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The Criminal

His hand is red with blood, and life, aye, life
Must pay the forfeiture of his dark sin.

Ah ! woman's love is a night-scented flower,
Which yieldeth its most precious perfume forth
'Mid darkness and 'mid tears.

'Tis silence in that cell, and dim the light
Gleaming from the sunk lamp ; there is one stands
Fettered and motionless — so very pale,
That were he laid within his winding-sheet
And death were on him, yet his cheek could not
Wear ghastlier hues ; cold damps are on his brow ;
With intense passion the red veins are swelled ;
The white lip quivers with suppressed sobs,
And his dark eye is glazed with tears which still
He is too stern to shed. His countenance
Bears wild and fearful traces of the years
Which have passed on in guilt ; pride, headstrong ire
Have left their marks behind ; yet, mid this war
Of evil elements, some glimpses shine
Of better feelings, which, like clouded stars,
Soon set in night,— A sullen sound awakes
The silence of the cell. And up he starts,
Roused from his dizzy trance of wretchedness,
And gasps for breath, as that deep solemn toll
Sinks on his spirit, like a warning voice
Sent from eternity ; again it rolls
Thy awful bell, St. Sepulchre, which tells
The criminal of death ; — his life-pulse stops,
As if in awe, and then beats rapidly :
Flushes a sudden crimson on his face,
Passes, and leaves it deadlier than before.
He is alone no longer ; one is there
Whose only language is her tears, and one
Whose words of anger on the sinful child,
His shame and sorrow, find no utterance now.

At first the look the murderer wore was stern,
And cold, and ghastly, for his pride had nerved
His spirit to its agony ; but when
He felt that pale girl's tears upon his hand,
And heard his father's words of penitence,
Of tenderness and pardon, then relaxed
His marble brow, and wild warm drops came down
He strove no more to quell. And there she lay,
His wretched Ellen, pillowed on a breast
Whose lightest beat to her was more than life,
All guilty as it was ; — her fair blue eyes
(How softly beautiful !) were filled with drops
They had no power to shed, but heavily
They hung upon the eyelash, which drooped o'er
A cheek whose summer colour had departed
With the sweet hopes that nourished its bloom.
His love had been destruction ; he had thrown
Shame and dishonour on the innocent one,
Whose fate was linked with his, who loved him yet
Most truly and most fondly. From the hour
When, a young bride, she dreamt of happiness,
She never had forsaken him, but still
Had been his better angel ; — his mad life
Had passed 'mid fearful passions, evil deeds,
And she had often wept in solitude :
Yet sometimes (for he loved her) he returned ;
Her patient smile then lighted up his home,
And never did that soft lip breathe reproach ;
Only her health-forsaken cheek, her brow
So wan, told of her wrongs, and she would sob
At times upon his bosom, till he swore
To leave his evil wanderings. At last
The thunderbolt came down, and crushed her heart—
He was a murderer. — — — —
Still she forsook him not, and his lone cell
Was brightened by her presence — her soft voice
Breathed consolation in its gentle tones ;
She wept, she watched, she prayed with him ; — how deep
Is woman's memory of her first love-dream,
Though truth has chilled its sweet illusiveness !
Yet like the Indian, though severer light
Hath broken in upon his radiant faith
And shown its falsehood, still his spirit clings
With lingering homage to his early worship.
So Ellen's breast yearned to the guilty one,
'Mid crimes, 'mid darkness ; she could not forget
He was the chosen of her youth, that he
Had been her first, her only love. — — — —

The morn had broken, and a dull red light
Streamed through the iron grating heavily :
The bell had ceased its summoning, — they leaned
In desperate hope to catch another toll
In vain — and loud and hurrying steps were heard — ,
The door was opened, and the chains were struck
From off his shackled hands. They led him forth.
He clasped his Ellen, and pressed one cold kiss
On lips as cold, and placed her as a child
Upon his father's bosom, and departed.
A shriek rang after him, and many there
To their last hour shall not forget that cry.
They led him on ; his step was firm, although
His face was very pale ; and when he reached
The scaffold, he knelt meekly down and prayed.
Silence was all around : his eyes were clothed :
This world one gasp concluded, and to him
Opened eternity.
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on April 29, 2016

4:05 min read

Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

All Letitia Elizabeth Landon poems | Letitia Elizabeth Landon Books

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