Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Before a Crucifix

By Algernon Charles Swinburne

(English poet of nature and liberty, 1837–1909)
HERE, down between the dusty trees,
  At this lank edge of haggard wood,
Women with labor-loosened knees,
  With gaunt backs bowed by servitude,
Stop, shift their loads, and pray, and fare        5
Forth with souls easier for the prayer.
The suns have branded black, the rains
  Striped gray this piteous God of theirs;
The face is full of prayers and pains,
  To which they bring their pains and prayers;        10
Lean limbs that shew the laboring bones,
And ghastly mouth that gapes and groans.
God of this grievous people, wrought
  After the likeness of their race,
By faces like thine own besought,        15
  Thine own blind helpless, eyeless face,
I too, that have nor tongue nor knee
For prayer, I have a word to thee.
It was for this then, that thy speech
  Was blown about the world in flame        20
And men’s souls shot up out of reach
  Of fear or lust or thwarting shame—
That thy faith over souls should pass
As sea-winds burning the grey grass?
It was for this, that prayers like these        25
  Should spend themselves about thy feet,
And with hard overlabored knees
  Kneeling, these slaves of men should beat
Bosoms too lean to suckle sons
And fruitless as their orisons?        30
It was for this, that men should make
  Thy name a fetter on men’s necks,
Poor men made poorer for thy sake,
  And women withered out of sex?
It was for this, that slaves should be,        35
Thy word was passed to set men free?
The nineteenth wave of the ages rolls
  Now deathward since thy death and birth.
Hast thou fed full men’s starved-out souls?
  Hast thou brought freedom upon earth?        40
Or are there less oppressions done
In this wild world under the sun?
Nay, if indeed thou be not dead,
  Before thy terrene shrine be shaken,
Look down, turn usward, bow thine head;        45
  O thou that wast of God forsaken,
Look on thine household here, and see
These that have not forsaken thee.
Thy faith is fire upon their lips,
  Thy kingdom golden in their hands;        50
They scourge us with thy words for whips,
  They brand us with thy words for brands;
The thirst that made thy dry throat shrink
To their moist mouths commends the drink.…
O sacred head, O desecrate,        55
  O labor-wounded feet and hands,
O blood poured forth in pledge to fate
  Of nameless lives in divers lands,
O slain and spent and sacrificed
People, the grey-grown speechless Christ!        60
Is there a gospel in the red
  Old witness of thy wide-mouthed wounds?
From thy blind stricken tongueless head
  What desolate evangel sounds
A hopeless note of hope deferred?        65
What word, if there be any word?
O son of man, beneath man’s feet
  Cast down, O common face of man
Whereon all blows and buffets meet,
  O royal, O republican        70
Face of the people bruised and dumb
And longing till thy kingdom come!…
The tree of faith ingraft by priests
  Puts its foul foliage out above thee,
And round it feed man-eating beasts        75
  Because of whom we dare not love thee;
Though hearts reach back and memories ache,
We cannot praise thee for their sake.…
Nay, if their God and thou be one,
  If thou and this thing be the same,        80
Thou shouldst not look upon the sun;
  The sun grows haggard at thy name.
Come down, be done with, cease, give o’er;
Hide thyself, strive not, be no more.

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