I was asked to contribute a poem to an anthology entitled Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons Collaborations, 2017) which challenged the contributors a write a piece about an historical figure who fit the description of the title. Just prior to the request, I had watched Peter Ackroyd's brilliant BBC documentary series on the Romantic Poets and was particularly drawn to Wordsworth's experience of the French Revolution and the crushing sense of disappointment he felt in its aftermath. I can't help but wonder if the resulting piece somewhat strayed from the brief as intended (you can decide for yourself) but it was, nonetheless, a fascinating subject to approach. For those interested in the result, here's the poem:
The earthquake is not satisfied at once
And in this way I wrought upon myself,
Until I seemed to hear a voice that cried,
"Sleep no more."
William Wordsworth, Prelude, Book X
He arrives by carriage to the port of Calais, dismounts
and gets ready to depart with a ruptured longing.
What was it he was escaping from? – the cost of love
or the cost of terror, Annette somewhere else without him,
their daughter barely supping at her breast, oblivious
to the horror unfolding around her. Why did he flee
both Ideal and family? The question must be asked...
He had come with such great hope, yet found instead
a great despair, the cobbled street he so recently walked
now blood-stained and foul; Robespierre and the myriad
dead, their guilt consigning them to the will of the guillotine…
Such terrible things he has seen as the tricolours flutter
in the bright morning air above the hotel, patisserie and bar:
liberté, egalité, fraternité… but what of love?
Was he, William, fool to imagine it differently, that such
beauty and nobility of spirit might so swiftly turn to peril,
the things he has witnessed here too much to carry?
Instead he holds two small cases and a ticket to England,
takes a step forward onto the gangway of the ship,
its sails readied and set to deliver him home
to all he has known, awaiting his servile return.
One day, he understands that he must write of this –
to try, at least, explain to Annette and their daughter
how it was he came to fail them.