“Sophie Perovskaya”

Sophie Perovskaya,



Hanged April 15, 1881,

For Helping to Rid the World of a Tyrant.

Down from her high estate she stept,
A maiden, gently born
And by the icy Volga kept
Sad watch, and waited morn;
And peasants say that where she slept
The new moon dipped her horn.
Yet on and on, through shoreless snows
Stretched tow’rd the great north pole,
The foulest wrong the good God known

Rolls as dark rivers roll.

While never once for all these woes

Upspeaks one human soul.


She toiled, she taught the peasant, taught

The dark-eyed Tartar. He,

Inspired with her lofty thought,

Rose up and sought to be,

What God at the creation wrought,

A man! God-like and free.

Yet e’er before him yawn the black

Siberian mines! And oh,

The knout upon the bare white back!

The blood upon the snow !

The gaunt wolves, close upon the track,

Fight o’er the fallen so!


And this that one might wear a crown

Snatched from a strangled sire!

And this that two might mock or frown,

From high thrones climblng higher,

To where the parricide looks down

With harlot in desire!

Yet on, beneath the great north star,

Like some lost, living thing,

That long line stretches black and far

Till buried by death’s wing!

And great men praise the goodly czar —

But God sits pitying.


The storm burst forth! From out that storm

The clean, red lightning leapt!

And lo, a prostrate royal form!

Like any blood, his crept

Down through the snow, all smoking warm,

And Alexander slept!

Yea, one lies dead, for millions dead!

One red spot in the snow

For one long damning line of red;

While exiles endless go —

The babe at breast, the mother’s head

Bowed down, and dying so!


And did a woman do this deed?

Then build her scaffold high,

That all may on her forehead read

Her martyr’s right to die!

Ring Cossack round on royal steed!

Now lift her to the sky!

But see! From out the black hood shines

A light few look upon!

Poor exile, see! from dark deep mines,

Your star at burst of dawn !

A thud! a creak of hangman’s lines —

A frail shape jerked and drawn !


The czar is dead; the woman dead.

About her neck a cord.

In God’s house rests his royal head —

Here in a place abhorred;

Yet I would rather have her bed

Than thine, most royal lord!

Yea, rather be that woman dead,

Than this new living czar,

To hide in dread, with both hands red,

Behind great bolt and bar —

While like the dead, still endless tread

Sad exiles tow’rd their star.

Joaquin Miller.

Joaquin Miller, “Sophie Perovskaya, Liberty’s Martyred Heroine,” Liberty 1, no. 1 (August 6, 1881): 1.