South And North – Snake And Lion.
By Laon.


Freedom and Tyranny across the wave,
Like maddened monsters in a bloody fray
Contend for mastery, while the hungry grave
Yawns to receive its dead and mangled prey.
Mercy appeals with tears that cannot save;
Grim Death laughs loud in this his holiday;
The giddy earth reels with the cannon’s thunder
Whilst the awakened world stands mute with wonder.


Long had the venom of the Southern Snake,
Like fiend-made poison mingl’d with its law,
Until at length the watchful land did quake
To see it gaping and rapacacious maw
Still gasp unglutted; then with dreadful shake
The Northern Lion raised a threatening paw,
And in a tone expressive of opinion,
Bade the Snake keep within its own dominion.


The pang which of’t had pierced the dark-skinned brother,
Blasting the hopeful dreams of Afric’s youth,
Now sought with treacherous guile to sting its mother;
And piece her vitals with its venomed tooth;
Its massy coils e’en sought to crust and smother
The rising flame of liberty and truth;
But ah! that flame shall burn with searching flashes
Until black Slavery’s form shall sink in ashes.


The serpent’s blood comingling with the state
Brought forth a viper-brood foul Hydra-headed;
The mild but stricken land did tolerate
The loathsome birth, like one close wedded
To a disease which makes him desolate,
Until within his heart is embedded,
And though he knows ‘twill breed him naught but sorrow,
Yet blindly hopes ‘twill die the coming morrow.


The nation rising from its lengthy sleep,
More like a war horse panting for the fray,
Or like sea-monsters toiling through the deep,
Upon its banner is inscribed alway,
“Life, liberty, and love to all who keep
The laws which freemen honour and obey;
Death! death! to the serpent which seeks to destroy
The freedom which tyrants can never enjoy.”


The angels look from heaven with gladdened eyes,
Now that the nation from its shame an sin
Seek an atonement with dread sacrifice
To purify the guilty soul within:
The fiery cross shall lead to Paradise,
Clearing a pathway mid the war’s fierce din;
The surgeon’s lancet; better late than never,
Shall cleanse the limb to make it sound for ever.


On, then, brave Lion, in thy noble cause!
A million bound in chains shall bless thee ever,
Their groans shall never thy limbs to thunder blows,
Such as the serpent’s scaly folds shall never
Be able to resist. On! for thy laws
Generous and just call for a strong endeavour,
To keep them from the foul Snake’s slimy trailing
The scourging lash, and Virtue’s piteous wailing.


Thy stars of thy proud banner then shall flame
With beams of liberty throughout the land;
The stripes shall lash the tyrants into shame
Who bind the fetters with an iron hand;
Rich liquid songs of love shall flood thy name
Springing from Afric’s sons a joyous band,
Each tear shall change into a gem whilst flowing
To deck thy starry crown with lustre glowing.

Title:South and North – Snake and Lion


Publication:The Blackburn Times

Published in:Blackburn

Date:December 24, 1864

Keywords:Percy Bysshe Shelley, america, slavery, war


These eight octave stanzas all have ABABABCC rhyme schemes, with the final couplets ending on rhymes on two syllables. The language in the poem is deliberately classical or archaic, using terms such as ‘thy’ and elisions such as ‘’twill’, and this suggests a seriousness of purpose and a claim to ‘higher’ poetic values. The imagery is also classical in its nature and depicts the American Civil war as a battle between creatures described in mythic terms.

The use of the pen-name ‘Laon’ is interesting in that it almost certainly refers to Percy Byssye Shelley’s intensely political 1818 poem ‘Laon and Cythna’, sometimes known as ‘The Revolt of Islam’. This chimes well with the poem’s evident poetic ambition and also with its theme of liberty – in this case for the enslaved peoples of the Southern states.

- SR.