Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, RIZPAH, by ALFRED TENNYSON

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

RIZPAH, by         Recitation     Poet's Biography
First Line: Wailing, wailing, wailing, the wind over land and sea
Last Line: Going. He calls.
Alternate Author Name(s): Tennyson, Lord Alfred; Tennyson, 1st Baron; Tennyson Of Aldworth And Farringford, Baron
Subject(s): Capital Punishment; England; Mothers; Rizpah (bible); Tragedy; Women In The Bible; Hanging; Executions; Death Penalty; English


WAILING, wailing, wailing, the wind over land and
sea --
And Willy's voice in the winds, 'O mother, come
out to me!'
Why should he call me to-night, when he knows
that I cannot go?
For the downs are as bright as day, the full
moon stares at the snow


We should be seen, my dear; they would spy us
out of the town.
The loud black nights for us, and the storm rush-
ing over the down,
When I cannot see mf own hand, but am led by
the creak of the chain,
And grovel and grope for my son till I find myself
drenched with the rain.


Anything fallen again? nay -- what was there left
to fall?
I have taken them home, I have numbered the
bones, I have hidden them all.
What am I saying? and what are you? do you
come as a spy?
Falls? what falls? who knows? As the tree falls
so must it lie.


Who let her in? how long has she been? you --
what have you heard?
Why did you sit so quiet? you never have spoken
a word.
O -- to pray with me- -- yes -- a lady -- none of their
spies --
But the night has crept into my heart, and begun
to darken my eyes.


Ah -- you, that have lived so soft, what should you
know of the night,
The blast and the burning shame and the bitter
frost and the fright?
I have done it, while you were asleep -- you were
only made for the day.
I have gathered my baby together -- and now you
may go your way.


Nay -- or it's kind of you, Madam, to sit by an old
dying wife.
But say nothing hard of my boy, I have only an
hour of life.
I kissed my boy in the prison, before he went out
to die.
"They dared me to do it," he said, and he never
has told me a lie.
I whipt him for robbing an orchard once when
he was but a child --
"The farmer dared me to do it," he said; he was
always so wild --
And idle -- and couldn't be idle -- my Willy -- he
never could rest.
The King should have made him a soldier, he
would have been one of his best.


But he lived with a lot of wild mates, and they
never would let him be good;
They swore that he dare not rob the mail, and he
swore that he would:
And he took no life, but he took one purse, and
when all was done
He flung it among his fellows -- I'll none of it,
said my son.


I came into court to the Judge and the lawyers.
I told them my tale,
God's own truth -- but they killed him, they killed
him for robbing the mail.
They hanged him in chains for show -- we had
always borne good name --
To be hanged for a thief -- and then put away --
isn't that enough shame?
Dust to dust -- low down -- let us hide! but they
set him so high
That all the ships of the world could stare at him,
passing by.
God 'ill pardon the hell-black raven and horrible
fowls of the air,
But not the black heart of the lawyer who killed
him and hanged him there.


And the jailer forced me away. I had bid him
my last good-bye;
They had fastened the door of his cell. "O
mother!" I heard him cry.
I couldn't get back tho' I tried, he had something
further to say,
And now I never shall know it. The jailer forced
me away.


Then since I couldn't but hear that cry of my boy
that was dead,
They seized me and shut me up: they fastened me
down on my bed.
"Mother, O mother!" -- he called in the dark to
me year after year --
They beat me for that, they beat me -- you know
that I couldn't but hear;
And then at the last they found I had grown so
stupid and still
They let me abroad again -- but the creatures had
worked their will.


Flesh of my flesh was gone, but bone of my bone
was left --
I stole them all from the lawyers -- and you, will
you call it a theft?
My baby, the bones that had sucked me, the bones
that had laughed and had cried --
Theirs? O no! they are mine -- not theirs -- they
had moved in my side.


Do you think I was scared by the bones? I
kissed 'em, I buried 'em all --
I can't dig deep, I am old -- in the night by the
churchyard wall.
My Willy 'ill rise up whole when the trumpet of
judgment 'ill sound,
But I charge you never to say that I laid him in
holy ground.


They would scratch him up -- they would hang him
again on the cursed tree.
Sin? O yes -- we are sinners, I know -- let all that
And read me a Bible verse of the Lord's good will
toward men --
"Full of compassion and mercy, the Lord" -- let
me hear it again;
"Full of compassion and mercy -- long-suffering."
Yes, O yes!
For the lawyer is born but to murder -- the
Saviour lives but to bless.
He'll never put on the black cap except for the
worst of the worst,
And the first may be last -- I have heard it in
church -- and the last may be first.
Suffering -- O long-suffering -- yes, as the Lord
must know,
Year after year in the mist and the wind and the
shower and the snow.


Heard, have you? what? they have told you he
never repented his sin.
How do they know it? are they his mother? are
you of his kin?
Heard! have you ever heard, when the storm on
the downs began,
The wind that 'ill wail like a child and the sea
that i'll moan like a man?


Election, Election and Reprobation -- it's all very
But I go to-night to my boy, and I shall not find
him in Hell.
For I cared so much for my boy that the Lord has
looked into my care,
And He means me I'm sure to be happy with
Willy, I know not where.


And if he be lost -- but to save my soul, that is all
your desire:
Do you think that I care for my soul if my boy
be gone to the fire?
I have been with God in the dark -- -go, go, you may
leave me alone --
You never have borne a child -- you are just as
hard as a stone.


Madam, I beg your pardon! I think that you
mean to be kind,
But I cannot hear what you say for my Willy's
voice in the wind --
The snow and the sky so bright -- he used but to
call in the dark,
And he calls to me now from the church and not
from the gibbet -- for hark!
Nay -- you can hear it yourself -- it is coming --
shaking the walls --
Willy -- the moon's in a cloud -- Good night. I am
going. He calls.

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