The value of a story depends on first-hand experience. Ambrose Bierce was one of those people, who searched for the story, by visiting those places that he considered important. This search ended for him, when he disappeared in 1913. This is the poem Freedom, written by this American poet.
About the poet
Ambrose Bierce (born: Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, June 24 1842) was a child of the nineteenth century. He even played a role in the most important American war during that century: the American Civil War. He was also a writer, poet and journalist. About his experiences in the army, he wrote the novel The Devil’s Dictionary. It is one of the most important works about the American Civil War. Bierce is also known for his horror stories.
All the children in his family got names starting with an A. It is believed, that Laura Sherwood Bierce was a descent of William Bradford, an English Puritan of the seventeenth century who moved from England, to The Netherlands (Leiden). He was one of those we nowadays known as the Pilgrim Fathers.
Bierce grew up in a poor, but large family (he had thirteen siblings), in Kosciusko County (Indiana, US). In the nearby town Warsaw, he was educated. He left home, when he was only fifteen years old. He became an apprentice at the Ohio based newspaper Northern Indianan. This marked the start of his career in journalism. He would eventually become one of the most influence journalists of his time. But, he would pause this career, when he enlisted in the Union’s Army during the Civil War.
After the war was over, he married Mary Ellen Day (1871). The marriage was a drama, since all his children and his wife died. His wife committed suicide, after they separated in 1904. They had been living apart since 1888, after Bierce discovered that his wife was allegedly having an affair.
At that time, Bierce was well respected as a journalist and a writer. Though, he was considered more of a journalist than a writer.
At the age of 71, Bierce was still active as a journalist. He visited the former battlefields in the south of the country. From there on, he crossed the border into Mexico. At that time, this country was an unsafe place, due to the revolution. In the city of Ciudad Juárez, he met general Francisco “Pancho” Villa and he was a witness at the Battle of Tierra Blanca. From there on, he travelled with the general to Chihuahua. On December 26 1913, he wrote his last letter. It was addressed to his friend Blanche Partington. His last words:
“As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.”
Bierce was never found. The US consulate conducted an investigation, after it was clear that he was missing. Witnesses say, that Bierce was last seen in Chihuahua in January 1914. It is believed, that he died in front of a firing squad. It’s unclear if these soldiers were part of Villa’s army. The only documentation about this journey dates back to the priest James Lieniert. There is still much doubt if this really happened. There is even doubt, that Bierce – who had asthma- would even have travelled to Mexico. His health might even have prevented him from going there. As for the letter, the only evidence of these last words, are notes taken by Carrie Christiansen, his secretary.
The disappearance of Ambrose Bierce, is still a big mystery.
This poem was published in 1906 and there is a reference to Thaddeus Kosciuszko. This was a Polish military engineer. He played a role in the American Civil War and died in exile in 1817 in Switzerland.
Freedom is described as a woman. She fears those moments, when politicians or royals meet. This could be a compromise to her situation. Freedom is freedom, so therefore any argument can lead to a dismantling of freedom, of her.
Bierce writes about the dangers of getting too much freedom. Those who have too much, will surely do things to dismantle freedom for others. Wise words, and something to think about.
Freedom, as every schoolboy knows,
Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell;
On every wind, indeed, that blows
I hear her yell.
She screams whenever monarchs meet,
And parliaments as well,
To bind the chains about her feet
And toll her knell.
And when the sovereign people cast
The votes they cannot spell,
Upon the pestilential blast
Her clamors swell.
For all to whom the power’s given
To sway or to compel,
Among themselves apportion Heaven
And give her Hell.
— Ambrose Bierce