Purgatory of Suicides: Book IX.
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-1-

    'TIS Woman's voice!—woman in wailful grief,
    Joined by her babe's scarce conscious sympathy.
    Thy wife hath come to take her farewell brief,
    Gaunt felon!—brief and bitter must it be
    For thy babe's mother, since the wide salt sea
    Must roll, for life, its deep, dark gulph between
    Thee, convict, and that form of agony!
    Poor wretched thing! well may she wail, I ween,
And wring her hands, and wish that she had never been.

 

-2-

    'Let me have one last kiss of my poor babe!'
    He saith, and clingeth to the grate.   Oh! how
    The turnkey's answer will his bosom stab!
    'Away!—we open not the bars!'—and, lo!
    They push him rudely back!—he may not know
    What baleful bliss it gives to clasp a child
    Or wife, ere one must yield them to life's woe.
    Ah! little had that kiss his grief beguiled;
But, rather, filled his soul with after-throes more wild.

 

-3-

    She fainteth!—yet awakes to moan and weep!
    How little didst thou think that smiling morn
    Thou didst, so early and so eager, peep
    Into thy mirror, and thy breast adorn
    With virgin-rose, so soon the sorrow-thorn
    Would there have pierced!—that thou, in two short years,
    Wouldst see thy husband in that dress of scorn :
    And turn, a widowed bride—a thing of tears—
From that stern grate, forlorn, to meet the world's rude
            jeers!

 

-4-

    Poor sufferer! how wilt thou the future brook!
    To drudge from morn to eve, for beggar's bread;
    To hear thy ragged child receive rebuke
    For his sire's sins, that on the exile's head
    Already fall full sore; to see him shed,
    Tears when he asks for food, and thou hast none
    To stop his hunger; then, to make thy bed
    With him upon the heath or moorland lone,—
Unless, for infamy, thou takest the rich man's boon!

 

-5-

    What misery, hadst thou never been a bride,
    Thy heart had shunned!   Yet, thou wilt fondly cling
    Unto the memory of thy love, nor chide,
    Even by a thought, in deepest suffering,
    His error, who did thy young joy-bloom bring
    To desolation!   Ill-requited love
    Was thine, even from the bridal-revelling;
    Yet, thou forgavest all, nor didst reprove
The wild excess which oft thee nigh to madness
            drove.—

 

-6-

    O Woman! how thy truest worth is slighted;
    Thy tenderness how often met with hate;
    Thy fondest, purest hopes, how often blighted;
    How Man, the tyrant, lords it o'er thy fate,
    Yet feigns for thy benign behests to wait;
    How jealously he guards thy faithfulness,
    And frowns a censure on thy every state:
    Thy chastity terms coldness; thy caress
Weak fooling, stratagem, or grosser love's excess!

 

-7-

    O Woman! fairest, frailest, sweetest flower
    Of Nature's garden, what rude storms thee bend!
    Thy heart, thou priceless, peerless, matchless dower
    Of Nature's treasury, what keen sufferings rend!
    How meanly men, through selfishness, contend
    To pamper thee!—how silkenly their lays
    Of love they lisp to gain their guilty end;
    How sensually Man lauds thy beauty's blaze;
How heartlessly deserts thee in its dimmer days!

 

-8-

    O Woman! what anxieties destroy
    The bliss thou dreamest none can take away
    When hushing thy soft care—thy cradled joy!
    How Time the blessings thy fond hopes pourtray.
    Oft turns to curses, and thy heart a prey
    To keenest woe condemns: maternal woe,
    That like maternal love, the human clay
    Moves more intensely than severest throe
Or most ecstatic thrill that mortal bosoms know.

