by George Meredith
Under what spell are we debased
By fears for our inviolate Isle,
Whose record is of dangers faced
And flung to heel with even smile?
Is it a vaster force, a subtler guile?
They say Exercitus designs
To match the famed Salsipotent
Where on her sceptre she reclines;
Awake: but were a slumber sent
By guilty gods, more fell his foul intent.
The subtler web, the vaster foe,
Well may we meet when drilled for deeds:
But in these days of wealth at flow,
A word of breezy warning breeds
The pained responses seen in lakeside reeds.
We fain would stand contemplative,
All innocent as meadow grass;
In human goodness fain believe,
Believe a cloud is formed to pass;
Its shadows chase with draughts of hippocras.
Others have gone; the way they went
Sweet sunny now, and safe our nest.
Against the warning hum protest:
Let the world hear that we know what is best.
So do the beatific speak;
Yet have they ears, and eyes as well;
And if not with a paler cheek,
They feel the shivers in them dwell,
That something of a dubious future tell.
For huge possessions render slack
The power we need to hold them fast;
Save when a quickened heart shall make
Our people one, to meet what blast
May blow from temporal heavens overcast.
Our people one! Nor they with strength
Dependent on a single arm:
Alert, and braced the whole land's length,
Rejoicing in their manhood's charm
For friend or foe; to succour, not to harm.
Has ever weakness won esteem?
Or counts it as a prized ally?
They who have read in History deem
It ranks among the slavish fry,
Whose claim to live justiciary Fates deny.
It can not be declared we are
A nation till from end to end
The land can show such front to war
As bids a crouching foe expend
His ire in air, and preferably be friend.
We dreading him, we do him wrong;
For fears discolour, fears invite.
Like him, our task is to be strong;
Unlike him, claiming not by might
To snatch an envied treasure as a right.
So may a stouter brotherhood
At home be signalled over sea
For righteous, and be understood,
Nay, welcomed, when 'tis shown that we
All duties have embraced in being free.
This Britain slumbering, she is rich;
Lies placid as a cradled child;
At times with an uneasy twitch,
That tells of dreams unduly wild.
Shall she be with a foreign drug defiled?
The grandeur of her deeds recall;
Look on her face so kindly fair:
This Britain! and were she to fall,
Mankind would breathe a harsher air,
The nations miss a light of leading rare.
Last updated January 14, 2019