xml/lby.00022.xml Icons of Liberty: "Liberty"

John Hay , "Liberty" (1900)

Transcribed from pages 423-424 of The Poetry of Freedom anthology (1945), edited by William Rose Benét and Norman Cousins.


  • What man is there so bold that he should say,
  • Thus, and thus only, would I have the Sea ?
  • For whether lying calm and beautiful,
  • Clasping the earth in love, and throwing back
  • The smile of Heaven from waves of amethyst;
  • Or whether, freshened by the busy winds,
  • It bears the trade and navies of the world
  • To ends of use or stern activity;
  • Or whether, lashed by tempests, it gives way
  • To elemental fury, howls and roars
  • At all its rocky barriers, in wild lust
  • Of ruin drinks the blood of living things,
  • And strews its wrecks oer leagues of desolate shore,—
  • Always it is the Sea, and men bow down
  • Before its vast and varied majesty.
  • So all in vain will timorous ones essay
  • To set the metes and bounds of Liberty.
  • For Freedom is its own eternal law:
  • It makes its own conditions, and in storm
  • Or calm alike fulfils the unerring Will.
  • Let us not then despise it when it lies
  • Still as a sleeping lion, while a swarm
  • Of gnat-like evils hover round its head;
  • Nor doubt it when in mad, disjointed times
  • It shakes the torch of terror, and its cry
  • Shrills oer the quaking earth, and in the flame
  • Of riot and war we see its awful form
  • Rise by the scaffold, where the crimson axe
  • Rings down its grooves the knell of shuddering kings.
  • For ever in thine eyes, O Liberty,
  • Shines that high light whereby the world is saved,
  • And though thou slay us, we will trust in thee!

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