 

-9-

    Mysterious bonds of Nature! can ye be
    Without a wise Deviser?   Hath a blind
    Necessity, indeed, implanted ye?
    Are ye not proofs of All-pervasive Mind?
    Hath Goodness, then, these spirit-throes designed,
    Still mingled with the mother's cup of bliss?
    Wherefore, oh wherefore, still must mortals find
    Mystery ne'er lessen, but, for aye, increase
Beneath their feeble search, or frail analysis?—

 

-10-

    Ay, Woman!—for thy mother heart remain
    The keenest agonies: to see revealed
    Passions that do defy thee to restrain
    Their baneful germs, and which, thou knowst must
                yield
    A deadly fruit; to see thy young flower felled
    In its sweet promise; or to be bereft
    Of it by ruthless power that tyrants wield,
    O'er Poverty; and, though thy heart be cleft
With sorrowing, no sight of it to be vouchsafed!

 

-11-

    'Thou pampered tyrant who dost crush the Poor!
    'Alien of Nature from thy mother's womb!
    'Who never sucked the breast of her that bore
    'Thy most unnatural self!   Thou humoursome
    'Wealth-wanton, who dost send thy child from home,
    'Or callst a hireling, Life's sweet stream to give
    'Unto thy babe!   What wonder that ye doom
    'The Poor to pain?—since in ye doth not live
'A natural heart, how can ye Nature's pain perceive?

 

-12-

    'Ye artificial things in blood and breath,
    'What human creatures feel how can ye tell?'—
    Tush! raving mother,—the rich wanton saith
    Thy pangs are feigned, and whipping should dispel
    Thy discontent!   Oh! ye will wake the yell
    Of reckless vengefulness around ye yet,
    Tyrants! unless ye, timely, bid the knell
    Be tolled of dćmon-legislation!—
                                                                   Let
Me strive that theme of rending heart-ache to forget!

 

-13-

    O Woman! what illustrious children thine
    Oft prove even when thy fate and theirs seems dark.
    Slave-mother of old Smyrna, who didst pine
    In grief, and in lorn hope thy babe embark
    On Meles' stream, cradled in that frail ark,
    How little didst thou dream thy infant's glory
    Would beam through Time; and he, the patriarch
    Of song become, all bards and sages hoary
Transcend in honour, through the world, to latest story!

 

-14-

    Or, if thy Homer, and the child on Nile,
    The 'babe' that 'wept,' but soon proud Pharaoh's might
    Defied, and led those thousands on their toil
    Through the drear wilderness, the Canaanite
    To dispossess,—if these, to read aright,
    Their story, Reason must as Myths regard—
    Fertile in moral, albeit overdight
    With marvel—Mothers in late times have reared
Their sons in want, yet seen them win Fame's high
                reward.

 

-15-

    How thy best children, Woman, testify
    A mother's worth,—attributing their zest
    For enterprize, or love of good, to thy
    Exalting nurture!   O let him attest
    A mother's worth—that Titan of the West—
    Unequalled Washington!   And if such men,
    That dwarf all kings, vigour from thy meek breast
    Now draw, Woman! what will thy sons be when
Man looks on thee no longer with the tyrant's ken?

 

-16-

    When chivalry's false homage is forgot;
    When eastern jealousy no more immures
    And renders thee a vernal idiot;
    When thy young purity no villain-lures
    Are spread to blemish; when thy mind matures
    In freedom, and thy soul can make its choice,
    Untrammelled, unconstrained, where heart assures
    The heart it is beloved; shall not thy voice
And look restore to Earth its long-lost Paradise?

 

-17-

    That Mind is of no sex, when thou art freed,
    Thy thought-deeds shall proclaim: our Edgeworth's
                sense;
    Our Baillie's truthful skill; Felicia's meed
    Of grace with perfectest mellifluence
    Of music joined; or thy magnificence
    Of heart and reason, Necker's glorious child!
    Problems shall be no more: Woman's intense
    Inherent claim to mind-rank, when befoiled
No more by Man, she will display with glow unsoiled.

