Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Song of the Vaudois Women by William Gladstone

William Ewart Gladstone, the future British Prime Minister, the greatest of the Victorian Age left England for a grand tour in Europe, in 1832 aged 22. The main aim of his tour was a pilgrimage to visit Torre Pellice and the Waldensian heartlands. Gladstone is well known for his strong religion.

As an evangelical Anglican, Gladstone knew about the Vaudois probably since William Gilly's book was published around 1823 when he was 12. He thought of them as the Christian heroes and was clearly inspired by them all his life. At Eton, he had written a rather good poem, clearly modelled on John Milton's famous poem about the cruel persecution of the Vaudois - interestingly through the eyes of Waldensian women who are fleeing the beloved valleys and death at the hands of Savoyard and the Papal forces. The only complaint I have is his overuse of the word 'bigot', which I think should be banned from the English language:

The Song of the Vaudois Women by William Gladstone

Farewell to the land where each spot that we trod
Was hallow’d by freedom, and sacred to God;
Farewell to the shades where the Vaudois have dwelt,
And the shrines of our faith, where our forefathers knelt.

Farewell to our mountains; no more than we raise
The suppliant pray’r, and the anthem of praise:
Too soon will our altars, and snow-cover’d heights,
The monk, and the bigot, pollute with their rites.

But, say; shall we tamely bow down to the stroke,
And writhe ’neath our tyrants’ and conquerors’ yoke?
No. We fly to the hills, but our husbands will bleed
For their hearths and their homes, for their rights and their creed.

’Tis for these we contend; ’tis for these be ye brave;
May the God of our Fathers his votaries save.
May He be the guard of his once belov’d home,
From the priest-ridden despot, the vassal of Rome.

In vain are these hopes; yet we lingering stand,
To snatch one last look on our dear native land;
And to gaze on these roofs, which envelop’d in fires,
Shall gleam on the slaughter of husbands and sires.

O fly, sisters, fly; do we tarry to feel
The tyrant’s revenge, and the priest’s bigot zeal!
Approach, ye invaders! Afar will we flee,
But, God of our fathers, still kneel we to thee!

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