The Deportation

written by

« Reload image

In vain, in vain, in vain!
Conqueror, you are conquered: though you grind
These bodies, heel on neck; and though you twist
Out of them the exquisite last wrench of pain,
They rise, they rise again,
Rise quivering and eternally resist
All cunning that all cruelty can find
To mock the heart and lacerate the mind
In vain, in vain!

The train stands packed for exile, truck on truck.
Men thronged like oxen, pressed against each other,
With worse than anger in their dangerous eyes,
Look on their drivers, armed and helmeted,--
Then forget all in sudden stormy cries
As past the bayonets sister, wife, and mother
Strain up to them, clutch fingers tight, are struck
And beaten back, but struggle and press again,
Catch desolated kisses, fight for breath
To sob their widowed hearts out in a word
Their man shall hear, reckless of wound or death
So they come nigh him; a farewell insane,
A passion as if the earth that bore them heard
And in her bones groaned! And white children held
On shoulders where the torn dress hangs in strips
Cry Father! and mute answers wring the lips
Of the exiles, in their torture still unquelled.

A whistle screams. The guards drive, shout, beat. Then
An inspiration like an ecstasy
Seizes these women, and they rush to throw
Their sobbing bodies prone upon the tracks
Before the panting engine. If their men
Into that night of slavery must go,
They'll be with death before them! Prostrate there,
Tear--blinded, with tense arms and heaving backs,
Young wife and child and mother of grey hair
Clutch the rails, anguished and athirst to die,
While over them the towering engine throbs,
Blind, ignorant, deaf, and ready. But you spare
Such easiness of end, you who did this
Which the sun looked on, and which History
Shall see for ever. Though they cling with sobs
To their own earth, frenzied and bleeding, swift
They are harried up; the bayonets prise and lift
And tear away their hands' despairing grasp:
They are tossed on either side: at the engine's hiss
The wheels begin that road which curses pave
Between those piteous heaps that cry and gasp
Helpless, and cheated even of their grave.

But something lives and burns
More perilous to assail
Than flesh of bodies frail:
It waits and it returns.
And when in the night you dream
Of the day that you did this thing,
When you see those eyes and the bayonets' gleam
And the shrieks to your very heart's blood ring
As you do your deed in your dream again,
The soul of the race that you racked, to do
Your Lord's command, that you thought to have cowed,
Shall sharpen the bitterness thrice for you
As it rises before you, crying aloud:
You did it in vain, in vain!

© Robert Laurence Binyon