Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
Ballade of Misery and Iron

By George Carter

(Some years ago the Century Magazine received several poems from an inmate of the State penitentiary of Minnesota. Upon investigation it was found that the poet, a young Englishman, had been driven to stealing by starvation. Subsequently his pardon was procured)
HAGGARD faces and trembling knees,
  Eyes that shine with a weakling’s hate,
Lips that mutter their blasphemies,
  Murderous hearts that darkly wait:
  These are they who were men of late,        5
Fit to hold a plow or a sword.
  If a prayer this wall may penetrate,
Have pity on these my comrades, Lord!
Poets sing of life at the lees
  In tender verses and delicate;        10
Of tears and manifold agonies—
  Little they know of what they prate.
  Out of this silence, passionate
Sounds a deeper, a wilder chord.
  If sound be heard through the narrow grate,        15
Have pity on these my comrades, Lord!
Hark, that wail of the distant breeze,
  Piercing ever the close-barred gate,
Fraught with torturing memories
  Of eyes that kindle and lips that mate.        20
  Ah, by the loved ones desolate,
Whose anguish never can pen record,
  If thou be truly compassionate,
Have pity on these my comrades, Lord!

These are pawns that the hand of Fate
  Careless sweeps from the checker-board.
Thou that know’st if the game be straight,
  Have pity on these my comrades, Lord!

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