“The Palace-Burner,” from Poems by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

communefire

The Palace-Burner

[Paris, 1871]
A Picture in a Newspaper.

She has been burning palaces. “To see
The sparks look pretty in the wind!” Well, yes
And something more. But women brave as she
Leave much for cowards, such as I, to guess.

But this is old, so old that everything
Is ashes here, the woman and the rest.
Two years are oh! so long. Now you may bring
Some newer pictures. You like this one best?

You wish that you had lived in Paris then?
You would have loved to bum a palace, too?
But they had guns in France, and Christian men
Shot wicked little Communists like you.

You would have burned the palace? — Just because
You did not live in it yourself! Oh! why
Have I not taught you to respect the laws?
You would have burned the palace would not I?

Would I? … Go to your play. . . . Would I, indeed?
I? Does the boy not know my soul to be
Languid and worldly, with a dainty need
For light and music? Yet he questions me.

Can he have seen my soul more near than I?
Ah! in the dusk and distance sweet she seems,
With lips to kiss away a baby’s cry,
Hands fit for flowers, and eyes for tears and dreams.

Can he have seen my soul? And could she wear
Such utter life upon a dying face:
Such unappealing, beautiful despair:
Such garments soon to be a shroud with grace?

Would I burn palaces? The child has seen
In this fierce creature of the Commune here,
So bright with bitterness and so serene,
A being finer than my soul, I fear.

from Poems, by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1894

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

Most of the poems in this two-volume collection, taken from over a half-dozen previous books by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt, a Kentucky-born poet who lived from 1836 to 1919, fall into the same category of delicate, decorative, and deadly-dull poetry that American and British men and women of the Victorian era produced in brain-numbing quantities. Romantic poetry utterly devoid of passion and utterly unworthy of rediscovery.

And then there are a few like this, in which the poet acknowledges that the firebrand Communiste is “a bring finer than my soul,” suggesting that a life spent writing delicate, decorative poems is not perhaps the fullest realization of her potential. They’re like little whispers of sedition — whispers it might have taken another hundred years for anyone to really hear.

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.

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