Canadian Born

by Emily Pauline Johnson



“Give Us Barabbas”*


 

There was a man—a Jew of kingly blood,
    But of the people—poor and lowly born,
Accused of blasphemy of God, he stood
    Before the Roman Pilate, while in scorn
The multitude demanded it was fit
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    That one should suffer for the people, while
Another be released, absolved, acquit,
    To live his life out virtuous or vile.

“Whom will ye have—Barabbas or this Jew?”
    Pilate made answer to the mob, “The choice
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Is yours; I wash my hands of this, and you,
    Do as you will.” With one vast ribald voice
The populace arose and, shrieking, cried,
    “Give us Barabbas, we condone his deeds!”
And He of Nazareth was crucified—
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    Misjudged, condemned, dishonored for their needs. [Page 47]

And down these nineteen centuries anew
    Comes the hoarse-throated, brutalized refrain,
“Give us Barabbas, crucify the Jew!”
    Once more a man must bear a nation’s stain,—
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And that in France, the chivalrous, whose lore
    Made her the flower of knightly age gone by.
Now she lies hideous with a leprous sore
    No skill can cure—no pardon purify.

And an indignant world, transfixed with hate
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    Of such disease, cries, as in Herod’s time,
Pointing its finger at her festering state,
    “Room for the leper, and her leprous crime!”
And France, writhing from years of torment, cries
    Out in her anguish, “Let this Jew endure,
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Damned and disgraced, vicarious sacrifice.
    The honor of my army is secure.” [Page 48]

And, vampire-like, that army sucks the blood
    From out a martyr’s veins, and strips his crown
Of honor from him, and his herohood
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    Flings in the dust, and cuts his manhood down.
Hide from your God, O! ye that did this act!
    With lesser crimes the halls of Hell are paved.
Your army’s honor may be still intact,
    Unstained, unsoiled, unspotted,—but unsaved. [Page 49]
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* NOTE.—Written after Dreyfus was exiled. [back]