Quia Multum Amavit

Original Text: 

Selections from the Poetry of John Payne, ed. Tracy and Lucy Robinson (New York: Bodley head, 1906): 47-52. Internet Archive

2    And wan eyes, all a-stare;
3The weary limbs composed in ghastly rest,
4    The hands together prest,
5Tight holding something that the flood has spared,
6    Nor even the rough workhouse folk have dared
7    To separate from her wholly, but untied
8Gently the knotted hands and laid it by her side.
9A piteous sight, -- yet not without some sign
10    Of handiwork divine;
11Some faint, mysterious traces of content
12    About the brows, unbent
13At last from toil and misery, -- some mark
14Of child-like, tired composure in the stark,
15Wan features, on whose calm there is imprest
16    At last the seal of rest.
17See, she was fair, -- and now she's rid of strife,
18    She's comelier than in life;
19For death has smoothed the tresses of her hair
20    And stroked the lines of care.
21With no ungentle hand, from off her brow.
22She seems at peace at last, -- no matter how.
23Death has been angel-sweet to her tired soul;
25You know her story? Just the sad, old tale,
26    Whose victims never fail!
27Common enough and mean, but yet not quite
28    Without its gleam of light;
29Not all devoid of some redeeming spark
30Of nobleness to lighten its grim dark.
31You turn away. You've heard of many such?
32"She was so wicked!" But she loved so much.
33I tell you, this poor woman you despise,
34    From whom you turn your eyes.
35Loved with an ardour, side by side with which
36    Our lives, so seeming rich
37In virtues and in grandeurs, fade away
38Into the dusk, as night before the day.
39Yet of her life you fear to hear me tell.
40"She was so wicked!" But she loved so well.
41You saw the portrait taken from her grasp,
42    Stiffened in Death's cold clasp?
43Two little children, poorly clad and plain,
44    Sun-scorched and worn with pain,
45Wan with mean cares, too early for their years,
46Their child-eyes eager with unchildish fears
48You say. "And after all it's nought to me
49What was her life and what her hopes might be.
50She was so wicked!" Oh, she loved so much!
51True, a mere daub, whereon the beneficent sun
52    Has written, in faint, dun,
53Unbeauteous lines, a hard and narrow life,
54    Wherein dull care was rife
55And little thought of beauty or delight
56Relieved the level blackness of the night:
57And yet I would not change those pictured two
58For all the cherubs Raphael ever drew.
59Two little faces, plain enough to you,
60    Nothing of bright or new;
61Such faces as one meets amongst each crowd,
62    Sharp-visaged and low-browed;
63And yet to her, her picture-books of heaven,
64The treasuries from which the scanty leaven,
65Wherewith she stirred her poor mean life to joy.
66Was drawn, -- pure gold from her without alloy.
67They were her all, and by no sacred tie,
68    No pure maternity.
69To her the name of wife had been denied.
70    In sin she lived and died.
71She was an outlaw from the pale of right,
72And yet there was that in her had such might,
73That she would not have shamed our dear Lord Christ.
74    She loved, and that sufficed.
75They were her shame and pride, her hope and fear,
76    To her how dreadly dear
77We scarce can feel. You happy, virtuous wives,
78    Whose quiet, peaceful lives
79Flow on, unstirred by misery or crime,
80Can have no thought how high these souls can climb
81For love; with what a weird, unearthly flame
82These wretched mothers love their babes of shame;
83How they can suffer for them, dull and mean
84As they may seem, and sell their souls to screen
85Their darlings, dealing out their hearts' best blood,
86Drop after drop, to buy them daily food.
87And so for years she toiled for them, as none
88    Could ever toil save one
89Who had nought else to care for, night and day,
90    Until her hair grew grey
91With labour such as souls in Dante's hell
92Might have been bound to, and with fiends as fell
93To act as her taskmasters and compel
94The poor, thin fingers; -- yet was honest still
95For many a weary day and night, until
96She found, with aching heart and pain-crazed head,
97Her toil could not suffice to earn her children bread.
98They were her all; and she, ground down by want,
99    With hollow eyes and gaunt,
100Saw but their misery, small beside her own,
101    Heard but their hungry moan,
102Could not endure their piteous looks, and sold
103Herself to infamy, to warm their cold,
104To feed their hunger and assuage their thirst,
105Not hers. And yet, folk say, she is accurst!
106Cruel as fate was, there was yet in store
107    More pain for her and more
108Fierce anguish. Famine and the plague combined,
109    In league with her own kind,
110To steal from her her one source of content,
111The one faint gleam of higher things, that blent
112Its glimmer with her life's unbroken grey;
113The one pale star, that turned her night to day,
114Sank in the chill of death's delivering wave,
115    Extinguished in the grave.
116Not even the omnipotence of Love
117    Had power to rise above
118The sullen stern unpitying sweep of Fate,
119    That left her desolate.
120O wretched mother! Wretched time of ours!
121When all enlightenment's much-vaunted powers
122To save this Magdalen's all could only fail,
123    When Love has no avail!
124Starved even to death! For this she'd sold her soul;
125    This was her striving's goal!
126Life had no longer aught that might suffice
127To hallow all its dreary want and vice.
128Nothing but death remained to her, the crown
129Of all whose lives are hopeless. So fell down
130Her star of life into the dusk of night,
131    And she gave up the fight.
132So calm and peaceful seemed the dark grey flood,
133    Foul with much human blood.
134God help her! Death was kinder than the world.
135    The sullen waters whirled
136A moment o'er a circling plash, and then
137She was forgotten from the world of men
138And it was nought to her what folk might say.
139    Quiet at last she lay.
140I know not if this poor soul's martyrdom
141    For you be wholly dumb.
142To me, I own, her sin seems holier far
143    Than half our virtues are;
144For hers was of that ore which, purged of dross,
145Yields gold that might have gilded Christ's own cross
146And He have smiled. And yet you fear her touch?
147    "She was so wicked!" But she loved so much.
148And of her common, mean and awful state
149    Our righteous ones will prate, --
150A fruitful text for homily! -- until
151    Another come to fill
152Her vacant place. And yet none sees the bloom
153Of love, that opened in her life's blank gloom
154And made it angel-bright. Folk turn aside
155And know not how a martyr lived and died.
156"Accursèd," say they, "is the suicide.
157    In sin she lived and died.
158We have in her, and she in us, no part.
159    Our lives, thank heaven! dispart.
160At least we're holier than she." Alas!
161My brethren, when reflected in God's glass,
162I doubt me much if many of our lives
163Will, when the day of reckoning arrives,
164Or all our virtues, with her sin compare
165    Or as her life be fair.
166Even grim Death was pitiful to her;
167    Her rest he did not stir.
168Shall we be, who with her drew common breath,
169    Less pitiful than Death?
170We, who have heard how Christ once lived and died,
171With whom His love is fabled to abide,
172Shall we avoid a poor dead sinner's touch?
173So wicked, say we? Oh, she loved so much!
174For me, I cannot hold her life's long pain
175    To have been all in vain.
176I cannot think that God will let her go,
177    After this life of woe;
178Cannot believe that He, whose deathless love
179She aped so well, will look on from above
180With careless righteousness, while she sinks down
181Into hell's depths, and with a pious frown,
182Leave her to struggle in the devil's clutch.
183True, she was wicked; -- but she loved so much.

