Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Voltaraine de Cleyre (17/11/ 1866 - 20/6/1912) - Poet of Freedom

Voltaraine de Cleyre  was an American  anarchist-feminist , atheist, poet and free thinker.
Cleyre was born in Leslie, Michigan, a small town south of Lansing. Her parents, who were impoverished tailors, left Leslie when Voltairine was about one year old, following the accidental drowning death of another daughter, Marion, at the age of five. The family moved to St. Johns, Michigan, a town on the north side of Lansing . Despite the objections of Voltairine's mother, her father, an atheist and admirer of Voltaire, created her distinctive given name to commemorate his own beliefs
She was placed as a teenager into a Catholic convent in Sarnia, Ontario by her father, because he thought it would give her a better education. Of her time in the convent, she said, "it had been like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and there are white scars on my soul, where ignorance and superstition burnt me with their hell fire in those stifling days" She attempted to run away by swimming to Port Huron, Michigan, and hiking 17 miles but was returned by her father after being found by family friends. This in combination with family ties to the Abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad, as well as her namesake (the philosopher Voltaire), contributed to the radical rhetoric she developed.
She was a prolific writer and speaker, opposing the State, marriage, and the domination of the Church in sexuality and women's lives. de Cleyre at first subscribed to the individualist school of anarchism, but later called herself only an Anarchist, shunning doctrinal fractiousness. She was a colleague of Emma Goldman's. Goldman called her " the most gifted and brilliant woman anarchist America has ever produced," She differentiated herself from Emma Goldman, however stating, "Miss Goldman is a communist; I am an individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property, I wish to assert it. I make my war upon privilege and authority, whereby the right of property, the true right in that which is proper to the individual, is annihilated. She believes that co-operation would entirely supplant competition; I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should."
During her time in the freethought movement in the mid and late 1880s, de Cleyre was especially influenced by Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Clarence Darrow. Other influences were Henry David Thoreau, Big Bill Haywood, and Eugene Debs. After the . execution of four innocent anarchists in 1887 for the Haymarket bombing was the turning point of Voltairine's life and  she became an anarchist. "Till then I believed in the essential justice of the American law of trial by jury," she wrote in an autobiographical essay, "After that I never could".
In 1888, she threw herself into the anarchist movement, dedicating herself passionately and unceasingly to the cause of liberty for the rest of her life.
She was known as an excellent speaker and writer , in the opinion of biographer Paul Avrich, she was "a greater literary talent than any other American anarchist" who was “A brief comet in the anarchist firmament, blazing out quickly and soon forgotten by all but a small circle of comrades whose love and devotion persisted long after her death.” But “her memory,” continues Avrich, “possesses the glow of legend.” and as a tireless advocate for the anarchist cause, whose "religious zeal," according to Goldman, "stamped everything she did."
Voltairine wrote and lectured on such subjects as "Sex Slavery", "Love in Freedom", "Those Who Marry Do Ill", and "The Case of Women vs. Orthodoxy". She advocated for economic independence for women, birth control, sex education, and the right of women to maintain autonomy in relationships , including maintaining a room of one's own so as to keep one's independence, this is something that she did throughout her life, despite poverty. Anarchist women like de Cleyre and Emma Goldman challenged patriarchal power in society and in the anarchist movement.
She was also a prolific writer of poetry of much depth.Throughout her life though she was plagued by illness and depression, attempting suicide on at least two occasions and surviving an assassination attempt on December 19, 1902. Her assailant, Herman Helcher, was a former pupil who had earlier been rendered insane by a fever, and whom she immediately forgave. She wrote, "It would be an outrage against civilization if he were sent to jail for an act which was the product of a diseased brain". The attack left her with chronic ear pain and a throat infection that often adversely affected her ability to speak or concentrate but still managed to get  back on the lecture circuit 3 months later.
Voltairine de Cleyre died prematurely at the age of 45 on June 20, 1912, at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, Illinois from septic meningitis. remaining as she had lived: a free spirit, an Anarchist, owing no allegiance to rulers, heavenly or earthly.". She was buried near Emma Goldman, the Haymarket defendants, and other social activists at the Waldheim Cemetery (now Forest Home Cemetery), in Forest Park, a suburb west of Chicago. around 2,000 people attended her funeral..An important figure in  history whose ideas are of interest today, particularly as we still suffer from the patriarchy, capitalism and statism she opposed. Her freethought poetry and  her passionate, uncompromising essays are still timely, and provocative to this day.

The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader


Love's Ghost  - Voltaraine de Cleyre

Among the leaves and the rolls of moonlight,
The moon, which weaves lace on the road-white
Among the winds, and among the flowers,
Our blithe feet wander --life is ours!

