Quia Multum Amavit

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Just a drowned woman, with death-draggled hair And wan eyes, all a-stare;The weary limbs composed in ghastly rest, The hands together prest,Tight holding something that the flood has spared, Nor even the rough workhouse folk have dared To separate from her wholly, but untiedGently the knotted hands and laid it by her side.

A piteous sight, -- yet not without some sign Of handiwork divine;Some faint, mysterious traces of content About the brows, unbentAt last from toil and misery, -- some markOf child-like, tired composure in the stark,Wan features, on whose calm there is imprest At last the seal of rest.

See, she was fair, -- and now she's rid of strife, She's comelier than in life;For death has smoothed the tresses of her hair And stroked the lines of care.With no ungentle hand, from off her brow.She seems at peace at last, -- no matter how.Death has been angel-sweet to her tired soul; She has no need of dole.

You know her story? Just the sad, old tale, Whose victims never fail!Common enough and mean, but yet not quite Without its gleam of light;Not all devoid of some redeeming sparkOf nobleness to lighten its grim dark.You turn away. You've heard of many such?"She was so wicked!" But she loved so much.

I tell you, this poor woman you despise, From whom you turn your eyes.Loved with an ardour, side by side with which Our lives, so seeming richIn virtues and in grandeurs, fade awayInto the dusk, as night before the day.Yet of her life you fear to hear me tell."She was so wicked!" But she loved so well.

You saw the portrait taken from her grasp, Stiffened in Death's cold clasp?Two little children, poorly clad and plain, Sun-scorched and worn with pain,Wan with mean cares, too early for their years,Their child-eyes eager with unchildish fearsAnd sordid, bitter yearnings. "But a smutch!"You say. "And after all it's nought to meWhat was her life and what her hopes might be.She was so wicked!" Oh, she loved so much!

True, a mere daub, whereon the beneficent sun Has written, in faint, dun,Unbeauteous lines, a hard and narrow life, Wherein dull care was rifeAnd little thought of beauty or delightRelieved the level blackness of the night:And yet I would not change those pictured twoFor all the cherubs Raphael ever drew.

Two little faces, plain enough to you, Nothing of bright or new;Such faces as one meets amongst each crowd, Sharp-visaged and low-browed;And yet to her, her picture-books of heaven,The treasuries from which the scanty leaven,Wherewith she stirred her poor mean life to joy.Was drawn, -- pure gold from her without alloy.

They were her all, and by no sacred tie, No pure maternity.To her the name of wife had been denied. In sin she lived and died.She was an outlaw from the pale of right,And yet there was that in her had such might,That she would not have shamed our dear Lord Christ. She loved, and that sufficed.

They were her shame and pride, her hope and fear, To her how dreadly dearWe scarce can feel. You happy, virtuous wives, Whose quiet, peaceful livesFlow on, unstirred by misery or crime,Can have no thought how high these souls can climbFor love; with what a weird, unearthly flameThese wretched mothers love their babes of shame;How they can suffer for them, dull and meanAs they may seem, and sell their souls to screenTheir darlings, dealing out their hearts' best blood,Drop after drop, to buy them daily food.

And so for years she toiled for them, as none Could ever toil save oneWho had nought else to care for, night and day, Until her hair grew greyWith labour such as souls in Dante's hellMight have been bound to, and with fiends as fellTo act as her taskmasters and compelThe poor, thin fingers; -- yet was honest stillFor many a weary day and night, untilShe found, with aching heart and pain-crazed head,Her toil could not suffice to earn her children bread.

They were her all; and she, ground down by want, With hollow eyes and gaunt,Saw but their misery, small beside her own, Heard but their hungry moan,Could not endure their piteous looks, and soldHerself to infamy, to warm their cold,To feed their hunger and assuage their thirst,Not hers. And yet, folk say, she is accurst!

Cruel as fate was, there was yet in store More pain for her and moreFierce anguish. Famine and the plague combined, In league with her own kind,To steal from her her one source of content,The one faint gleam of higher things, that blentIts glimmer with her life's unbroken grey;The one pale star, that turned her night to day,Sank in the chill of death's delivering wave, Extinguished in the grave.

Not even the omnipotence of Love Had power to rise aboveThe sullen stern unpitying sweep of Fate, That left her desolate.O wretched mother! Wretched time of ours!When all enlightenment's much-vaunted powersTo save this Magdalen's all could only fail, When Love has no avail!

Starved even to death! For this she'd sold her soul; This was her striving's goal!Life had no longer aught that might sufficeTo hallow all its dreary want and vice.Nothing but death remained to her, the crownOf all whose lives are hopeless. So fell downHer star of life into the dusk of night, And she gave up the fight.

So calm and peaceful seemed the dark grey flood, Foul with much human blood.God help her! Death was kinder than the world. The sullen waters whirledA moment o'er a circling plash, and thenShe was forgotten from the world of menAnd it was nought to her what folk might say. Quiet at last she lay.

I know not if this poor soul's martyrdom For you be wholly dumb.To me, I own, her sin seems holier far Than half our virtues are;For hers was of that ore which, purged of dross,Yields gold that might have gilded Christ's own crossAnd He have smiled. And yet you fear her touch? "She was so wicked!" But she loved so much.

And of her common, mean and awful state Our righteous ones will prate, --A fruitful text for homily! -- until Another come to fillHer vacant place. And yet none sees the bloomOf love, that opened in her life's blank gloomAnd made it angel-bright. Folk turn asideAnd know not how a martyr lived and died.

"Accursèd," say they, "is the suicide. In sin she lived and died.We have in her, and she in us, no part. Our lives, thank heaven! dispart.At least we're holier than she." Alas!My brethren, when reflected in God's glass,I doubt me much if many of our livesWill, when the day of reckoning arrives,Or all our virtues, with her sin compare Or as her life be fair.

Even grim Death was pitiful to her; Her rest he did not stir.Shall we be, who with her drew common breath, Less pitiful than Death?We, who have heard how Christ once lived and died,With whom His love is fabled to abide,Shall we avoid a poor dead sinner's touch?So wicked, say we? Oh, she loved so much!

For me, I cannot hold her life's long pain To have been all in vain.I cannot think that God will let her go, After this life of woe;Cannot believe that He, whose deathless loveShe aped so well, will look on from aboveWith careless righteousness, while she sinks downInto hell's depths, and with a pious frown,Leave her to struggle in the devil's clutch.True, she was wicked; -- but she loved so much.

© John Payne