I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
Is that the wall is strong;
A year whose days are long.
But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
And the sad world began,
With a most evil fan.
This too I know- and wise it were
If each could know the same-
Is built with bricks of shame,
How men their brothers maim.
With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
For in it things are done
Ever should look upon!
The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison-air:
That wastes and withers there:
And the warder is Despair.
For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And gibe the old and gray,
And none a word may say.
Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
Chokes up each grated screen,
In Humanity's machine.
The brackish water that we drink
Creeps with a loathsome slime,
Is full of chalk and lime,
Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.
But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
Like asp with adder fight,
For what chills and kills outright
Becomes one's heart by night.
With midnight always in one's heart,
And twilight in one's cell,
Each in his separate Hell,
Than the sound of a brazen bell.
And never a human voice comes near
To speak a gentle word:
Is pitiless and hard:
With soul and body marred.
And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men make no moan:
And break the heart of stone.
And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Its treasure to the Lord,
With the scent of costliest nard.
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
May Lord Christ enter in?
And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
The Thief to Paradise;
The Lord will not despise.
The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
His soul of his soul's strife,
The hand that held the knife.
And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
And only tears can heal:
Became Christ's snow-white seal.