William Blake, from The French Revolution: A Poem in Seven Books

[Click on image to enlarge] The first book of William Blake's The French Revolution was set in type in 1791 but was never actually published (it survives in a single set of page proofs). It traces, largely without symbolism, the history of the revolution shortly before and just after the Fall of the Bastille (July 14, 1789). As the critic David Erdman describes it, "the revolutionary events of June and July are treated as a single Day of Judgment or Morning of Resurrection during which the dark night of oppression lingers and fades in the marble hall of the Old Order while the Sun of democracy rises above the city streets and the people's Assembly." >> note 1 Blake's speaker in the extract here, the revolutionist and statesman Abbé Sieyès (1748–1793), addressed the French National Assembly, urging the withdrawal of troops from Paris, on July 6. The Abbé predicts the end of all forms of oppression (including black slavery, lines 213–16), and the coming of a millennial state in which "men walk with their fathers in bliss" (line 237).

 








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* * * Then the Abbé de S[i]eyes rais'd his feet
On the steps of the Louvre; like a voice of God following a storm,
      the Abbé 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 renewed.
"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 night,
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 desire,
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 caves 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 wander in forests,
      and howl in law blasted wastes,
Strength madden'd with slavery, honesty,
      bound in the dens of superstition,
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 desart
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!' "

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