Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Habeas Corpus
By Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885)
 
[Sonnets and Lyrics. 1886.]

MY body, eh? Friend Death, how now?
  Why all this tedious pomp of writ?
Thou hast reclaimed it sure and slow
  For half a century, bit by bit.
 
In faith thou knowest more to-day        5
  Than I do, where it can be found!
This shriveled lump of suffering clay,
  To which I now am chained and bound,
 
Has not of kith or kin a trace
  To the good body once I bore;        10
Look at this shrunken, ghastly face:
  Didst ever see that face before?
 
Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
  Thy only fault thy lagging gait,
Mistaken pity in thy heart        15
  For timorous ones that bid thee wait.
 
Do quickly all thou hast to do,
  Nor I nor mine will hindrance make;
I shall be free when thou art through;
  I grudge thee naught that thou must take!        20
 
Stay! I have lied; I grudge thee one,
  Yes, two I grudge thee at this last,—
Two members which have faithful done
  My will and bidding in the past.
 
I grudge thee this right hand of mine;        25
  I grudge thee this quick-beating heart;
They never gave me coward sign,
  Nor played me once a traitor’s part.
 
I see now why in olden days
  Men in barbaric love or hate        30
Nailed enemies’ hands at wild crossways,
  Shrined leaders’ hearts in costly state:
 
The symbol, sign, and instrument
  Of each soul’s purpose, passion, strife,
Of fires in which are poured and spent        35
  Their all of love, their all of life.
 
O feeble, mighty human hand!
  O fragile, dauntless human heart!
The universe holds nothing planned
  With such sublime, transcendent art!        40
 
Yes, Death, I own I grudge thee mine
  Poor little hand, so feeble now;
Its wrinkled palm, its altered line,
  Its veins so pallid and so slow—
 
(Unfinished here.)
Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
        45
  I shall be free when thou art through.
Take all there is—take hand and heart;
  There must be somewhere work to do.

  Her last poem: 7 August, 1885.
 
 
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