 

-18-

    And when her children see her move in joy,
    And yet in truest dignity; no more
    A slave, no more a drudge, no more a toy!
    When from her lips of love her spirit's store
    Of high ennobling wisdom she doth pour
    Into her offspring's ears—into their eyes,
    Ere speech be learnt, looks Nature's purest lore
    Of truth and virtue,—shall not Man arise
From error, nurtured thus, and loftiest good devise?—

 

-19-

    These day-dreams past of Woman's destiny,
    To Man's auxiliar in beatitude,
    The brain in sleep, instinct with phantasy,
    But credent of its day-dreams, still pursued
    The theme.   A verdant pasture-plain, I viewed,
    Unbounded, in that mystic spirit-land
    Where mortals who have ventured to denude
    The soul of clay without His high command—
The great Life-Giver—feel His stern corrective hand.

 

-20-

    But now, the end of punishment seemed near,
    And spirits talked of blest participance
    In life set free from pain and woe, and fear,—
    While I beheld them in thronged groupes advance,
    On journey bent to hear the utterance
    Of their high manumission.   Prankt the plain
    Appeared with flowers of wild luxuriance
    Of growth and deep intensity of stain;
But unto them no gloss nor perfume did pertain.

 

-21-

    Their dyes seemed of such depth as dyes of flowers
    At summer's even, when the garish sun
    Hath set, and either human eyes new powers
    Receive, bedazed no longer,—the air hath won
    Strength to assist the optic nerve, or on
    The flowers themselves sheds chemic particles
    That deepen colours: thus they glowed, not shone:
    A rich array of blossoms, buds, and bells,
So fragrant to the eye, Fancy supplied their smells.

 

-22-

    And ever and anon some feminine form,—
    For souls of men appeared not in my dream,—
    Stooped to select some favourite from the swarm
    Of floral beauties, and then wound the stem
    Within her hair: others an anadem
    Of varied blossoms wove, and, garlanded,
    Discoursing rapturously of their high theme,
    Smiling, across the pleasant pasture sped:—
Blythe sight it was to see, in soul-land of the Dead.

 

-23-

    Nor unfamiliar seemed their faces fair,
    Their names and deeds, unto the dream-rapt soul:
    Though many a suicide of Eld was there:
    Full many a virgin whom old bards extol
    For spotless chastity, and of whose dole
    They make sweet plaint: full many a loving wife
    Of high heroic virtue that with cool
    Resolve chose death by poison-cup or knife,
Or in the wave,—disdaining a dishonoured life.

 

-24-

    And groupes passed by who fled from widowhood
    Through love excessive for their bosoms' lords;
    And throngs appeared that nobly shed their blood
    In patriotic struggle, when the swords
    Of tyrants slew their sons and sires, or hordes
    Of foreign foes sought to pollute their homes;
    And forms were there whom History records
    For questionable deeds, or whom Truth dooms
To infamy,—though Fraud writ praises on their tombs.

 

-25-

    From out a Roman groupe, methought, there passed
    Into a daisied bye-path, matrons twain
    Whose sable locks with hyacinths were graced.
    To their dark eyes a fervour did pertain
    That found its reflex in that sapphire stain:
    Intensely truthful was their spirits' glow;
    And, as mine joined them, on the green champaign,
    I pondered deeply on their mortal throe,
And cause for which they did that death-pang undergo.

 

-26-

    The twain were—Cato's daughter, Brutus' spouse—
    Illustrious suicidal lineage!—
    Whose death, so horridly courageous,
    Old legends tell; and she who to assuage
    Fear in her husband—by the tyrant's rage
    Death-doomed—plunged to her heart the steel, and cried
    'It is not painful!'—smiling, while the pledge
    So dread she gave of love.   These, side by side,—
Porcia and Arria, [1]—o'er the plain, conversing hied.

 

-27-

    "Say, sister spirit!"   Cato's daughter spake,—
    "Seems it not, now, to thee, but yesterday
    We did great Rome, our glorious home, forsake,
    To rush on death?   Now they are passed away,
    The ages of our pain, in mind's survey,
    Seem nought; and yet, how drear in passing!   Earth
    Produceth self-same thought and feeling: they
    Who sorrow reckon ages from the birth
Of woe; but say 'twas short, when tears are changed for
            mirth."—

 

-28-

    Arria replied: "Such are my thoughts of weal
    "And woe on earth, my sister, and of joy
    That doth the sorrows of our essence heal
    In this strange afterstate, and mind upbuoy
    With cheering faith that, henceforth, no alloy
    Shall mingle with our bliss.   Yet oft, our thought
    Shall wander back, and memory shall employ
    Her power to call up many an image fraught
With tenderness—earth-forms on which the soul will
            doat.

