I saw a Monk of Charlemaine

Blake manuscript - Notebook - page 012

I saw a Monk of Charlemaine[1]

I SAW a Monk of Charlemaine
Arise before my sight;
I talk’d to the Grey Monk where he stood
In beams of infernal light.
5Gibbon arose with a lash of steel,
And Voltaire with a wracking wheel:
The Schools, in clouds of learning roll’d,
Arose with War in iron and gold.
‘Thou lazy Monk,’ they said afar,
10‘In vain condemning glorious War,
And in thy cell thou shall ever dwell.
Rise, War, and bind him in his cell!’
The blood red ran from the Grey Monk’s side,
His hands and feet were wounded wide,
15His body bent, his arms and knees
Like to the roots of ancient trees.
‘I see, I see,’ the Mother said,
‘My children will die for lack of bread.
What more has the merciless tyrant said?’
20The Monk sat down on her stony bed.
His eye was dry, no tear could flow;
A hollow groan first spoke his woe.
He trembled and shudder’d upon the bed;
At length with a feeble cry he said:

25‘When God commanded this hand to write
In the studious hours of deep midnight,
He told me that all I wrote should prove
The bane of all that on Earth I love.
‘My brother starv’d between two walls;
30Thy children’s cry my soul appals:
I mock’d at the wrack and griding chain;
My bent body mocks at their torturing pain.
‘Thy father drew his sword in the North;
With his thousands strong he is [marchèd] forth;
35Thy brother has armèd himself in steel
To revenge the wrongs thy children feel.
‘But vain the sword and vain the bow,
They never can work War’s overthrow;
The hermit’s prayer and the widow’s tear
40Alone can free the world from fear.
‘The hand of Vengeance sought the bed
To which the purple tyrant fled;
The iron hand crush’d the tyrant’s head,
And became a tyrant in his stead.
45‘Until the tyrant himself relent,
The tyrant who first the black bow bent,
Slaughter shall heap the bloody plain:
Resistance and War is the tyrant’s gain.

‘But the tear of love—and forgiveness sweet,
50And submission to death beneath his feet—
The tear shall melt the sword of steel,
And every wound it has made shall heal.
‘For the tear is an intellectual thing,
And a sigh is the sword of an Angel King,
55And the bitter groan of the martyr’s woe
Is an arrow from the Almighty’s bow.’


1. I saw a Monk] The first draft of this piece, written without title in the Rossetti MS. not later than April 1803, consisted of fourteen stanzas, which Blake later separated into two poems ‘To the Deists’ in Jerusalem, and ‘The Grey Monk’ of the Pickering MS., indicating the beginning of the latter by a line drawn above stanza v. In the version engraved for Jerusalem, where the length is reduced to seven stanzas, Blake’s first change was to mark xii, xiii, and xiv for insertion after iv. He then wrote the revised version of xii:

When Satan first the black bow bent
And the Moral Law from the Gospel rent
He forg’d the Law into a sword
And spill’d the blood of Mercy’s Lord—

adding in the margin the new stanza:

Titus! Constantine! Charlemaine!
O Voltaire! Rousseau! Gibbon! vain
Your Grecian mocks [mocks and iron del.] and Roman sword
Against this image of his Lord—

which (omitting the original xiii) is linked to xiv by the catchword ‘A tear is, &c.’ The stanzas thus rejected Blake converted into a second poem, which he transcribed into the Pickering MS., with the title ‘The Grey Monk’. This begins with the original fifth stanza, the line ‘I see, I see, the Mother said’ being changed to ‘I die, I die, the Mother said’. The remaining stanzas (vi–xi) are arranged in the order of the MS. Book, with the interpolation of iv between v and vi, and xiv between x and xi, these two stanzas being common to both versions. ii Of this stanza we have the rejected variants:

Gibbon plied his lash of steel,
Voltaire turned his wracking wheel,
Charlemaine and his barons bold
Stood by, and mocked in iron and gold.


The wheel of Voltaire whirl’d on high,
Gibbon aloud his lash does ply,
Charlemaine and his clouds of war [and his barons bold 1st rdg. del.]
Muster around the Polar Star.

9, 10

‘Seditious Monk’ said Charlemaine,
‘The glory of War thou condemn’st in vain,’

MS. 1st rdg. del.

34 marchèd] deleted in MS. but no word substituted. 44 And usurpèd the tyrant’s throne and bed. MS. 1st rdg. del. xii Rewritten later in the form adopted in Jerusalem. xiii Omitted in both the Jerusalem and Pickering MS. versions. 55 of the martyr’s woe] for another’s woe MS. 1st rdg. del.


  1. The Poetical Works of William Blake, including the unpublished French Revolution together with the Minor Prophetic Books and Selections from The Four Zoas, Milton & Jerusalem; edited with an introduction and textual notes by John Sampson, Hon. D.Litt. Oxon., 1862–1931
    London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1908.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.