Helen Hunt Jackson

(18 October 1830 – 12 August 1885 / Amherst, Massachusetts)

Habeas Corpus - Poem by Helen Hunt Jackson

1 My body, eh? Friend Death, how now?
2 Why all this tedious pomp of writ?
3 Thou hast reclaimed it sure and slow
4 For half a century bit by bit.

5 In faith thou knowest more to-day
6 Than I do, where it can be found!
7 This shrivelled lump of suffering clay,
8 To which I am now chained and bound,

9 Has not of kith or kin a trace
10 To the good body once I bore;
11 Look at this shrunken, ghastly face:
12 Didst ever see that face before?

13 Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
14 Thy only fault thy lagging gait,
15 Mistaken pity in thy heart
16 For timorous ones that bid thee wait.

17 Do quickly all thou hast to do,
18 Nor I nor mine will hindrance make;
19 I shall be free when thou art through;
20 I grudge thee nought that thou must take!

21 Stay! I have lied; I grudge thee one,
22 Yes, two I grudge thee at this last,--
23 Two members which have faithful done
24 My will and bidding in the past.

25 I grudge thee this right hand of mine;
26 I grudge thee this quick-beating heart;
27 They never gave me coward sign,
28 Nor played me once the traitor's part.

29 I see now why in olden days
30 Men in barbaric love or hate
31 Nailed enemies' hands at wild crossways,
32 Shrined leaders' hearts in costly state:

33 The symbol, sign and instrument
34 Of each soul's purpose, passion, strife,
35 Of fires in which are poured and spent
36 Their all of love, their all of life.

37 O feeble, mighty human hand!
38 O fragile, dauntless human heart!
39 The universe holds nothing planned
40 With such sublime, transcendent art!

41 Yes, Death, I own I grudge thee mine
42 Poor little hand, so feeble now;
43 Its wrinkled palm, its altered line,
44 Its veins so pallid and so slow --

* * * (Unfinished here.)

45 Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
46 I shall be free when thou art through.
47 Take all there is -- take hand and heart;
48 There must be somewhere work to do.

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Read poems about / on: friend, death, passion, faith, hate, work, heart

Poem Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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