A Wife’s Protest
A Wife’s Protest
##.1Like a white snowdrop in the spring
2 From child to girl I grew,
3And thought no thought, and heard no word
4 That was not pure and true.
##.5And when I came to seventeen,
6 And life was fair and free,
7A suitor, by my father's leave,
8 Was brought one day to me.
##.9"Make me the happiest man on earth,"
10 He whispered soft and low.
11My mother told me it was right
12 I was too young to know.
##.13And then they twined my bridal wreath
14 And placed it on my brow.
15It seems like fifty years ago --
16 And I am twenty now.
##.17My star, that barely rose, is set;
18 My day of hope is done --
19My woman's life of love and joy --
20 Ere it has scarce begun.
##.21Hourly I die -- I do not live --
22 Though still so young and strong.
23No dumb brute from his brother brutes
24 Endures such wanton wrong.
##.25A smouldering shame consumes me now --
26 It poisons all my peace;
27An inward torment of reproach
28 That never more will cease.
##.29O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
30 Ere yet the light is gone!
31What creeping terrors chill my blood
32 As each black night draws on!
##.33I lay me down upon my bed,
34 A prisoner on the rack,
35And suffer dumbly, as I must,
36 Till the kind day comes back.
##.37Listening from heavy hour to hour
38 To hear the church-clock toll --
39A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
40 A murderess in soul.
##.41Those church-bells chimed the marriage chimes
42 When he was wed to me,
43And they must knell a funeral knell
44 Ere I again am free.
##.45I did not hate him then; in faith
46 I vowed the vow "I will;"
47Were I his mate, and not his slave,
48 I could perform it still.
##.49But, crushed in these relentless bonds
50 I blindly helped to tie,
51With one way only for escape,
52 I pray that he may die.
##.53O to possess myself once more,
54 Myself so stained and maimed!
55O to make pure these shuddering limbs
56 That loveless lust has shamed!
##.57But beauty cannot be restored
58 Where such a blight has been,
59And all the rivers in the world
60 Can never wash me clean.
##.61I go to church; I go to court;
62 No breath of scandal flaws
63The lustre of my fair repute;
64 For I obey the laws.
##.65My ragged sister of the street,
66 Marked for the world's disgrace,
67Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
68 To the great lady's face.
##.69She hides in shadows as I pass --
70 On me the sunbeams shine;
71Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
72 May be less black than mine.
##.73Maybe she gave her all for love,
74 And did not count the cost;
75If so, her crown of womanhood
76 Was not ignobly lost.
##.77Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
78 And starves from door to door,
79To keep her body for her own
80 Since it may love no more.
##.81If so, in spite of church and law,
82 She is more pure than I;
83The latchet of those broken shoes
84 I am not fit to tie:
##.85That hungry baby at her breast --
86 Sign of her fallen state --
87Nature, who would but mock at mine,
88 Has made legitimate.
##.89Poor little "love-child" -- spurned and scorned,
90 Whom church and law disown,
91Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
92 Of thy small life was sown.
##.93O Nature, give no child to me,
94 Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
95Thou knowest I could not bear to look
96 On its reproachful face.
Unspoken Thoughts (New South Wales: English Department, University College, 1988): 65.
RPO poem Editors