Joaquin Miller, “Sophia Perovskaya” (1881)

Sophie Perovskaya,


Hanged April 15, 1881,

For Helping to Rid the World of a Tyrant.

Down from her high estate she stept,
            A maiden, gently born
And by the icy Volga kept
            Sad watch, and waited morn;
And peasants say that where she slept
            The new moon dipped her horn.
                        Yet on and on, through shoreless snows
                                    Stretched tow'rd the great north pole,
                        The foulest wrong the good God known
                                    Rolls as dark rivers roll.
                        While never once for all these woes
                                    Upspeaks one human soul.
She toiled, she taught the peasant, taught
            The dark-eyed Tartar. He,
Inspired with her lofty thought,
            Rose up and sought to be,
What God at the creation wrought,
            A man! God-like and free.
                        Yet e'er before him yawn the black
                                    Siberian mines! And oh,
                        The knout upon the bare white back!
                                    The blood upon the snow!
                        The gaunt wolves, close upon the track,
                                    Fight o'er the fallen so!
And this that one might wear a crown
            Snatched from a strangled sire!
And this that two might mock or frown,
            From high thrones climblng higher,
To where the parricide looks down
            With harlot in desire!
                        Yet on, beneath the great north star,
                                    Like some lost, living thing,
                        That long line stretches black and far
                                    Till buried by death's wing!
                        And great men praise the goodly czar —
                                    But God sits pitying.
The storm burst forth! From out that storm
            The clean, red lightning leapt!
And lo, a prostrate royal form!
            Like any blood, his crept
Down through the snow, all smoking warm,
            And Alexander slept!
                        Yea, one lies dead, for millions dead!
                                    One red spot in the snow
                        For one long damning line of red;
                                    While exiles endless go —
                        The babe at breast, the mother's head
                                    Bowed down, and dying so!
And did a woman do this deed?
            Then build her scaffold high,
That all may on her forehead read
            Her martyr's right to die!
Ring Cossack round on royal steed!
            Now lift her to the sky!
                        But see! From out the black hood shines
                                    A light few look upon!
                        Poor exile, see! from dark deep mines,
                                    Your star at burst of dawn !
                        A thud! a creak of hangman's lines —
                                    A frail shape jerked and drawn !
The czar is dead; the woman dead.
            About her neck a cord.
In God's house rests his royal head —
            Here in a place abhorred;
Yet I would rather have her bed
            Than thine, most royal lord!
                        Yea, rather be that woman dead,
                                    Than this new living czar,
                        To hide in dread, with both hands red,
                                    Behind great bolt and bar —
                        While like the dead, still endless tread
                                   Sad exiles tow'rd their star.

Joaquin Miller.

Joaquin Miller, “Sophie Perovskaya, Liberty’s Martyred Heroine,” Liberty 1, no. 1 (August 6, 1881): 1.