Tuesday 7 May 2019


I've written before about the undignified death of that terrible man Robespierre (born on yesterday's date in 1758). I had no idea, until I came across it yesterday, that Donald Justice – not a poet much given to historical subjects – had written a fine poem on the subject...

A Man of 1794
And like a discarded statue, propped up in a cart,
He is borne along toward the page allotted to him in history.
To open his heavy-lidded eyes now would be merely
To familiarise himself with the banal and destined route.
He is aware of the mockery of the streets,
But does not understand it. It hardly occurs to him
That what they fear is that he might yet address them
And call them back to their inflamed duty.
But this he cannot do; the broken jaw prevents speech.
Today he will not accuse the accusers; it is perhaps all that saves them.
Meanwhile his head rocks back and forth loosely on his chest
With each new jolt and lurch of the endless-seeming street:
Impossible to resist this idiot shaking.
—But it is hard after all to sympathise
With a man formerly so immaculate,
Who, after a single night of ambiguous confinement,
Lets go all pride of appearance. Nevertheless,
Under the soiled jabot, beneath the stained blue coat,
Are the principles nothing has shaken. Rousseau was right,
Of that he is still convinced: Man is naturally good!
And in the moment before the blade eases his pain
He thinks perhaps of his dog or of the woods at Choissy,
Some thought in any case of a perfectly trivial nature,
As though already he were possessed of a sweet, indefinite leisure

After the guillotine fell on the 'sea-green incorruptible', the applause and shouts of joy from the crowd who had once loved him lasted some fifteen minutes.


  1. Excellent stuff and a fascinating post from 2017

  2. Thanks Guy. A shame the lessons of the French Revolution were not more thoroughly learned...