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  • “Orrin de Wolf”
  • Mary Livermore

Chainless blow the singing breezes, underneath the azure sky,Fetterless the bright bird’s pinion, winging upwards far and high:Reinless are the steeds of morning, bearing light o’er earth and sea,And the silvery waves are dancing, as they joyed in being free.                          5

But in yonder stifled prison, in the suffocating cell,Where a sad and solemn dimness, and a fearful silence dwell,Sitteth one with eyelids drooping, with a pale and sunken face,And a brow, where sin and sorrow have burned in the fi ery trace.                     10

Walls, like adamant, enclose him, fetters hold him to the floor,And the free, God-given sunbeams may not pass the bolted door;E’en the breeze but bloweth faintly, when it entereth the cell,And escapeth through the gratings, frighted ’mid the gloom to dwell.                 15

All the night, amid the darkness, droppeth down his cheeks the tears,While upon his heart are thronging memories of bye-gone years:From his lips is wrung the anguish of a spirit-bleeding sigh,As he noteth every sun-rise, how his death-day draweth nigh.                          20

Brethren, are ye dealing Christ-like with this fettered darkened mind,Such a crushing weight of sorrow on its very life to bind?With your iron heel of vengeance treading out all love and youth,While the flashings of his heart’s blood, darkly spots your robes of truth?          25

Ay, I know his hands are gory, crimsoned with his fellow’s blood—But will ye, your hands empurple in your brother’s vital flood?Yes, his midnight deed of murder curdles icy-cold the veins—But will ye, the crime revenging, spot o’er your soul with stains?                        30 [End Page 372]

Do ye not, each virgin morning, and at every star-crowned nightBow in prayer, for mercy suing, of the Judge enthroned in light?If thy unpaid tens of thousands God forgiveth full and free,Shall thy brother’s debt of hundreds be demanded still by thee?                        35

If in pure and sinless childhood, he a mother’s heart had pressed,And had drank in holy teachings, closely folded to her breast,If with right and tender guidance she had led his tiny feet,Think you not yon gloom-hung prison, would for him be now unmeet?               40

If a friendly hand had girt him with the panoply divine,If of high and holy motives, made his youthful soul the shrine,If the voice of love had spoken, exorcising wrong and sin,—Think you he’d be chained and fettered, barred those frowning walls within?     45

Then forgive! for GOD forgiveth with a free out-gushing love,Which surrounds us in its fulness, as the sky He stretched above:Draw the bolt! cast off the fetters! and forbid his blood be spilt!Hope ye by the dark ablution to wash out his deed of guilt?                                  50

Spare him! for we all are brethren, and the chain must not be rivenThat with golden link unites us, fastened to the throne of heaven!Spare him, as ye hope the Father will your plea for mercy hear,When beyond the stars eternal, it ariseth to his ear! [End Page 373]

Mary Livermore
The Hangman, 30 September 1845


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pp. 372-373
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