Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Republic of Virtue

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Republic of Virtue

Article excerpt

In Year One, the month of Vintage, time began.

Fog hovered above the earth, like an emanation

Of spirits underground. The scents of rose water

Sprinkled on sawdust, bird lime, blood, and fungus

Commingled in the air, like a chimera

Exhaled from broken mouths. The word Virtue

Rumbled above the roar of distant cannon

Like muffled drums, drowning our lamentations.

Nude women promenaded down the streets

As the Marquis de Sade stepped blearily from prison

To raucous cheers. On crumbling balustrades

We fired guns and wept like communicants.

"Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains,"

Declared Rousseau. To break the Social Contract

And signify a city stripped of saints,

The twelve months were reborn, the weeks transfigured

To decades of ten days. Without a Sabbath

To toll the bells, a shining new Republic

Of Virtue was proclaimed. De-christened streets

Wore names of heroes. One Easter Sunday morning,

De Sade lured a young beggar named Rose Keller

To his chateau and bound her there in chains,

Enacting scenes he'd first composed in prison

In Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue,

Till slipping her restraints, the girl escaped.

"Revolutions, my friend, are not made out of rose water,"

Cried Danton, as The Committee of Public Safety

Sent spies among the crowd to sniff complaints. …

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