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A live performance
What is Freedom? - ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well -
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.
'Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants' use to dwell,
So that ye for them are made
Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,
With or without your own will bent
To their defence and nourishment.
'Tis to see your children weak
With their mothers pine and peak,
When the winter winds are bleak, -
They are dying whilst I speak.
'Tis to hunger for such diet
As the rich man in his riot
Casts to the fat dogs that lie
Surfeiting beneath his eye;
'Tis to let the Ghost of Gold
Take from Toil a thousandfold
More that e'er its substance could
In the tyrannies of old.
Paper coin - that forgery
Of the title-deeds, which ye
Hold to something of the worth
Of the inheritance of Earth.
'Tis to be a slave in soul
And to hold no strong control
Over your own wills, but be
All that others make of ye.
And at length when ye complain
With a murmur weak and vain
'Tis to see the Tyrant's crew
Ride over your wives and you -
Blood is on the grass like dew.
Then it is to feel revenge
Fiercely thirsting to exchange
Blood for blood - and wrong for wrong -
Do not thus when ye are strong.
Ye who suffer woes untold,
Or to feel, or to behold
Your lost country bought and sold
With a price of blood and gold -
Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free -
And these words shall then become
Like Oppression's thundered doom
Ringing through each heart and brain,
Heard again - again - again -
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.'
Written on the occasion of the massacre carried out by the British Government at Peterloo, Manchester 1819
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