[Editor: This poem by Agnes Neale was published in Shadows and Sunbeams (1890).]
[One morning a woman was found dead in a cell of the Police Station, Adelaide. She had died while in a state of intoxication.]
In the dead of the silent night,
When the stars were all glistening and bright,
When the streets of the city were hushed
’Neath the silence so solemn and deep,
That lay more like death than like sleep,
Where lately life’s warm tide had rushed.
The mart and the warehouse were still,
And the great throbbing pulses that thrill
With the strong life of commerce and trade
Were still, ’neath the spell of the hour,
Bereft of their might and their power,
Like some ghost that enchantment has laid.
And down through the stillness of night,
Through the sky, that with stars was all white,
Game the angel of death and of doom;
And his dark wings made darkness more deep,
As his touch changed the spirit of sleep
To death in that night’s awful gloom.
Alone, with no loving hand nigh,
With none to receive her last sigh,
Or to whisper one word of God’s love —
That love that was meant for just such,
That love that had suffered so much
To bring them to glory above.
Would His grace not avail for this one
Who had died in that cell, and alone,
Forsaken by all of her kind?
Let us pause, ere we close mercy’s door,
On the outcast, the wretched, and poor,
Remembering God’s love is not blind.
She was cursed with earth’s deadliest foe —
With the curse of the drink fiend, I know.
On her brow his foul stamp had been set
His poison had withered life’s flowers,
Had darkened its sunniest hours,
And had made her all honor forget.
In the slough she had dragged her fair name,
And her womanhood covered with shame,
A hissing and by-word had been;
And the beauty God gave her was spoiled,
And the white of her soul was all soiled
With the stain of her horrible sin.
Yet the fairest who stands in God’s sight,
Whose soul is most pure and most white,
May lie there and die, as she died;
Alone with no love and no light,
Alone in the silence of night,
With no friendly face close at her side.
O ye sisters, I charge you, beware!
O ye daughters of earth, have a care,
Lest you fall by this very same cause!
For this cause has like issues in all,
From the hovel clear up to the hall;
All natures are ruled by like laws.
The poison that marred her pure face
Will bring you to shame and disgrace
If you love its false sparkle as well.
The demon that crushed her to death
Will blast with his venomous breath,
And kill with the power of his spell.
Every hope that has made your day bright,
And each prayer that has hallowed your night,
May be turned to a curse by his hand.
Then, daughters of earth, oh beware!
And refuse to be trapped in the snare
That is blotting with crime our fair land.
And some woman, your sister, though now
Shame’s dust lieth thick on her brow,
By the help of your hand may arise;
And out of sin’s filth and its mire
Her soul, washed and purged, may aspire
To a rest in God’s glorious skies.
Agnes Neale, Shadows and Sunbeams, Adelaide: Burden & Bonython, 1890, pages 82-85
ere = before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)
’neath = beneath
Old spelling in the original text:
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