Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE DEATH OF GOODY NURSE, by ROSE TERRY COOKE



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THE DEATH OF GOODY NURSE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The chill new england sunshine
Last Line: "father forgive,"" he said."
Subject(s): Nourse, Rebecca; Salem, Massachusetts; Witchcraft & Witches


THE chill New England sunshine
Lay on the kitchen floor;
The wild New England north wind
Came rattling at the door.

And by the wide old fire-place,
Deep in her cushioned chair,
Lay back an ancient woman,
With shining snow-white hair.

The peace of God was on her face,
Her eyes were sweet and calm,
And when you heard her earnest voice
It sounded like a psalm.

In all the land they loved her well;
From country and from town
Came many a heart for counsel,
And many a soul cast down.

Her hands had fed the hungry poor
With blessing and with bread;
Her face was like a comforting
From out the Gospel read.

So weak and silent as she lay,
Her warm hands clasped in prayer,
A sudden knocking at the door
Came on her unaware.

And as she turned her hoary head,
Beside her chair there stood
Four grim and grisly Puritans --
No visitants for good.

They came upon her like a host,
And bade her speak and tell
Why she had sworn a wicked oath
To serve the powers of hell;

To work the works of darkness
On children of the light,
A witch they might not suffer here
Who read the Word aright.

Like one who sees her fireside yawn,
A pit of black despair,
Or one who wakes from quiet dreams
Within a lion's lair,

She glared at them with starting eyes,
Her voice essayed no sound;
She gasped like any hunted deer
The eager dogs surround.

"Answer us!" hoarse and loud they cry;
She looked from side to side --
No human help -- "Oh, gracious God!"
In agony she cried.

Then, calling back her feeble life,
The white lips uttered slow,
"I am as pure as babe unborn
From this foul thing, ye know.

"If God doth visit me for sin,
Beneath His rod I bend,"
But pitiless and wroth were they,
And bent upon their end.

They tortured her with taunt and jeer,
They vexed her night and day --
No husband's arm nor sister's tears
Availed their rage to stay.

Before the church they haled her then;
The minister arose
And poured upon her patient head
The worst of all its woes:

He bade her be accursed of God
Forever here and there;
He cursed her with a heavy curse
No mortal man may bear.

She stood among the cowering crowd
As calm as saints in heaven,
Her eyes as sweet as summer skies,
Her face like summer's even.

The devils wrought their wicked will
On matron and on maid.
"Thou hast bewitched us!" cried they all,
But not a word she said.

They fastened chains about her feet,
And carried her away;
For many days in Salem jail
Alone and ill she lay

She heard the scythe along the field
Ring through the fragrant air,
She smelt the wild-rose on the wind
That bloweth everywhere.

Reviled and hated and bereft,
The soul had plenteous rest,
Though sorrow like a frantic flood
Beat sore upon her breast.

At last the prison door stood wide,
They led the saint abroad;
By many an old familiar place
Her trembling footsteps trod.

Till faint with weakness and distress,
She climbed a hillside bleak,
And faced the gallows built thereon,
Still undisturbed and meek.

They hanged this weary woman there,
Like any felon stout;
Her white hairs on the cruel rope
Were scattered all about.

The body swung upon the tree
In every flitting wind,
Reviled and mocked by passengers
And folk of evil mind.

A woman old and innocent,
To die a death of shame,
With kindred, neighbors, friends thereby,
And none to utter blame.

Oh, God, that such a thing should be
On earth which Thou hast made!
A voice from heaven answered me,
"Father forgive," He said.





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