De La Charite Pour Les Pauvres Prisonniers, Dieppe Poem by Joanna Baillie

De La Charite Pour Les Pauvres Prisonniers, Dieppe

YES , 'tis a year since last that plaintive cry,
'Pity the prisoners,' touch'd my wand'ring ear:
And now again their hat is lower'd from high,
And the same famish'd, sharpen'd features peer
Through the stern bars.--Can the revolving year,
With its rich interchange of joys, have brought
Health to my body, transport to my thought,
Whilst man hath left his fellow-creatures here?
France! I have trod thy vine-clad hills, and eyed
Milan's cathedral, the blue Glacier's wall,
Como's fair lake in all its summer's pride;
Baronial Heidelberg, Schaffhausen's fall;
Till lost in ecstasy, my spirit flew
Forth with the breeze, exulting o'er the view,
And, as that breeze along a bank of flowers
Gathers their odours, with a silent awe
Incorporating them into my powers,
I mingled with the mighty things I saw,

Bold forms, sweet tints, soft Nature's whisper'd tone,
And made the feelings of the Alps my own:
Just as the lake, beneath the mountain's brow,
Reflects the charms that on its borders glow,
Receives them to its breast, and seems to blend
Their nature in its own, as friend to friend.
And I at will have seen and mused on man,
His varied character and social plan,--
The prudent Dutchman, the more simple Swiss,
Till, home returning, the familiar kiss
Of loving lips received me.----
-------- Out, alas!
On human mercy! whilst my hours have flown
Lovely as sunbeams through the prism glass,
Your bondaged months have dragged their weight alone,
Poor barr'd and pittanced thralls! to you the same
How bright the day, or rich the harvest came!
Oh, how can guilty souls presume to meet
Him, who redeem'd them, on his judgment-seat,
Who taught them but one daily prayer to Heaven,
'As we forgive, so may we be forgiven!'
Bankrupts and beggars! how can they forget
The retribution of his awful threat,
On fierce exactors of a fellow-servant's debt?
Away! no kneeling mockery to your Lord!
When ye but ask'd him, he forgave you all;

Ev'n you, whose patience will not once afford
A doit's forbearance at a brother's call.
Yourselves have judg'd yourselves, and wrath defied,
By every drop of comfort you denied;
And heap'd consuming horrors on your head
In ev'ry tear your with'ring victims shed;
Those tears which baffled avarice can spurn,
Then, reckless, to life's breathing world return
To feast with Pharisees, the sunbeam share,
Weep o'er a play, nor tremble at a prayer.
Grasping the pound of flesh revenge makes dear,
Age after age, man pens his equal here.
He owed you monies, therefore, whilst the blood
Boils at his heart, and children cry for food;
Whilst strong his energies, erect his form,
His feelings fresh about him,--like a storm,
You, the rich tyrant, fasten'd on your prey,
Carried him from his plunder'd home away;
And to this living sepulchre consign'd,
A fading body, and a writhing mind.
Here, left in hateful solitude to die,
By the slow poison of much misery.--
Pity the prisoners! Yes; tho' thrown aside,
Like serpents that dar'd cross the path of pride.

And darken, with your wretched looks, the day
Of purse-swol'n neighbours, whom want could not pay;
And though ye lose, withdrawn from public sight,
The throng'd world's sympathy, your humble right,
Yet do your cruel sorrows justice find,
Among the human portion of mankind,--
The glorious few, who, true to virtue's cause,
Would mend their country's by religion's laws;
They who have made the better part their choice,
And pass'd protected through life's furnace flame,
Nor need, like me, the suff'rer's pleading voice,
To wake their nature to a sense of shame;
Who, amidst fashion's taint and pleasure's lure,
Have fought the thankless battles of the poor;
Wrench'd from the worldly hand its iron rod,
And best have serv'd, by most resembling God.
Whilst me, yet loit'ring on a foreign strand,
Life's labyrinth-thread deceives, and seems but sand,
Which from my feeble fingers slips away,
Like the delusion of a vacant dream,
Or mountain music of some shallow stream,
That, pleas'd in list'ning its own worthless sound,
Cools no parch'd lip, revives no thirsty ground.
In those brief hours of light which yet remain,
If yet, oh, teach me not to live in vain!

Teach me, Great Master to redeem the time,
And heavenward teach my sacred thoughts to climb.
Then shall I, from sin's slavish thraldom free,
Love all thy Gospel loves, and humbly honour Thee.

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