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Lines on Poland, by Thomas Campbell (1774-1844)

Poem complements of Joe Poprzeczny, Australia.  This piece commemorates Poland’s November Insurrection, 1830-1831

“Lines on Poland”
Written in 1831
by Thomas Campbell (1774-1844), Scottish poet


AND have I lived to see thee sword in hand

Uprise again, immortal Polish Land! –

Whose flag brings more than chivalry to mind,

And leaves the tri-color in shade behind;

A theme for uninspired lips too strong;

That swells my heart beyond the power of song: –

Majestic men, whose deeds have dazzled faith,

Ah! yet your fate’s suspense arrests my breath;

Whilst envying bosoms, bare to shot and steel,

I feel the more that fruitlessly I feel.


Poles! with what indignation I endure

Th’ half-pitying servile mouths that call you poor;

Poor! is it England mocks you with her grief,

Who hates, but dares not chide, th’ Imperial Thief?

France with her soul beneath a Bourbon’s thrall,

And Germany that has no soul at all, –

States, quailing at the giant overgrown,

Whom dauntless Poland grapples with alone!

No, ye are rich in fame e’en whilst ye bleed:

We cannot aid you – we are poor indeed!


In Fate’s defiance in the world’s great eye,

Poland has won her immortality;

The Butcher, should he reach her bosom now,

Could not tear Glory’s garland from her brow;

Wreathed, filleted, the victim falls renowned,

And all her ashes will be holy ground!


But turn, my soul, from presages so dark:

Great Poland’s spirit is a deathless spark

That’s fanned by Heaven to mock the Tyrant’s rage:

She, like the eagle, will renew her age,

And fresh historic plumes of Fame put on,

Another Athens after Marathon,

Where eloquence shall fulmine, arts refine,

Bright as her arms that now in battle shine.

Come – should the heavenly shock my life destroy,

And shut its flood-gates with excess of joy;

Come but the day when Poland’s fight is won –

And on my grave-stone shine the morrow’s sun –

The day that sees Warsaw’s cathedral glow

With endless ensigns ravished from the foe, –

Her women lifting their fair hands with thanks,

Her pious warriors kneeling in their ranks,

The ‘scutcheoned walls of high heraldic boast,

The odorous altars’ elevated host,

The organ sounding through the aisles’ long glooms,

The mighty dead seen sculptured o’er their tombs;

(John, Europe’s saviour – Poniatowski’s fair

Resemblance – Kosciusko’s shall be there;)

The tapered pomp – the hallelujah’s swell,

Shall o’er the soul’s devotion cast a spell,

Till visions cross the rapt enthusiast’s glance,

And all the scene becomes a waking trance.

Should Fate put far – far off that glorious scene,

And gulfs of havoc interpose between,

Imagine not, ye men of every clime,

Who act, or by your sufferance share, the crime –

Your brother Abel’s blood shall vainly plead

Against the “deep damnation” of the deed.

Germans, ye view its horror and disgrace

With cold phosphoric eyes and phlegm of face.

Is Allemagne profound in science, lore,

Anil minstrel art! – her shame is but the more

To doze and dream by governments oppressed,

The spirit of a book-worm in each breast.

Well can ye mouth fair Freedom’s classic line,

And talk of Constitutions o’er your wine:

But all your vows to break the tyrant’s yoke

Expire in Bacchanalian song and smoke:

Heavens! can no ray of foresight pierce the leads

And mystic metaphysics of your heads,

To show the self-same grave, Oppression delves

For Poland’s rights, is yawning for yourselves!


See, whilst the Pole, the vanguard aid of France,

Has vaulted on his barb, and couched the lance,

France turns from her abandoned friends afresh,

And soothes the Bear that prowls for patriot flesh;

Buys, ignominious purchase! short repose,

With dying curses, and the groans of those

That served, and loved, and put in her their trust.

Frenchmen! the dead accuse you from the dust –

Brows laurelled – bosoms marked with many a scar

For France – that wore her Legion’s noblest star,

Cast dumb reproaches from the field of Death

On Gallic honour: and this broken faith

Has robbed you more of Fame – the life of life –

Than twenty battles lost in glorious strife!


And what of England – Is she steeped so low

In poverty, crest-fallen, and palsied so,

That we must sit much wroth, but timorous more,

With Murder knocking at our neighbour’s door! –

Not Murder masked and cloaked, with hidden knife,

Whose owner owes the gallows life for life;

But Public Murder! – that with pomp and gaud,

And royal scorn of Justice, walks abroad

To wring more tears and blood than e’er were wrung

By all the culprits Justice ever hung!

We read the diadem’d Assassin’s vaunt,

And wince, and wish we had not hearts to pant

With useless indignation – sigh, and frown,

But have not hearts to throw the gauntlet down.


If but a doubt hung o’er the grounds of fray,

Or trivial rapine stopped the world’s highway;

Were this some common strife of States embroiled; –

Britannia on the spoiler and the spoiled

Might calmly look, and, asking time to breathe,

Still honourably wear her olive wreath.

But this is Darkness combating with Light:

Earth’s adverse Principles for empire fight:

Oppression, that has belted half the globe,

Far as his knout could reach or dagger probe,

Holds reeking o’er our brother-freemen slain

That dagger – shakes it at us in disdain;

Talks big to Freedom’s states of Poland’s thrall,

And, trampling one, contemns them one and all.


My country! colours not thy once proud brow

At this affront? – Hast thou not fleets enow

With Glory’s streamer, lofty as the lark,

Gay fluttering o’er each thunder-bearing bark,

To warm the insulter’s seas with barbarous blood,

And interdict his flag from Ocean’s flood?

Ev’n now far off the sea-cliff, where I sing,

I see, my Country and my Patriot King!

Your ensign glad the deep. Becalmed and slow

A war-ship rides; while Heaven’s prismatic bow

Uprisen behind her on th’ horizon’s base,

Shines flushing through the tackle, shrouds, and stays,

And wraps her giant form in one majestic blaze.

My soul accepts the omen; Fancy’s eye

Has sometimes a veracious augury:

The Rainbow types Heaven’s promise to my sight;

The Ship, Britannia’s interposing Might!


But if there should be none to aid you, Poles,

Ye’ll but to prouder pitch wind up your souls,

Above example, pity, praise, or blame,

To sow and reap a boundless field of Fame.

Ask aid no more from Nations that forget

Your championship – old Europe’s mighty debt.

Though Poland (Lazarus-like) has burst the gloom,

She rises not a beggar from the tomb:

In Fortune’s frown, on Danger’s giddiest brink,

Despair and Poland’s name must never link,

All ills have bounds – plague, whirlwind, fire, and flood:

Ev’n Power can spill but bounded sums of blood.

States caring not what Freedom’s price may be,

May late or soon, but must at last be free;

For body-killing tyrants cannot kill

The public soul – the hereditary will

That downward, as from sire to son it goes,

By shifting bosoms more intensely glows:

Its heir-loom is the heart, and slaughtered men

Fight fiercer in their orphans o’er again.

Poland recasts – though rich in heroes old –

Her men in more and more heroic mould:

Her eagle ensign best among mankind

Becomes, and types her eagle-strength of mind:

Her praise upon my faltering lips expires;

Resume it, younger bards, and nobler lyres!




SOURCE: The Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell (London: Edward Moxon, 1837), pages 219-224.