Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Séverine — The Anarchists of Chicago


They have taken these four men full of life and health, cast over their shoulders the shrouds that shall, some few minutes later, wrap their twisted limbs, and hide their contorted faces—eyes bulging out of their orbits to punish them for having seen too far and too high into the future of humanity; tongues bulging from mouths, gags of purple flesh sealing forever these lips guilty of speaking of justice and truth!

Their gait was unsteady, for their ankles were cut by the cords which hobbled their feet, as the legs of beasts are tied before on the way to the slaughterhouse.

They were pale, for the night before their dearest friend, Louis Lingg, had sacrificed his life, stoically, in the hope of saving their four lives. They had heard the sudden explosion, the commotion among the prisoners, and the cries of suffering wrung from him by his frightful wounds. They had counted the minutes of his agony, and their sleep had been troubled during that ultimate night by a double pounding of hammers: the coffin was nailed, as the gallows was erected...

The day before, they had cut off their hearts from this world. The wives, the mothers, had sobbed in their arms, wailed against their chests, hugged their knees. There had been, in these dungeons, some dreadful scenes. The companions of Fisher and Parsons, the mother of Spies, and his fiancée, had watered with their tears the stone of the cells.

Parsons’ wife had returned in the morning. She had dragged herself to the door of the jail, had knocked softly, and had begged, with words fit to move beasts, to be allowed to embrace one last time the still-living one whose widow she already was.

— No.

She said nothing, did not shout, and cried no more; but her fingernails, embedded in the edges of the door, came loose suddenly, and she fell back with a cry so terrible that it was heard all through the prison.

No one knew if Parsons had recognized the dear voice; but, from that moment, dreadful wrinkles cut at his face; he seemed sixty years old when the hangman took him.

The four condemned men listened, proudly—a superhuman thing to see—to the reading of the death sentence. Then, walking toward the scaffold, Fisher— the German, Fisher—began to sing the heroic Marseillaise whose red wing hovered over these martyrs.

The executioner seized them. The ignominious cords were knotted around their necks, the trapdoors opened—and the four bodies swung in space, like four bell clappers sounding the alarm of reprisals in the terrified air..

Before dying, Spies said: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

Engel cried out: “Hurrah for Anarchy!”

Fisher cried: “Hurrah for Anarchy!”

The last phrase of the testament of Lingg was: “Long live Anarchy!”...

November, 1887.

 From En Marche (1896)

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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