 

-29-

    "Oh! never can the hours of youthful love
    Cease to be precious, nor from memory fade,
    Amid the highest rapture we may prove
    Of that beatitude which shall pervade
    Hades for ever!"—
                                      "Nor shall aught upbraid
    The heart,"—Porcia rejoined,—" for this its truth
    "To what it chastely loved; but, rather, aid,
    From sweet revisitings of joys of youth,
The spirit shall derive for its eternal growth.

 

-30-

    "Ay, to the purest thoughts of Life's young spring
    Oft shall the ever-growing soul return,
    Drawn by the good each visit thence shall bring
    To the advancing spirit—which shall yearn
    For loftier good the further it is borne
    From evil: thus our minds, boon sustenance
    Deriving from the Past, and what we learn
    Of noblest kindred's high inheritance
Of virtue, shall enlarge into a blest expanse."—

 

-31-

    "And dost thou think it shall be thus, indeed?"
    Said Arria: "shall our essence still expand
    "In bliss the more on virtue it doth feed,
    On soft beneficence, and breathings bland
    To bless,—much more than to be blest?   How grand,
    How glorious, then, is human nature!—frail
    And puny though they termed it who had scanned,
    Or thought they scanned, its strength.   Oh, that Mind's
            veil
Some Power had rent while in its house terrestrial!"

 

-32-

    "Not wholly secret, sister, was the true
    Sublimity of Man,"—said Porcia;—"some
    "There were in every age and clime, though few,
    Who taught that goodness, and not awe and gloom,
    Must nurture the soul's bud until its bloom
    Should be unfolded into noblest bliss:
    The distant East, fair Greece, and our own Rome,
    Possessed such sages,—though the Priest's device
Thwarted them evermore—with force, or artifice.

 

-33-

    "Even in Earth's infancy a sage arose
    In Orient far, who taught how purely blest
    The spirit grew that could forgive its foes;
    How happiness was won by scorn of rest
    And ease, and choice of toil—to the distrest,
    In body or in mind, to bring relief:
    And after-sages did these truths attest:
    Alas! too oft by violent death their brief
Love-toil was stayed: for Falsehood still held Man's
            belief!

 

-34-

    "But who is this the wider way that leaves
    To cross our path, as if she sought to speak
    Of some glad birth her joyous soul conceives?—
    Hail, Carthaginian sister!"—to the meek,
    But fervid form,—Porcia spake on,—"thy cheek
    "Intensely glows, the gentle fire o' th' heart
    Revealing: say, what blissfulness dost seek
    To tell, that thrills thee, now our penal smart
Is past?   Haste, blythesome one, thy joy-thought to
            impart!"

 

-35-

    "By sympathy, I knew that your discourse
    Was of the power of Goodness, and I yearned
    To hear ye its blest eulogy rehearse,"—
    Answer the wife of Asdrubal returned:—
    For she it was:—the same who nobly scorned
    To join her craven lord in traitorous flight
    To Scipio, and with her two children burned
    Within the sacred pyre herself did light,
'Mid the beleaguered city, in the Roman's sight. [2]

 

-36-

    "Oh! well mayst thou the theme of gentleness
    Desire to list,"—said Arria,—"for thy clime
    "Bruised by our sires' ambition 'neath excess
    Of humbled suffering sank; and though sublime
    Was thy death-deed, it was fell War's great crime
    That drove thee to that act."—
                                                                 "But, now 'tis past,"
    Rejoined the Carthaginian,—"to o'erbrim
    "Joy's cup it seems that, though your sires laid waste
My own loved fatherland, my heart hath ye embraced."—

 

