Lena Linton   Leave a comment

Above:  Melancholia, by Albrecht Durer

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BLOGGER’S NOTE:

Today I read this poem by my great-grandfather for the first time.  It is a text about a depressed and remorseful prostitute.  I have covered gender issues in college-level U.S. history survey courses, and I have discussed with my students the patriarchal society of the 1800s which restricted the educational and professional opportunities for women, thereby placing many of them in the uncomfortable situation of  having to choose between prostitution and starvation, between being a white slave and not eating, between having to pay bribes to corrupt police officers and not surviving, between suffering beatings and having nowhere to go.  Many prostitutes married out of the world’s oldest profession and buried their pasts.  A great many others, however, were not so fortunate.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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The hazy rim that girt the evening skies,

The yellowed fields and woodlands growing sear,

Told plainer than can tongue to thoughtful eyes,

And feeling hearts, the season of the year;

For ’tis not Nature’s death, which Autumn brings,

Wherein our hearts so much dejection find,

But in those hopes that long have taken wings,

Which withering Nature but recalls to mind.

=====

The sun’s last beams from eastern hills had flown,

And twilight on the city fallen gray,

When, once fair, Lena Linton, all alone,

Upon the crowded streets did take her way.

She wore a sober, meditative air,

A careworn soul looked out at her blue eye,

Her form, tho’ fragile now, was one time fair,

And something told of better days gone by.

=====

From street to street, down pike, through fields,

She slowly pressed her way, nor dreamed of fear,

Till sound of clatt’ring hoofs and rattling wheels

Was growing dim upon her distant ear.

Nor halted she till on a rocky height,

At whose low base a river’s billows rolled,

She sudden stopped and sank, as with affright,

And thus her woes to solitude she told:

=====

Broke every cable of my fated bark,

I’m tossed alone upon life’s rugged sea–

Roll little higher, O! ye billows dark,

And neath your cruel waves quick bury me.

Why am I thus forsaken by my kind?

Why has my Maker hid from me His face?

Is mine the sin that can not pardon find,

And mine the soul beyond the power of grace?

=====

The life that I have lived, I sorely rue,

And glad would wash it white from every stain,

But there is naught on earth that I can do,

That shall retrieve my former self again.

Tho’ as Itasca’ s Outlet, deep and wide,

My penitential tears should ever flow,

Yet man, exacting still, would not confide,

And still refuse his pardon to bestow.

=====

That mine’s a sin of blacker, deeper dye,

Than his, by whose base villainy I fell,

Is truth too true, and yet whose reason I

Must leave to those accusing me to tell;

Or his, who tho’ on life’s pretentious stage

May bear the Christian’s noble, envied name

Yet secretly to vent his passion’s rage,

Takes vantage of my helplessness and shame.

=====

Or his whose robe does tell him just and pure,

Who sagely wields the scales ‘twixt and right,

And brands me ‘fore the world and evil-doer,

Yet with me brands the evils he would blight,

Or his, the man of God, who pulpit in

Stamps me the foulest fiend this side of hell,

Yet only needs a chance with me to sin,

As his keen, wishful looks too plainly tell.

=====

They, who for me should have a sister’s care,

Should drop her tear, and heave a sister’s sigh,

And breathe to Heaven for me a sister’s prayer,

In coldness spurn, disdainful pass me by,

And, as the wretch, who’d look unmoved below

Down some steep cliff upon a fallen friend,

They all indifferent see my grief and woe,

Nay, e’en exult at my disgraceful end.

=====

With such unnatural feelings for their kind,

Unhearing all my pardon-seeking cries,

Ignoring all the Heaven-wrought ties that bind

Me unto them, they loath me;  ay, despise,

Unmindful, that with me, they lave

Their barges in the seas of black despair,

That they, if lashed against temptation’s wave,

With me may drive the reefs of woe and care,

=====

For on their minds those same phantasms play

And meditation wakes that same desire

Which lured me first from virtue’s paths away,

And now consumes me as a quenchless fire.

That spark which little fanned will wake a flame,

Which burns away the very life at length,

Whose ashes are destruction, ruin, shame,

Whose fuel is soul, character, and strength.

=====

And they who should a brother’s love bestow,

Lend his protection and his helping hand,

Use me as tho’ my mission here below

Were to supply their passion’s base demand.

With me they sin, with me commit the deed

Which they with all the world curse and upbraid.

Yet, by mankind they censure they are freed,

While all the guilt and shame on me are laid.

====

And I, the weaker, more to evil prone,

Am oftenest tempted, nor can choose but yield,

Must bear the insult and reproach alone,

Nor heart to pity, nor an arm to shield.

What tho’ some trusting maiden is betrayed?

Some sacred marriage promise broke in twain?

The plights were broken by whom they were made,

And why the guilt on me remain alone?

=====

Tho’ I all classes of mankind have tried,

Have pillaged sin of all the shame it bore,

I still have something of a woman’s pride,

Which pricks my heart into its very core.

And if the world should let me, I would fain

Complete the mission given me below,

And in His blood–the Lamb for sinners slain–

I’d wash my character as white as now.

=====

That same desire which woke my girlish heart

For some fair spirit to be twin with mine,

E’en now sometimes does through my bosom dart,

And hope that once was sweet does dimly shine.

Ah! trust not, weakly maids, but shun the smile

Of lustful, fawning, sycophantic beaux;

‘Tis but to hide their perfidy and guile,

Which but confiding will too soon disclose.

=====

Altho’ I fell by fellow mortal’s guile,

And sin with followers of the lowly Lamb,

Who once forgave a wretch as base and vile

As even I in my pollution am,

Yet they are so much higher than was He,

The blest Exemplar, whom they imitate,

They can not with Him stoop to pardon me,

My stain is ground so deep,  my sin so great,

=====

If following right their Master, they would say

With Him “We blame thee not, go sin no more.”

If conscience had a voice they’d sneak away

And cease accusing as they did of yore.

For if ’twere from the innocent alone

The ‘venging missiles of the law could fall,

Few, few indeed, the stones that would be thrown,

So few could answer unto vengeance’ call.

=====

Had I the clinking coin, the polished pelf,

‘Twould shine men’s eyes, be music to their ear,

Then they’d respect, yea, justify myself,

And thus I’d gain, in part, my former sphere.

But this, the last and only means, I’ve not–

Tho’ once I had; ’twas that bred my doom–

So kindliest fate must be to be forgot,

Nor is it quicker found than in the tomb.

=====

Then I will seek it there, nor will I wait

For passion and disease to set me free,

But quick I’ll fly unto that other state

To suffer there the ills I cannot flee.

What! die? and after death, what’s then my lot?

Ah! after death my fate I know too well,

Yet than a world where Love abideth not,

Death is more fair, more fair the flames of hell.

=====

To thee, vile city, where my hopes were riven,

To thee, dark world, so drear, yet once so bright,

To thee, O! mortal kind, still unforgiven,

To life and hope, a last, a long good night.

Come not, proud man, to loathe my helpless frame,

Your too-late tears and pitying sighs suppress,

I ask this only boon, that with my shame

I buried be in dark forgetfulness.

=====

Enough, the griefs of Lena Linton told,

We throw the veil of silence o’er the rest,

Fixed in the firm resolve with frenzy bold

To take her life, we leave her, it is best.

Yet, who that reads this true, tho’ artless tale,

Much wonders at the crime she did commit?

For when upon life’s sea a future gale

Brings no more hope, the end comes soon on it.

JOHN  DODSON TAYLOR, SR.

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Posted June 26, 2012 by neatnik2009 in John Dodson Taylor Sr.--Poems

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