge Brute on India’s ground,
That thro’ the ranks impetuous sweeps,
And loads the field with mangled heaps,
But yet, each scene of carnage o’er,
Obeys THAT goad he felt before:
No; — Fearless FRANCE shall still maintain
Those Rights which millions died to gain,
And soon, tho’ Laurel Wreaths her Chains adorn,
Shall show a grov’lling World that Chains ARE STILL HER SCORN!

Oh, FRANCE, thine energetic Soul
Will never brook UNJUST controul,
Will never crouch to Slav’ry’s load,
Nor bear th’ Oppressor’s iron goad!
No: — FRANCE who bade her Monarch fall,
Will ne’er before this Idol crawl!
Will ne’er receive with abject awe
No: — Banish fear, ye Friends of Human Kind—
FRANCE to a Giant’s Arm unites a tow’ring Mind!

He who o’erwhelms his Country’s Foe,
Yet lays his Country’s Freedom low,
Must fear, tho’ girt with Guards and State,
From each bold arm the STROKE OF FATE:
And Thou, usurping Warrior, Thou!
To whom the weak, the timid bow—
Thou SPLENDID CURSE, whose actions prove
That States may be undone by LOVE;
Thou Foe to Man, upheld by Martial breath,
Thy march is on a Mine, thy every dream is Death.

And, when this Meteor’s baleful rays,
Are lost in Freedom’s ardent blaze—
Yes; — when indignant FRANCE shall rise,
Her form all nerve, all fire her eyes,
And scorning e’en the Bayonet’s sway,
Shall sweet this impious scourge away,
Then with degraded mien no more
Shall Man his Fellow-man adore;
Then o’er his powers shall PRINCIPLE preside,
And the bright star of TRUTH shall prove his polar guide!

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