Ode to Charlotte Corday

Cathy Young
3 min readMar 4, 2022

André Chenier

Charlotte Corday, painted by Jacques Hauer hours before her execution

Written in 1793 to celebrate Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday d’Armont, the 24-year-old Girondin sympathizer who assassinated radical journalist and fervent Terror proponent Jean-Paul Marat on July 13, 1793 and was executed four days later. My translation. Original here.

What! Everywhere, pretended or sincere,
Of cowards and of rogues the plaints and tears
Of their Marat’s ascension spread the news,
And, prideful priest of deity most foul,
A slimy would-be poet on the prowl
A noxious hymn upon his altar spews,

Yet truth keeps silent! Frozen, terrified,
By icy bonds of fear its tongue is tied,
Denying glorious deeds their just acclaim!
Is life so sweet then, and is death so frightful
When our free thoughts we must conceal and stifle,
Enslaving them under a yoke of shame?

No, I won’t honor you with silent praise
Who for the life of France gave up your days
To punish evils on the world released.
You armed yourself with steel, O maid sublime,
To shame the gods, and to undo their crime
Of giving human features to that beast.

The serpent coiling in his filthy lair
Saw your undaunted hand reach out and tear
Of his accursed days the poison thread.
You came to face the tiger gorged on killing,
Demanding restitution of the villain
For the warm flesh and blood of all the dead.

He saw you in the dimming light of day
Rejoice in triumph as you watched your prey.
“Go, vicious tyrant,” said your gaze, “begone!
Others will follow you into the night.
Bathing in blood has been your sole delight;
Now, fear the gods whilst bathing in your own.”

Illustrious maid! If Greece your like had harbored,
They’d raid their quarries for the purest marble
To raise your statues, to great heroes next;
Choirs at your tomb, in ecstasy most holy,
Would sing of Vengeance, goddess who works slowly
Yet strikes the tyrant when he least expects.

But here in France, to die by axe you’re fated.
It is the monster who is celebrated
Amidst his friends, monsters of lesser scale.
Oh! How you smiled — in what superb disdain —
When thugs out to avenge the thug you’d slain
Believed the threat of death would make you pale!

Let them turn pale, those magistrates of hate,
Odious officials of an odious state:
At their tribunal, subject to their will,
Friendless and fearless in that awful hour,
You showed them that, though villainy have power,
One who renounces life is stronger still.

For months, beneath a sweet and cheerful look,
Your soul in its well-guarded secret book
Concealed the sentence on the scoundrel passed.
So smiles the azure sky, bright and alluring,
While, hidden still, a mighty storm is brewing,
Ready to shake the mountains with its blast.

Young, fair, led to your death, on that last ride
You looked resplendent like a lovely bride,
Your face, your gaze full of serenity.
Calm even on the scaffold, you despised
The baying crowds in outrage quick to rise,
A servile mob that still believes it’s free.

No, only virtue can be free. Our story
Is one of lasting shame, and yours of glory:
You were the only man, avenging maid!
And we, vile eunuchs, soulless, craven herd
Can murmur, woman-like, a plaintive word,
But our enfeebled hands can’t lift a blade.

You did not think one traitor sacrificed
To our ancestral spirits would suffice
A broken France from chaos to restore:
No, you had hoped that, by your courage shaken,
Our timid souls would finally awaken
And slay the plundering gang grown fat on gore.

One fewer snake crawls in this pit of slime.
Fair heroine of our forsaken time,
Virtue applauds you; hear her noble voice!
O virtue! When to evil laws succumb
And thunder sleeps, the dagger must become
Your sacred weapon and our only choice.



Cathy Young

Russian-Jewish-American writer. Associate editor, Arc Digital; contributor, Reason, Newsday, The Forward etc. https://www.patreon.com/CathyYoung