19th Century

The Capitalist | “R”

This poem titled ‘The Capitalist’ was written by someone who signed himself “R,” and was first printed in George Julian Harney’s (pre-Marxist) socialist Red Republican magazine.[1] It is a poem that tells of the coming vengeance of the working classes against the ruling capitalist classes, or, as many British radicals at the time put it, “aristocracy and moneyocracy.” The poem has been newly transcribed by Stephen Basdeo in 2021.

On the glittering piles of wealth he gaz’d,

               (His heavy coffers hold;)

Till his giddy brain with the sight was daz’d,

               His heart was chang’d to gold.

Soon all human feelings sickening died

               Crush’d by that passion’s pow’r,

As the life-parch’d flow’rs of the morning fade

               Scorch’d by noon’s blazing hour.

And the blood that cours’d through his portly frame,

               Forgot its crimson dye–

To the glowing gold pour’d thro’ ev’ry vein,

               It ow’d vitality.

He dwells in a mansion whose splendour mocks

               Noble or regal state;

Like a bloated spider their life he sucks

               Whose toils his wealth create!

He throws round his victims the iron net,

               Which want has wove for him.

And he joys to see on their pale cheeks set

               The seal of hunger grim.

And he hath search’d out what was never known,

               To Alchymists of old

He taketh his brothers sinew and bone

               And melts to yellow gold!

The dawn looks forth where his plundered serfs

               Their weary labours ply:

While the latest star which the midnight gives,

               Quits, ere they cease, the sky.

Seethe blood shot eye and the haggard form,

               The idiotic stare,—

And consumption’s slow insidious worm,

               Are brands his servants bear.

Stern manhood o’erpowered his sturdy strength

               Bows in the deadly strife;

And the throbbing brow of opening youth

               With cares of old is rife.

A hale old age, save in ancient song

               To workers is unknown

(But a sleepless angel each blighting wrong

               In God’s daybook writes down!)

Bravely, O bravely, the golden flood,

               The rich man quaffs the while;

And little he recks if his brother’s blood

               Its lustre somewhat soil;

Honours and titles await his call

               With aught earth’s confines hold,

For the nations (like they of Dathan) all

               Adore the calf of gold!

O fell is the noble’s insane misrule,

               When trampled nations obey;

And blackest of all the plagues of hell,

               Is the priest’s unbounded sway.

But this goodly earth is more deeply curst

               By mammon’s blacker slaves.

Who answer the anguished cry for bread

               By digging pauper graves.

O quail ye not lest that skeleton host

               May turn and their tyrants slay?

For the hunter feareth that hour the most,

               When the hunted stand at bay.

Say paled not your cheek when that dying howl

               Of hunger past your doors,

Lest your children’s clutch of your hoarded spoil

               Should prove less firm than yours?

For the time draws nigh when the reck’ning due

               With brigands shall be made

And the long arrears and interest too,

               In full shall be repaid:

And O when that day of maddening strife,—

               Of long-pent Justice comes

When the people’s watch word is—“Life for life”

               God help the guilty ones.

[1] ‘R.’, ‘The Capitalist’, Red Republican, 26 October 1850, 152.

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