John Brown: A Paradox

By Louise Imogen Guiney 1861–1920
Compassionate eyes had our brave John Brown,
And a craggy stern forehead, a militant frown;
He, the storm-bow of peace. Give him volley on volley,
The fool who redeemed us once of our folly,
And the smiter that healed us, our right John Brown!

Too vehement, verily, was John Brown!
For waiting is statesmanlike; his the renown
Of the holy rash arm, the equipper and starter
Of freedmen; aye, call him fanatic and martyr:
He can carry both halos, our plain John Brown.

A scandalous stumbling-block was John Brown,
And a jeer; but ah! soon from the terrified town,
In his bleeding track made over hilltop and hollow,
Wise armies and councils were eager to follow,
And the children’s lips chanted our lost John Brown.

Star-led for us, stumbled and groped John Brown,
Star-led, in the awful morasses to drown;
And the trumpet that rang for a nation’s upheaval,
From the thought that was just, thro’ the deed that was evil,
Was blown with the breath of this dumb John Brown!

Bared heads and a pledge unto mad John Brown!
Now the curse is allayed, now the dragon is down,
Now we see, clear enough, looking back at the onset,
Christianity’s flood-tide and Chivalry’s sunset
In the old broken heart of our hanged John Brown!

Source: She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (University of Iowa Press, 1997)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Louise Imogen Guiney 1861–1920

Subjects Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

 Louise Imogen Guiney

Biography

Louise Imogen Guiney is known for her lyrical, Old English-style poems that often recall the literary conventions of seventeenth-century English poetry. Informed by her religious faith, Guiney's works reflect her concern with the Catholic tradition in literature and often emphasize moral rectitude and heroic gallantry. Today Guiney is praised for her scholarship in both her poetry and in her numerous literary and historical . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.