Jane Wilde

27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896

The Prisoners. Christmas, 1869.

Has not vengeance been sated at last?
Will the holy and beautiful chimes
Ring out the old wrongs of the past,
Ring in the new glories and times?
Will the eyes of the pale prisoners rest
Once again on their loved mountain scenes,
When the crimson of East or of West
Falls o’er them as mantles on Queens?
Will they muse once again by the sea,
List the thunder of waves on the strand,
As exultant, as fearless and free
As the foam‐flakes that dash on the land?
Will they lift their wan faces to God
In the radiant, bright, infinite air,
Press their lips to the old native sod
In a rapture of praise and of prayer?

Ah, the years of their young lives pass over,
Still wept out in dungeons alone,
Where the lips of a wife, child, or mother
Were never yet pressed to their own;
Years of torture and sorrow and trials,
In the gloom of the desolate cell,
Where the wrath of the sevenfold vials
Seem poured to turn Earth to a Hell;
Where strong brains are seared into madness,
And burning hearts frozen to stone,
And despair surges over life’s gladness,
And young life goes out with a moan.

Go, kneel as at graves, weeping woman
When the last fatal sentence was said,
All ties that are tender and human
Were rent as from those that are dead.

They were young then, in youth’s glorious fashion
With a pulse‐throb of fire in each vein,
And the glow and the splendours of passion
Flashing up from the heart to the brain.
Sharp as falchions their keen words reproving
Great words moved by no coward breath
And no crime on their souls save of loving
Their Country with love strong as death.
Oh, their hearts, how they leaped to the surface,
As a sword from the scabbard unsheathed,
Their pale faces stern with a purpose,
Their brows with Fate’s cypress enwreathed.
Grave, earnest, the judgment unheeding,
Or the wreck of their lives lying prone,
From these doomed lips the strong spirits’ pleading
Soared up from man’s bar to God’s Throne.

“We but taught men,” they said, “from the pages
Graven deep in our history and soil,
From the Litanies poured through the ages
Of sorrow, and torture, and toil;
By the insults, the mockings, the scornings,
The bondage on body and soul;
By the ruin, the slaughters, the burnings,
When death was the patriot’s goal;
By the falsehood enthroned in high places,
By the feeble hearts cowering within,
By the slave‐brand read plain on their faces,
Though the ermine might cover the sin.
We were broken and sundered and shattered,
Made thrall by the tyrant’s strong arm,
To the wild waves and fierce winds were scattered
As dead leaves swept on by the storm.

For each age gave a traitor or tyrant
To build up the wrongs that we see,
But each age, too, gives heroes aspirant
Of the Fame or the death of the Free!”

Oh, Chimes ringing out in our city,
Oh, Angels that walk to and fro,
Oh, Christ‐words of pardon and pity,
Can ye speak to those souls lying low
In a sorrow no festal chime scatters,
In a night where no Angel appears,
The wasted limbs heavy with fetters,
The weary heart heavy with tears;
With the ghost of dead youth crushing on them,
And the gloom of the years yet to be,
With a blackness of darkness upon them
As of night when it falls on the sea?

When the Christmas bells ring out at even
The song of the Angels’ bright spheres,
Their sad eyes will strain up to Heaven,
Their bread will be bitter with tears.
Through our laughter will come that sad vision,
Through the ivy‐wreathed wine‐cup’s red glow,
Through our wassail the wail from their prison,
Lamentation and mourning and woe.
With sorrow wrapped round like a garment,
With ashes for joy as their crown,
With bonds tight’ning close as a cerement
They wait till God’s morning comes down;
Yet no echo from their lips will falter
Of the solemn, sweet carol or song,
But a cry, as of souls ’neath the Altar,
“How long! oh, our Lord God, how long?”
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