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British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism 1793-1815, by Betty T. Bennet, Edited by Orianne Smith

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1801.16
War Elegy
Joseph Fawcett [1]
Joseph Fawcett, War Elegies (London, 1801)
Reprinted in Select and Fugitive Poetry, ed. Richard Dinmore (Washington, 1802), pp. 162-165.

(This elegy was occasioned by the following circumstance: which occur'd in the year 1794. A poor woman, having lost her husband in the war, and having implored relief at several doors in vain, in the town of Liverpool, in England, in a fit of desperation, took her child (about three years old) in the public street, and dashed its head against the wall: immediately surgical aid was called, but in vain. Upon opening the body, the surgeon declared it to be his opinion, that its stomach had not received food for three days before.)

O'er once the haughty baron's house of war,
    Now to a county's dreary jail decay'd
Whose ruins frowns on yon tall hill from far,
    The dead of night has thrown its deepest shade:

Hush'd lay the captive foes of angry law:
    Loud clanking chains the ear no longer fill,
Oblivion blest the felon's hopeless straw,
    And mis'ry's mad, inebriate mirth was still.

But one there was whose lids refuse to close:
    More greatly curst, one daughter of despair,
Who wildly thus pour'd forth her wakeful woes
    Thro' the deep silence of the midnight air:—

"'Tis well—'tis well:—my sorest ill is o'er:—
    Thou little wretch, that caus'd my keenest pain,
Shalt lift thy piteous looks to me no more,
    For food my utmost efforts fail'd to gain!

"Come, kill the mother who her child has kill'd,
    Haste, righteous judges, and avenge the deed!
Yes, men of justice, I've for ever still'd
    The raging famine that I could not feed.

"Death, to thy gate I come at last for aid!
    I knock'd at others, and they gave me none:
I and my babe are perishing, I said;
    Me and my babe they sternly bad begone!

"Friend of the poor! an outcast wretch receive!
    From woes the wealthy will not, thou wilt save!
Thy kinder hand shall all my wants relieve:—
    No hunger gnaws us in the easy grave.

"No mother o'er her starving infant there
    Her empty hand with raving anguish wrings!
What was it brac'd this heart such pangs to bear?
    How came ye not to crack, ye iron strings?

'Bread?—sweetest suppliant—ask it not of me—
    The last, last crumb I had, has LONG been gone
Come, shall I lift thee up, and let thee see,
    That shelf thine eager gaze devours, has none!

"Take off those craving, cruel eyes from me;
    Look thus at them, who feast on sumptuous fare,
Yonder they sit!—the loaded tables see!
    Carry those asking eyes, pale sufferer, there.

"Murd'ress!—tis false—did I the murder do!
    Say not 'twas I that stain'd the street with gore
Ye hard, unrelenting sons of wealth, 'twas you!
    In vain I wept for succour at your door.

"Ye would not let my little cherub live;
    Rocks!—ye refus'd to lend it longer breath:
A mother gave it all she had to give—
    Gave it a beggar'd mother's blessing—DEATH!

"Heav'ns!—how I strove my innocent to save!
    Till my worn spirit could no longer strive;
No more endure to hear the breath I gave
    All spent in cries for bread I could not give!

"For three long days my wond'rous patience bore!
    Those ne'er to be forgot, heart-piercing cries,
Bore to behold the pining looks implore—
    Bore the dumb hunger of the hollow eyes.

"For joy a child is born into the world,
    Delirous mother, that her pain forgets!
Mine out again this hand in mercy hurl'd!
    With juster joy my bounding bosom beats!

"Here what but wolves, but wild destroyers dwell?
    They tore my helpless husband from my side,
And, when the father in their battles fell,
    A little bread his famish'd babe denied.

"When surfeit swells, while wasting thousands die,
    When riot roars amidst surrounding groans,
Whence springs the patience of the quiet sky?
    What keeps ye silent, ye unruffled stones?

"Farewell, thou dreary scene of want and woe!
    The poor to dust where hard oppressors grind:
Force seas of blood, and seas of tears to flow,
    And triumph in the torments of mankind!

"My fellow-victims! that so calmly lie:
    Nor join the vigils, these parch'd eyes must keep,
Forgetful each of all his misery,
    I also, sound as you shall shortly sleep.

"Fly, my deliverers!—hither wing your way!
    Come, in your robes of beautious office, come!
And you, ye brightest sun-beams, deck the day
    That to her rest a weary wretch shall doom."


Notes

1. Joseph Fawcett (1758?-1804), dissenting minister and poet, who in 1780 revived the Sunday evening lecture at the Old Jewry attended by "the largest and most genteel London audience that ever assembled in a dissenting place of worship" (The Gentleman's Magazine, LXXIV (1804), p. 185; p. 276).

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September 2004