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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘France, 1870’
By George Meredith (1828–1909)
 
    WE look for her that sunlike stood
    Upon the forehead of our day,
    An orb of nations, radiating food
    For body and for mind alway.
    Where is the Shape of glad array;        5
    The nervous hands, the front of steel,
The clarion tongue? Where is the bold proud face?
    We see a vacant place;
    We hear an iron heel.
 
O she that made the brave appeal        10
For manhood when our time was dark,
And from our fetters struck the spark
Which was as lightning to reveal
New seasons, with the swifter play
Of pulses, and benigner day;        15
She that divinely shook the dead
From living man; that stretched ahead
Her resolute forefinger straight,
And marched towards the gloomy gate
    Of earths Untried, gave note, and in        20
The good name of Humanity
    Called forth the daring vision! she,
    She likewise half corrupt of sin,
    Angel and Wanton! Can it be?
    Her star has foundered in eclipse,        25
    The shriek of madness on her lips;
    Shreds of her, and no more, we see.
There is a horrible convulsion, smothered din,
As of one that in a grave-cloth struggles to be free.
 
    Look not on spreading boughs        30
    For the riven forest tree.
Look down where deep in blood and mire
Black thunder plants his feet and ploughs
The soil for ruin; that is France:
    Still thrilling like a lyre,        35
Amazed to shivering discord from a fall
Sudden as that the lurid hosts recall
Who met in Heaven the irreparable mischance.
    O that is France!
The brilliant eyes to kindle bliss,        40
The shrewd quick lips to laugh and kiss,
Breasts that a sighing world inspire,
And laughter-dimpled countenance
Whence soul and senses caught desire!
*        *        *        *        *
Henceforth of her the Gods are known,        45
Open to them her breast is laid.
Inveterate of brain, heart-valiant,
Never did fairer creature pant
Before the altar and the blade!
*        *        *        *        *
She shall rise worthier of her prototype        50
Through her abasement deep; the pain that runs
From nerve to nerve some victory achieves.
They lie like circle-strewn soaked Autumn-leaves
Which stain the forest scarlet, her fair sons!
And of their death her life is: of their blood        55
From many streams now urging to a flood.
No more divided, France shall rise afresh.
Of them she learns the lesson of the flesh:—
The lesson writ in red since first Time ran
A hunter hunting down the beast in man:        60
That till the chasing out of its last vice,
The flesh was fashioned but for sacrifice.
*        *        *        *        *
                        Soaring France!
Now is Humanity on trial in thee:
Now may’st thou gather humankind in fee:        65
Now prove that Reason is a quenchless scroll;
Make of calamity thine aureole,
And bleeding lead us through the troubles of the sea.
 
 
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