Life is ours, and life is loving;
All our powers are locked in loving;
Hearts, and eyeys, and lips are moving
With the ecstasy of loving.

Ah! the roses! they are blooming;
And the June air, throbbing, tuning,
Sings of Love's eternal summer--
Chants of Joy, life's only Comer;
And we clsp our hands together,
Singing in the war, sweet weather;
Kissing, thrilling with caressing,
All the sweet from Love's rose pressing.

Ah, so easy!--Earth is Heaven,--
Darkness, shadows, do not live;
Like the rose our hearts are given,
Like the rose whos blom is given,
To the sun-gold, and the heaven.
Not because it wills or wishes,
But because 'tis life to give.                         

I am - Voltaraine de Cleyre

I am! The ages on the ages roll:
And what I am, I was, and I shall be:
by slow growth filling higher Destiny,
And Widening, ever, to the widening Goal.
I am the Stone that slept; down deep in me
That old, old sleep has left its centurine trace;
I am the plant that dreamed; and lo! still see
That dream-life dwelling on the Human Face.
I slept, I dreamed, I wakened: I am Man!
The hut grows Palaces; the depths breed light;
Still on! Forms pass; but Form yields kinglier
The singer, dying where his song began,
In Me yet lives; and yet again shall he
Unseal the lips of greater songs To Be;
For mine the thousand tongues of Immortality.

The Toast to Despair - Voltaraine de Cleyre

We have cried, – and the Gods are silent;
We have trusted, – and been betrayed;
We have loved, – and the fruit was ashes;
We have given, – the gift was weighed.
We know that the heavens are empty,
That friendship and love are names;
That truth is an ashen cinder,
The end of life’s burnt-out flames.
Vainly and long we have waited,
Through the night of the human roar,
For a single song on the harp of Hope,
Or a ray from a day-lit shore.
Songs aye come floating, marvelous sweet,
And bow-dyed flashes gleam;
But the sweets are Lies, and the weary feet
Run after a marsh-light beam.
In the hour of our need the song departs,
And the sea-moans of sorrow swell;
The siren mocks with a gurgling laugh
That is drowned in teh deep death-knell.
The light we chased with our stumbling feet
As the goal of happier years,
Swings high and low and vanishes, –
The bow-dyes were of our tears.
God is a lie, and Faith is a lie,
And a tenfold lie is Love;
Life is a problem without a why,
And never a thing to prove.
It adds, and subtracts, and multiplies,
And divides without aim or end;
Its answers all false, though false-named true, –
Wife, husband, lover, friend.
We know it now, and we care no more;
What matters life or death?
We tiny insects emerge from earth,
Suffer, and yield our breath.
Like ants we crawl on our brief sand-hill,
Dreaming of ‘mighty things’, –
Lo, they crunch, like shells in the ocean’s wrath,
In the rush of Time’s awful wings.
The sun smiles gold, and the plants white,
And a billion stars smile, still;
Yet fierce as we, each wheels toward death,
And cannot stay his will.
The build, ye fools, your might things,
That Time shall set at naught;
Grow warm with the song the sweet Lie sings,
And the false bow your tears have wrought.
For us, a truce to Gods, loves, and hopes,
And a pledge to fire and wave;
A swifter whirl to the dance of death,
And a loud huzza for the Grave!

Written-In-Red (to Our Living Dead In Mexico's Struggle )  -  Voltaraine de Cleyre    

     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

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,

Bear it aloft, O roaring, flame!
Skyward aloft, where all may see.
Slaves of the World! Our caose is the same;
One is the immemorial shame;
One is the struggle, and in One name--
Manhood--we battle to set men free.
'Uncurse us the Land!' burn the words of the

Life or Death -  Voltaraine de Cleyre

 A Soul, half through the Gate, said unto Life:
'What dos thou offer me?' And Life replied:
'Sorrow, unceasing struggle, disappointment;
after these
Darkness and silence.' The Soul said unto Death:
'What dos thou offer me?' And Death replied:
'In the beginning what Life gives at last.'
Turning to Life: 'And if I live and struggle?'
'Others shall live and struggle after thee
Counting it easier where thou hast passed.'
'And by their struggles?' 'Easier place shall be
For others, still to rise to keener pain
Of conquering Agony!' 'and what have I
To do with all these others? Who are they?'
'Yourself!' 'And all who went before?' 'Yourself.'
'The darkness and the silence, too, have end?'
'They end in light and sound; peace ends in pain,
Death ends in Me, and thou must glide from
To Self, as light to shade and shade to light again.
Choose!' The Soul, sighing, answered: 'I will live.'                                               

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