Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(1772-1834 / Devon / England)

Fire, Famine, And Slaughter : A War Eclogue


The Scene a desolate Tract in la Vendee. Famine is discovered
lying on the ground; to her enter Fire and Slaughter.

Fam. Sister! sisters! who sent you here?
Slau. [to Fire.] I will whisper it in her ear.
Fire. No! no! no!
Spirits hear what spirits tell:
'Twill make a holiday in Hell.
No! no! no!
Myself, I named him once below,
And all the souls, that damned be,
Leaped up at once in anarchy,
Clapped their hands and danced for glee.
They no longer heeded me,
But laughed to hear Hell's burning rafters
Unwillingly re-echo laughters!
No! no! no!
Spirits hear what spirits tell:
'Twill make a holiday in Hell!
Fam. Whisper it, sister! so and so!
In a dark hint, soft and slow.
Slau. Letters four do form his name --
And who sent you?
Both. The same! the same!
Slau. He came by stealth, and unlocked my den,
And I have drunk the blood since then
Of thrice three hundred thousand men.
Both. Who bade you do it?
Slau. The same! the same!
Letters four do form his name.
He let me loose, and cried Halloo!
To him alone the praise is due.
Fam. Thanks, sister, thanks! the men have bled,
Their wives and their children faint for bread.
I stood in a swampy field of battle;
With bones and skulls I made a rattle,
To frighten the wolf and carrion-crow
And the homeless dog -- but they would not go.
So off I flew: for how could I bear
To see them gorge their dainty fare?
I heard a groan and a peevish squall,
And through the chink of a cottage-wall --
Can you guess what I saw there?
Both. Whisper it, sister! in our ear.
Fam. A baby beat its dying mother;
I had starved the one and was starving the other!
Both. Who bade you do't?
Fam. The same! the same!
Letters four do form his name.
He let me loose, and cried Halloo!
To him alone the praise is due.
Fire. Sisters! I from Ireland came!
Hedge and corn-fields all on flame,
I triumphed o'er the setting sun!
And all the while the work was done,
On as I strode with my huge strides,
I flung back my head and I held my sides,
It was so rare a piece of fun
To see the sweltered cattle run
With uncouth gallop through the night,
Scared by the red and noisy light!
By the light of his own blazing cot
Was many a naked rebel shot:
The house-stream met the flame and hissed,
While crash! fell in the roof, I wist,
On some of those old bed-rid nurses,
That deal in discontent and curses.
Both. Who bade you do't?
Fire. The same! the same!
Letters four do form his name.
He let me loose, and cried Halloo!
To him alone the praise is due.
All. He let us loose, and cried Halloo!
How shall we yield him honor due?
Fam. Wisdom comes with lack of food.
I'll gnaw, I'll gnaw the multitude,
Till the cup of rage o'erbrim:
They shall seize him and his brood--
Slau. They shall tear him limb from limb!
Fire. O thankless beldames and untrue!
And is this all that you can do
For him, who did so much for you?
Ninety months he, by my troth!
Hath richly catered for you both:
And in an hour would you repay
An eight years' work? -- Away! away!
I alone am faithful! I
Cling to him everlastingly.

Submitted: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

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