The Masque of Anarchy

It’s International Workers’ Day today (aka Labour Day, aka May Day, aka my birthday), which is a good time to remember the right of the common man to stand together with his comrades and oppose that which is wrong.

On 16th August 1819, about 80,000 protesters gathered in Manchester to demand Parliamentary reform – the response from the government of the day was to order a cavalry charge, and what became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, writing at the time, produced the powerful poem The Masque of Anarchy in response to this atrocity.

I’ve selected a few rather resonant stanzas to commemorate the importance, and the power, of peaceful protest.

Something to remember, today, when we’re remembering the workers who have died arguing for our rights.

And in the coming days and months, as increasingly abhorrent legislation and cuts are imposed upon us, which we can & must oppose collectively.

Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free –

From the workhouse and the prison
Where pale as corpses newly risen,
Women, children, young and old
Groan for pain, and weep for cold –

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away

Then they will return with shame
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many — they are few.

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