The Anarchist

Arthur Henry Adams 1872 (Lawrence) – 1936 (Sydney, New South Wales)

THE dawn hangs heavy on the distant hill,
 The darkness shudders slowly into light;
 And from the weary bosom of the night
 The pent winds sigh, then sink with horror still.
  Naked and grey, the guillotine stands square
 Upon the hill, while from its base the crowd
 Surges out far, and waits, to silence cowed,
 Impatient for the thing to happen there.
  Listen! The bells within the tower toll
 Five naked notes; and down within his cell
 The prisoner hears and mutters, “It is well,”
 Though like that other knife each cuts his soul.
  His sick nerves from the probing echoes shrink,
 “This is the end,” he says; “let me be strong;
 Let me be brave till then—‘t is not for long:
 I must not think of it—I must not think!”
  See, through the courtyard, guarded, comes the slight
 Thin figure of the anarchist. Amazed,
 He sees the thousand faces swiftly raised—
 The billows of the crowd break into white!
  One narrow, alien glance below, and then
 The scene fades dimly from his film-glazed eyes;
 And shuddering he sees his past arise—
 The cycle of his life begins again.
  And as misshapen memories crowd fast
 Upon him, jostling in a sudden strife,
 Athwart the dull, drab level of his life
 Stand sharply out the blood-stains of his past:
  His youth, before he knew he had it, lost;
 His father's body by an accident
 'Neath the rich man's remorseless mill-wheels pent—
 A corpse; and sister, mother, brother tossed
  Out to the mercy of the merciless.
 His mother stricken next; her humble niche
 Was needed by the reckless and the rich,
 And death was easier than life's loneliness.
  His sister, she had fortune in her face,
 And won it, too, till Vice's fingers tore
 The freshness from her figure, and no more
 In idleness she flaunted her disgrace.
  He lost her, stifled in the world's wide smother,
 For years; till one night on the street they met.
 She seized him—he can feel that hot thrill yet!—
 She spoke him—knowing not he was her brother!
  Wrong reeking of the rich incessantly!
 Oppression and oppression o'er again!
 Till from the smouldering hate within his brain
 Mad fever fired the fuse of Anarchy.
  Then plot and cunning, weak, futile and mean,
 The maddened one against the many; thus
 He strove to strangle Order's octopus—
 And gained the goal at last—the guillotine!
  It waits him grim and grey; he sees it not,
 Nor hears the rising murmur ripple out
 To the crowd's edge, and, turning, die in doubt.
 The vague, uncertain future threatens—what?
  So…shall he speak, fling out his last reply
 Why waste the time in trivialities?
 One throbbing thought now holds him; and there is
 No room for sign or speech—he has to die.
  Only a murmur wavers up and shakes
 The sullen air, then hesitates and dies;
 And the grim hush of horror stifled lies,
 Suspended like a billow ere it breaks.
  One bitter prayer, half-curse, he mutters when
 The knife hangs high above, and the world waits.
 But ere it swoops an age it hesitates:
 The word is given, breaths are drawn, and then…
  With eyes and soul close shut—be swift, relief!—
 The prisoner waits the end that does not come.
 For hark! that heavy, low, tumultuous hum
 That surges, surges till it shouts “ Reprieve! ”
  “ Reprieved and pardoned! ” All his senses swim
 In a rose-mist! As Sleep's soft hand that soothes
 The terse, strained limbs of fevered Day and smoothes
 Life's knotted nerves—so comes relief to him.
  And when he woke again his soul, set free,
 Had wandered far, within a moment's space,
 And seen the sadness of God's silent face—
 The mighty calm of immortality.
  How like a triumph his home-coming! Then
 The glorious news that met him, how that Right
 Had routed Wrong, for ever faction's fight
 Was finished, and the world was one again.
  Then swiftly through his swimming, mist-dimmed eyes
 He sees the good and great upright again;
 And Reason rings the knell of grief and pain;
 The gladdened new world lapped in sunlight lies.
  Long life was his with honour. On Fame's breath
 His name was borne, until in perfect peace—
 Glad like a mellow fruit to fall and cease—
 His long life ripened richly into death.
  Yet none knew this but he . The crowd still waits;
 Shoots swift the lightning of the knife, and loud
 Roars the hoarse thunder from the sated crowd
 And justice has been done. God compensates.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011


Arthur Henry Adams

Arthur Henry Adams was a journalist and author. He started his career in New Zealand, though he spent most of it in Australia, and for a short time lived in China and London.  more…

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"The Anarchist" STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 6 Aug. 2020. <>.

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