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Voltairine de Cleyre

I never expect men to give us liberty. No, women, we are not worth it until we take it.

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Note the difference between a right and a privilege. A right, in the abstract, is a fact; it is not a thing to be given, established, or conferred; it is. Of the exercise of a right power may deprive me; of the right itself, never. Privilege, in the abstract, does not exist; there is no such thing. Rights recognized, privilege is destroyed. But, in the practical, the moment you admit a supreme authority, you have denied rights. Practically the supremacy has all the rights, and no matter what the human race possesses, it does so merely at the caprice of that authority.

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Make no laws whatever concerning speech, and speech will be free; so soon as you make a declaration on paper that speech shall be free, you will have a hundred lawyers proving that "freedom does not mean abuse, nor liberty license"; and they will define and define freedom out of existence. Let the guarantee of free speech be in every man's determination to use it, and we shall have no need of paper declarations. On the other hand, so long as the people do not care to exercise their freedom, those who wish to tyrannize will do so; for tyrants are active and ardent, and will devote themselves in the name of any number of gods, religious and otherwise, to put shackles upon sleeping men.

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Written-In-Red

(To Our Living Dead in Mexico's Struggle)

Written in red their protest stands,
For the gods of the World to see;
On the dooming wall their bodiless hands
have blazoned "Upharsin," and flaring brands
Illumine the message: "Seize the lands!
Open the prisons and make men free!"
Flame out the living words of the dead
Written-in-red.

Gods of the World! Their mouths are dumb!
Your guns have spoken and they are dust.
But the shrouded Living, whose hearts were numb,
have felt the beat of a wakening drum
Within them sounding-the Dead men's tongue—
Calling: "Smite off the ancient rust!"
Have beheld "Resurrexit," the word of the Dead,
Written-in-red.

[...] Read more

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The Hurricane

"We are the birds of the coming storm." — August Spies

The tide is out, the wind blows off the shore;
Bare burn the white sands in the scorching sun;
The sea complains, but its great voice is low.

Bitter thy woes, O People,
And the burden
Hardly to be borne!
Wearily grows, O People,
All the aching
Of thy pierced heart, bruised and torn!
But yet thy time is not,
And low thy moaning.
Desert thy sands!
Not yet is thy breath hot,
Vengefully blowing;
It wafts o'er lifted hands.

[...] Read more

poem by Voltairine de Cleyre (1889)Report problemRelated quotes
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And Thou Too

The moonlight rolls down like a river,
The silence streams out like a sea;
And far where the eastern winds quiver,
My farewell goes floating to thee.

Like night, when the sunset is fading
And starbeams troop up in the skies,
Through a cold, dark and lonely forever
Gleams the light of the poet eyes.

And sometimes when I am weary,
When the path is thorny and Wild,
I'll look back to the Eyes in the twilight,
Back to the eyes that smiled.

And pray that a wreath like a rainbow
May slip from the beautiful past,
And Crown me again with the sweet, strong love
And keep me, and hold me fast.

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poem by Voltairine de Cleyre (1888)Report problemRelated quotes
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The Gods and the People

What have you done, O skies,
That the millions should kneel to you?
Why should they lift wet eyes,
Grateful with human dew?
Why should they clasp their hands,
And bow at thy shrines, O heaven,
Thanking thy high commands
For the mercies that thou hast given?
What have those mercies been,
O thou who art called the Good?
Who trod through a world of sin,
And stood where the felon stood
What is that wondrous peace
Vouchsafed to the child of dust
For whom all doubt shall cease
In the light of thy perfect trust?
How hast Thou heard their prayers
Smoking up from the bleeding sod,
Who, crushed by their weight of cares,
Cried up to thee, Most High God

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Bastard Born

Why do you clothe me with scarlet of shame?
Why do you point with your finger of scorn?
What is the crime that you hissingly name
When you sneer in my ears, "Thou bastard born?"

Am I not as the rest of you,
With a hope to reach, and a dream to live?
With a soul to suffer, a heart to know
The pangs that the thrusts of the heartless give?"

I am no monster! Look at me --
Straight in my eyes, that they do not shrink!
Is there aught in them you can see
To merit this hemlock you make me drink?

This poison that scorches my soul like fire,
That burns and burns until love is dry,
And I shrivel with hate, as hot as a pyre,
A corpse, while its smoke curls up to the sky?

[...] Read more

poem by Voltairine de Cleyre (1891)Report problemRelated quotes
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