-37-

"And, sister, in our hearts we thee embrace,"
Said Porcia,—"and partake thy bosom's thrill:
"So blest is goodness that it can efface
All baneful hatreds,—yea doth sweetly fill
The soul with rapture, that no more the will
Is anger's slave,—and spite can tribulate
The mind no more—that self-tormenting ill!
For we of misery, in our earthly state,
Knew no more vulturous torture than relentless
            hate."—

 

-38-

    "Sad and blythe truths thy soul hath mingled," said
    The virtuous African; "and 'tis most strange
    "In man's strange chronicle, that, though he bled,
    He coaxed this vulture of the heart:—'Revenge
    'Is sweet'—he madly cried!   O blissful change,
    That, now, he feels 'tis sweeter to forgive!
    Still happier—that no ill shall disarrange
    The harmony in which all life shall live
Henceforth—but bliss of higher bliss be nutritive.

 

-39-

    "How oft the soul revolted, while on earth,
    Against the ill that did her powers enslave!
    How oft she fled from gloom to think on mirth,
    Feeling it was her birthright, though some knave,
    In sanctimonious guise, upon the grave
    Would teach her still to ponder, and abjure
    All joy!   How oft, in spite of wrongs, she clave
    Unto the nobleness of love—the pure
Delight of showing that though wronged we can
            endure

 

-40-

    "The wrong, and still forgive, and still endure!
    How oft, in spite of all misteachings, Mind,
    Irked by revenge, turned to the cynosure
    Of Gentleness, and for its pleasure pined!
    'Twas Nature's truthful impulse!—so thy blind
    But cheerful face she teacheth fealty
    Unto the sun, on earth!"—
                                                  She stooped, and twined
    A glowing marigold, full tastefully,
Within her hair; then onward went, with modest
            glee.—

 

-41-

    And still the descant was pursued, till two.
    More sister-spirits crossed the pasture-plain,
    And sought with these the descant to pursue:
    The chaste Sophronia, who dishonour's stain
    To escape, fled, by her husband's will, self-slain,
    The lust-blight of Maxentius; [3] and with her
    That famous Jewess whom old Rabbins vain
    For wisdom praise,—Baruna, wife of Meir,—
Of deep Talmudic lore the fair interpreter. [4]

 

-42-

    "Our Teacher taught us to forgive,"—the chaste
    Sophronia said;—"but, sister fair, the Law
    "Of old thy fathers reverenced nurtured haste
    For vengeance: our new joys for thee must flow
    With tenfold sweetness."—
                                                    "Christian, though I know
    "Thou speakest sooth," Baruna said,—"too well
    "I also know, that few forgave a foe
    Who owned thy Teacher, and were loud to tell
How far he did in wisdom all the Wise excel.

 

-43-

    "I own that much was noble in thy faith;
    But, like all other faiths,—alas! 'twas made
    Subservient unto tyrant Power and Wrath,
    And grew, with lapse of time, a cunning trade
    Whereby the priest could pompously parade
    In gold and grandeur, while his lessons told
    Of meekest lowliness; and he could wade
    In human blood, ungainsayed, uncontrolled,
Preaching of mercy and of goodness manifold!

 

-44-

    "What horrors have my race endured throughout
    All lands called Christian, from the men called meek
    And merciful!   Who did the Jew belowt
    And scorn and spit upon, and on the cheek
    Smite fierceliest, was deemed, by all, to seek
    Salvation zealously, and was upheld
    Worthiest of imitation.   So to sneak
    Into dim dens my race were driven: filth-celled
They lived: vile things from human fellowship expelled.

 

-45-

    "Nor in their squalidness was refuge found
    From Christian mercy: 'Witchcraft!—Gold!' outcried
    The plundering knave whose spotless robe around
    Him did proclaim his office was to chide
    And not to cheer Man's thirst for homicide:
    Then was the shrunk Jew rackt, and to the flame
    Condemned, or, like thy Teacher, crucified,
    If he refused the secret hoard to name
He never had possessed!   Such was their Christian game!

