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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

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

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;

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

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!

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;

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

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

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!

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;

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.