I had been almost happy for an hour,
Lost to the world that knew me in the park
Among strange faces; while my little girl
Leaped with the squirrels, chirruped with the birds
And with the sunlight glowed. She was so dear,
So beautiful, so sweet; and for the time
The rose of love, shorn of its thorn of shame,
Bloomed in my heart. Then suddenly you passed.
I sat alone upon the public bench;
You, with your lawful husband, rode in state;
And when your eyes fell on me and my child,
They were not eyes, but daggers, poison tipped.
God! how good women slaughter with a look!
And, like cold steel, your glance cut through my heart,
Struck every petal from the rose of love
And left the ragged stalk alive with thorns.
My little one came running to my side
And called me Mother. It was like a blow
Between the eyes; and made me sick with pain.
And then it seemed as if each bird and breeze
Took up the word, and changed its syllables
From Mother into Magdalene; and cried
My shame to all the world.
It was your eyes
Which did all this. But listen now to me
(Not you alone, but all the barren wives
Who, like you, flaunt their virtue in the face
Of fallen women): I do chance to know
The crimes you think are hidden from all men
(Save one who took your gold and sold his skill
And jeopardized his name for your base ends).
I know how you have sunk your soul in sense
Like any wanton; and refused to bear
The harvest of your pleasure-planted seed;
I know how you have crushed the tender bud
Which held a soul; how you have blighted it;
And made the holy miracle of birth
A wicked travesty of God's design;
Yea, many buds, which might be blossoms now
And beautify your selfish, arid life,
Have been destroyed, because you chose to keep
The aimless freedom, and the purposeless,
Self-seeking liberty of childless wives.
I was an untaught girl. By nature led,
By love and passion blinded, I became
An unwed mother. You, an honoured wife,
Refuse the crown of motherhood, defy
The laws of nature, and fling baby souls
Back in the face of God. And yet you dare
Call me a sinner, and yourself a saint;
And all the world smiles on you, and its doors
Swing wide at your approach.
I stand outside.
Surely there must be higher courts than earth,
Where you and I will some day meet and be
Weighed by a larger justice.
Poems of Problems. By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
London : Gay and Hancock, 1914.
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