Ada Cambridge (21 November 1844 – 19 July 1926 / St Gemans, Norfolk)
A Wife's Protest
Like a white snowdrop in the spring
From child to girl I grew,
And thought no thought, and heard no word
That was not pure and true.
And when I came to seventeen,
And life was fair and free,
A suitor, by my father's leave,
Was brought one day to me.
“Make me the happiest man on earth,”
He whispered soft and low.
My mother told me it was right
I was too young to know.
And then they twined my bridal wreath
And placed it on my brow.
It seems like fifty years ago —
And I am twenty now.
My star, that barely rose, is set;
My day of hope is done —
My woman's life of love and joy —
Ere it has scarce begun.
Hourly I die — I do not live —
Though still so young and strong.
No dumb brute from his brother brutes
Endures such wanton wrong.
A smouldering shame consumes me now —
It poisons all my peace;
An inward torment of reproach
That never more will cease.
O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
Ere yet the light is gone!
What creeping terrors chill my blood
As each black night draws on!
I lay me down upon my bed,
A prisoner on the rack,
And suffer dumbly, as I must,
Till the kind day comes back.
Listening from heavy hour to hour
To hear the church- clock toll —
A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
A murderess in soul.
Those church- bells chimed the marriage chimes
When he was wed to me,
And they must knell a funeral knell
Ere I again am free.
I did not hate him then; in faith
I vowed the vow “I will;”
Were I his mate, and not his slave,
I could perform it still.
But, crushed in these relentless bonds
I blindly helped to tie,
With one way only for escape,
I pray that he may die.
O to possess myself once more,
Myself so stained and maimed!
O to make pure these shuddering limbs
That loveless lust has shamed!
But beauty cannot be restored
Where such a blight has been,
And all the rivers in the world
Can never wash me clean.
I go to church; I go to court;
No breath of scandal flaws
The lustre of my fair repute;
For I obey the laws.
My ragged sister of the street,
Marked for the world's disgrace,
Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
To the great lady's face.
She hides in shadows as I pass —
On me the sunbeams shine;
Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
May be less black than mine.
Maybe she gave her all for love,
And did not count the cost;
If so, her crown of womanhood
Was not ignobly lost.
Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
And starves from door to door,
To keep her body for her own
Since it may love no more.
If so, in spite of church and law,
She is more pure than I;
The latchet of those broken shoes
I am not fit to tie.
That hungry baby at her breast —
Sign of her fallen state —
Nature, who would but mock at mine,
Has made legitimate.
Poor little “love- child” — spurned and scorned,
Whom church and law disown,
Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
Of thy small life was sown.
O Nature, give no child to me,
Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
Thou knowest I could not bear to look
On its reproachful face.
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