Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On Alexander III of Russia

TO THE TSAR (1890)

O THOU into whose human hand is given
     A godlike might! who, for thy earthly hour,
Above reproof, self-counseled and self-shriven,
     Wieldest o'er regions vast despotic power!
               Mortal, who by a breath,
     A look, a hasty word, as soon forgot,
Commandest energies of life and death!—
Midst terrors dread, that darkly multiply,
     Wilt thou thy vision blind, and listen not
Whilst unto Heaven ascends thy people's cry?

In vain, in vain!  The injuries they speak
     Down unto final depths their souls have stirr'd:
The aged plead through them, the childish-weak,
     The mad, the dying,—and they shall be heard!
               Thou wilt not hear them; but,
     Though Heaven were hedged about with walls of stone,
And though with brazen gates forever shut,
And sentried 'gainst petitions of despair,
     'T were closely guarded as thy fearful throne,
That cry of helpless wrong should enter there!

O Majesty!  'T is great to be a king,
     But greater is it yet to be a man!
The exile by far Lena perishing,
     The captive in Kara who bears thy ban,
               Ransomed at length and free,
     Shall rise from torments that make heroes strong;
Shall rise, as equal souls, to question thee;
And for defense there nothing shall endure
     Of all which to thy lofty state belong,
Save that thou hast of human, brave, and pure!

Cæsar, thou still art man, and serv'st a King
     Who wields a power more terrible than thine!
Slow, slow to anger, and long-suffering,
     He hears his children cry, and makes no sign:
               He hears them cry, but, oh!
     Imagine not his tardy judgments sleep,
Or that their agonies He doth not know
Who, hidden, waste where tyrants may not see!
     Eternal watch He over them doth keep,—
Eternal watch,—and Russia shall be free!
"To the Tsar (1890)" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in The Century Magazine (January 1890) and Poems (1898).

Funeral of Alexander III


ALEXANDER III

(LIVADIA, NOVEMBER 1, 1894)
THE world in mourning for a Russian Tsar!
     A despot of the nineteenth century
     Mourned by the nations that have made men free!
     Ye captives of his rule! where'er ye be,
Whether in dungeons or in mines afar—
Wretches who mourn, yet mourn not for the Tsar,—
     Forgive the tears that seem a wrong to grief
     Barren of comfort and without relief;
The Tsar was Russia's martyr—as ye are!
He asked for peace, and she ordained him strife.
     A Slav of simple heart, disliking show,
     She bade him every lowly hope forego;
     And placing on his brow her crown of woe,
Gave him a sovereignty with perils rife,
And 'neath his sceptre hid the assassin's knife.
     So, masked as Fear, she broke his nerves of steel
     Upon the circle of her racking wheel,
And set a horror at his door of life!
Humanity but sorrows for her own;
     The Autocrat she mourns not, but the man,
     Who, loving Russia, lived beneath her ban,
     Powerless to soften fate or change the plan
That called him all unwilling to a throne,
Hereditary evils to atone.
     She mourns not Cæsar, but the pathos old
     Of a quick conscience driven to uphold
A dynasty the world had long outgrown.
Omitted from the 1916 version (rendered above), the 1898 rendering of this poem includes the following last stanza:
Woe to the Tsar!—Livadia's cannon boom,
     Proclaiming that the Tsar from woe is free!
     Peace to the Tsar! but, Russia, woe to thee!
     Still he who rules thee shall thy victim be,
Tortured by griefs that shall his heart consume,
Till he and thou, risen as from the tomb,
     Shall see the light on Liberty's calm face,
     Shall know that tyranny must yield its place
To the great spirit that hath breathed its doom!
"Alexander III" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume I.

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