-46-

    "I need not tell of Spain's black 'Brotherhood'
    Of murder, yclept 'Holy,'—nor recal
    To mind the wolvish bands whose thirst for blood
    Jew-slaughter could not slake,—who fed on all
    That bore the name of Man, if one their thrall
    Resisted, or but murmured at their sway:—
    'Tis past!   No more their horrors shall appal
    The feeble, nor afflict the strong: away
Their shapes are faded: who would wake them from
            decay?

 

-47-

    "Be ours the theme more welcome, sisters mine,
    To picture the blest future and prepare
    Our spirits for the rest—the rest divine
    The persecuted, hence, shall ever share
    Even with their persecutors: for the slayer
    Shall with his victims join—to slay no more!
    The lion with the lamb shall make his lair!
    Rude, they were termed—yet, my sires' faith, of yore,
The curtain of man's future bliss asunder tore:

 

-48-

    "Amid their sterile mountains, Judah's bards
    Saw holier visions of Earth's coming glory
    Than all the minstrels who the world's awards
    Of honour won, chaunting of warriors gory
    And lauding as sublime Fame's transitory
    Triumphs.   List, sisters, to that choral strain!
    How like the raptures of prophetic story
    It swells!"
                     Heart's-ease she plucked, and did retain;
But, to the Christian gave a lily without stain.

 

-49-

    And then the happy sister sprites joined hands,
    And sped, a silent yet ecstatic throng,
    Their flower-bespangled way; while distant bands
    Of cheery travellers did this strain prolong
    Till gladsome thousands swelled the choral song:—
    Farewell for ever to the reign of gloom,
    'Of human suffering, agony, and wrong!
    'Welcome, for Earth, her new and happy doom!
'Welcome, for franchised spirits, Hades' blissful home!

 

-50-

    'Farewell for ever to the darksome reign
    'Of Fear and Hate.   Revenge and Tyranny
    'How blest, that Hades shall be free from pain!
    'How blest that children upon earth shall be
    'No more taught malice on their mother's knee;
    But love for foes—till foes are no more found!
    'Farewell to Earth's old evil revelry
    'Of war and bloodshed!   Every brother's wound
'Shall now be healed; and peace, and love and joy
            abound!'

 

-51-

    Beneath the mound, into the sculptured aisle,
    Trooping, with glee, I saw the thousands wend,
    Still pealing hymns of joy that their exile
    Was changed from woe to bliss, and that the end
    Of all Life's evils blest signs did portend
    On earth, and thorough Hades' ghostly clime!—
    But I surceased the theme to apprehend:
    The prison-bell, with its harsh grating chime,
Rewoke me in the dreary den of crime-made crime.

___________________

 

NOTES.

 
1.—Page 239, Stanza 26.


                                              These, side by side,—
Porcia and Arria,—o'er the plain, conversing hied.


    The suicides of Porcia,—by swallowing hot coals, when other means of self-destruction were placed beyond her reach; and of Arria, the wife of Pśtus, who was condemned to death, are familiar to almost every reader: the first is the subject of eloquent eulogy by Cicero, and the last is termed "the sublime" by Voltaire.

 
2.—Page 241, Stanza 35.

'Mid the beleaguered city, in the Roman's sight.—


    The story of the wife of Asdrubal, who cursed the treason of her husband, and then threw herself, with her children, into the flames of the temple of Ćsculapius, which she had set on fire, is well known to all readers of Roman history.

 
3.—Page 243, Stanza 41.


                                       who dishonour's stain
To 'scape, fled, by her husband's will, self-slain,
The lust-blight of Maxentius;


    "The virtuous matron, who stabbed herself to escape the violence of Maxentius, was a Christian, wife to the prćfect of the city, and her name was Sophronia.  It still remains a question among the Casuists, whether on such occasions suicide is justifiable."—GIBBON note to chap, xiv.

 
4.—Page 243, Stanza 41.


                                Baruna, wife of Meir,—
Of deep Talmudic lore the fair interpreter.


    Basnage, "Histoire des Juifs," or the Appendix to Jahn's "Hebrew Commonwealth," (collected from the voluminous work of Basnage), may be referred to for a brief narrative of this suicide.

 



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