Notes

1] "At an inquest held at the Whitehorse Tavern, before Mr. Cooper, Coroner for the Western district, on the body of Eliza Farrell, unfortunate female, found drowned below Waterloo Bridge on Monday last. Rose Farrell said, "Deceased was my sister. She was an unfortunate. She was unmarried. She had worked as a seamstress till trade was so bad last year that she could not earn a living at the prices paid by the sweaters, and she then went upon the streets." Witness believed she would never have done so but for her two illegitimate children, of whom she was passionately fond. Witness had no doubt that deceased's mind had been affected by their death. They died of neglect and starvation, owing to a woman, whom deceased paid to take care of them, having spent the money in drink. She paid the woman every penny she could scrape together, and witness had known her sell the dress off her back to make up the weekly money. Deceased came to her on Saturday night, after having been to see the children, and told her she had found they were dead and had been already buried by the parish. She seemed quite distracted, and rushed out of the house like a mad thing, and witness had never seen her again. The photograph produced (found on deceased) was that of the children. After a few remarks from the coroner, the jury returned a verdict of 'Suicide in a state of temporary insanity.' -- Extract from daily paper]" (editor's note). Back to Line
24] dole: charity. Back to Line
47] smutch: black mark. Back to Line
Publication Notes: 

London City Poems

RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
Data entry: Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
2012
Form: