All that we know who lie in goal
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity’s machine.
The brackish water that we drink
Creeps with a loathsome slime,
And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
Is full of chalk and lime,
And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
Wild-eyed and cries to Time.
We have little care of prison fare,
For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day
Becomes one’s heart by night.
We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
Each in his separate Hell,
And the silence is more awful far
Than the sound of a brazen bell.
And the eye that watches through the door
Is pitiless and hard:
And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
With soul and body marred.
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God’s eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.
And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper’s house
With the scent of costliest nard.
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul’s strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ’s snow-white seal.