Friday, July 30, 2010


When that sumyr with his showers soote
The drute of March hath pierced to the roote
and bathed every vein in swich lickoor
Of which virtu engendred is the flur.

Then longen folke to go on pilgramage
Molly's poetry corner for to seeke
To bringen smyle onto the face
And cure the souls that are fair saike.

-With apologies to Geofrey.

Yes folks, it's that time again. Our author for the day is Voltairine de Cleyre, and we begin with her poem 'Mary Wollstonecraft'.


The American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912) oddly enough was the product of a Catholic convent school in Sarnia Ontario. Like many others this inspired a lifelong aversion to religion, and De Cleyre's first efforts after graduation were in the freethought movement. She became an anarchist because of the hanging of the Haymarket martyrs in 1887. From 1889 to 1910 she lived in Philadephia where she taught English and music to Jewish immigrants. She began as an "individualist anarchist", but her views evolved during her lifetime to embrace more of the socialist anarchism. Her final position was of an "anarchism without adjectives". While not as widely known as her contemporary Emma Goldman she was certainly the better writer. Her most famous essay was the 1912 'Direct Action'. You can read more about De Cleyre and read much of her works at the Voltairine de Cleyre website. There is also an extensive selection in the de Cletre section of the Molineri Institute online library.


One of the formative influences on the young de Cleyre was the British writer, philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). To read of Wollstonecraft's life is like reading a mini history of the intellectual life of the late 18th century. Names such as Thomas Paine, William Wordsworth, William Godwin, Jane Arden and, of course, her daughter Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame appear and reappear. Wollstonecraft was very much the polymath, and her writings include novels, political tracts, travel books and a children's book. She first came to attention with her 'Vindication of the Rights of Men', published as a riposte to Edmund Burke's conservative 'Reflections on the Revolution in France'. This work was published in 1790, one year before Thomas Paine's similarly titled 'The Rights of Man'. The work for which she is most famous today is her 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' published in 1792. This established her as perhaps the founding feminist philosopher, and her influence has percolated through the various waves of feminism, and each generation of feminists has rediscovered Wollstonecraft in their own way just as de Cleyre did..

The following poem about Wollstonecraft by de Cleyre was first published in 1893.

Mary Wollstonecraft
The dust of a hundred years
Is on thy breast,
And thy day and thy night of tears
Are centurine rest.
Thou to whom joy was dumb,
Life a broken rhyme,
Lo, thy smiling time is come,
And our weeping time.
Thou who hadst sponge and myrrh
And a bitter cross,
Smile, for the day is here
That we know our loss;—
Loss of thine undone deed,
Thy unfinished song,
Th' unspoken word for our need,
Th' unrighted wrong;
Smile, for we weep, we weep,
For the unsoothed pain,
The unbound wound burned deep,
That we might gain.
Mother of sorrowful eyes
In the dead old days,
Mother of many sighs,
Of pain-shod ways;
Mother of resolute feet
Through all the thorns,
Mother soul-strong, soul-sweet,—
Lo, after storms
Have broken and beat thy dust
For a hundred years,
Thy memory is made just,
And the just man hears.

Thy children kneel and repeat:
"Though dust be dust,
Though sod and coffin and sheet
And moth and rust
Have folded and molded and pressed,
Yet they cannot kill;
In the heart of the world at rest
She liveth still."

— Philadelphia, 27th April 1893

A good source for de Cleyre's poetry is the 'Collected Poems by Voltairine de Cleyre' at the online 'Anarchist Library'. Here's another example of her work.
Life or Death
A Soul, half through the Gate, said unto Life:
“What dos thou offer me?” And Life replied:
“Sorrow, unceasing struggle, disappointment;
after these
Darkness and silence.” The Soul said unto Death:
“What dos thou offer me?” And Death replied:
“In the beginning what Life gives at last.”
Turning to Life: “And if I live and struggle?”
“Others shall live and struggle after thee
Counting it easier where thou hast passed.”
“And by their struggles?” “Easier place shall be
For others, still to rise to keener pain
Of conquering Agony!” “and what have I
To do with all these others? Who are they?”
“Yourself!” “And all who went before?” “Yourself.”
“The darkness and the silence, too, have end?”
“They end in light and sound; peace ends in pain,
Death ends in Me, and thou must glide from
To Self, as light to shade and shade to light again.
Choose!” The Soul, sighing, answered: “I will live.”

Philadelphia, May 1892


Finally here is de Cleyre's last poem written shortly before her death. A tribute to the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, many of them anarchists.

Written — in — Red
To Our Living Dead
in Mexico's Struggle

Written in red their protest stands,
For the gods of the World to see;
On the dooming wall their bodiless hands
have blazoned “Upharsin,” and flaring brands
Illumine the message: “Seize the lands!
Open the prisons and make men free!”
Flame out the living words of the dead
Written — in — red.

gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!
Your guns have spoken and they are dust.
But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,
have felt the beat of a wakening drum
Within them sounding-the Dead men's tongue —
Calling: “Smite off the ancient rust!”
Have beheld “Resurrexit,” the word of the Dead,
Written — in — red.

Bear it aloft, O roaring, flame!
Skyward aloft, where all may see.
Slaves of the World! Our caose is the same;
One is the immemorial shame;
One is the struggle, and in One name —
Manhood — we battle to set men free.
Uncurse us the Land!” burn the words of the
Written — in — red.

Voltairine deCleyre's last poem.

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