A WORD FROM A PETITIONER - James Brunton Stephens Poems


Poems » james brunton stephens » a word from a petitioner


What! our petitions spurned! The prayer
Of thousands, -- tens of thousands, -- cast
Unheard, beneath your Speaker's chair!
But ye will hear us, first or last.
The thousands that, last year, ye scorned,
Are millions now. Be warned! Be warned!

Turn not, contemptuous, on your heel; --
It is not for an act of grace
That, suppliants, at your feet we kneel, --
We stand; -- we look you in the face,
And say, -- and we have weighed the word, --
That our petitions SHALL be heard.

There are two powers above the laws
Ye make or mar: -- they're our allies.
Beneath their shield we'll urge our cause,
Though all your hands against us rise.
We're proved them, and we know their might;

We say not, ye shall snap the links
That bind you to your dreadful slaves;
Hug, if ye will, a corpse that stinks,
And toil on with it to your graves!
But, that ye may go, coupled thus,
Ye never shall make slaves of us.

And what, but more than slaves, are they,
Who're told they ne'er shall be denied
The right of prayer; yet, when they pray,
Their prayers, unheard, are thrown aside?
Such mockery they will tamely bear,
Who're fit an iron chain to wear.

'The ox, that treadeth out the corn,
Thou shalt not muzzle.' -- Thus saith God.
And will ye muzzle the free -- born, --
The man, -- the owner of the sod, --
Who 'gives the grazing ox his meat,'
And you, -- his servants here, -- your seat?

There's a cloud, blackening up the sky!
East, west, and north its curtain spreads;
Lift to its muttering folds your eye!
Beware! for, bursting on your heads,
It hath a force to bear you down; --
'T is an insulted people's frown.

Ye may have heard of the Soultán,
And how his Janissaries fell!
Their barracks, near the Atmeidán,
He barred, and fired; -- and their death -- yell
Went to the stars, -- and their blood ran,
In brooks, across the Atmeidán.

The despot spake; and, in one night,
The deed was done. He wields, alone,
The sceptre of the Ottomite,
And brooks no brother near his throne.
Even now, the bow -- string, at his beck,
Goes round his mightiest subject's neck;

Yet will he, in his saddle, stoop, --
I've seen him, in his palace -- yard, --
To take petitions from a troop
Of women, who, behind his guard,
Come up, their several suits to press,
To state their wrongs, and ask redress.

And these, into his house of prayer,
I've seen him take; and, as he spreads
His own before his Maker there,
These women's prayers he hears or reads; --
For, while he wears the diadem,
He is instead of God to them.

And this he must do. He may grant,
Or may deny; but hear he must.
Were his Seven Towers all adamant,
They'd soon be levelled with the dust,
And 'public feeling' make short work, --
Should he not hear them, -- with the Turk.

Nay, start not from your chairs, in dread
Of cannon -- shot, or bursting shell!
These shall not fall upon your head,
As once upon your house they fell.
We have a weapon, firmer set,
And better than the bayonet; --

A weapon that comes down as still
As snow -- flakes fall upon the sod;
But executes a freeman's will
As lightning does the will of God;
And from its force, nor doors nor looks
Can shield you; -- 't is the ballot -- box.

Black as your deed shall be the balls
That from that box shall pour like hail!
And, when the storm upon you falls,
How will your craven cheeks turn pale!
For, at its coming though ye laugh,
'T will sweep you from your hall, like chaff.

Not women, now, -- the people pray.
Hear us, -- or from us ye will hear!
Beware! -- a desperate game ye play!
The men that thicken in your rear, --
Kings though ye be, -- may not be scorned.
Look to your move! your stake! -- YE'RE WARNED.