Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, LIFE FOR A LIFE, by MARY TUCKER LAMBERT



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LIFE FOR A LIFE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Tis but a phantom of the weary brain
Last Line: This time shall mercy, justice rule, and I for once forgive.
Alternate Author Name(s): Tucker, Mary Eliza Perine
Subject(s): Cromwell, Oliver (1599-1658); Forgiveness; Mothers; Clemency


'TIS but a phantom of the weary brain,
An image wrought by sleepless nights of pain --
I know 'tis false, as false as earth can be,
Thy hand, my son, from blood of man is free.

Ah! ha! Thou shrinkest, oh, my son! my son!
If thou art guilty then am I undone!
Still thou art mine, a widow's only child;
Some subtle serpent has thy heart beguiled.

Plead for thee, boy? ay, give my life for thine --
A mother's love is holy, pure, divine.
I will away, to Cromwell will I hie,
And save thee, boy, ay, save or with thee die!

With brow unbent, grim Cromwell stood
Within the Council Hall,
Vouchsafing scarce the slightest glance
Upon the form to fall
Of her who pleaded for the boon
Most precious earth can give.
"Life for a life," old Cromwell said.
She pleaded, let him live.
No eloquence so powerful as eloquence of love,
It melts the frozen fountain and the hardest heart can move.
Let me go back, the woman cried, to happy days of yore!
That wayward boy you doom to death is a young child once more.
See, see his bright and sunny curls now cradled on my breast!
Again I sing sweet lullaby and soothe my babe to rest.

Sleep, darling, sleep,
Thy mother's near,
Sleep, baby, sleep,
Thou knowest no fear.
Sleep, baby, sleep,
Upon my breast;
Sleep, darling, sleep,
Sweet be thy rest.

Cromwell, your heart is hard, they say, but you have children too;
War's tide may turn, you too may plead for some life dear to you.
Then let your better nature act, oh, let my son go free,
And daily prayers by me and mine shall soar aloft for thee.

His features soften; does his heart relent towards my son?
I will another picture draw, then is my pleading done:
See, Cromwell, see, upon the lawn, my curly headed boy,
He knows not he is fatherless, my blessed, only joy.

See how he gambols! how can he know aught of my deep grief?
Tears, scalding tears pour from mine eyes, to give my heart relief.
Ah, now he rushes to my side, and wipes away a tear:
Oh, weep not, mother, for my sire, for, mother, I am here.

Soon, very soon I'll be a man; and then I'll work for you --
But I am little now, mamma, and what can children do?
Now all forgetful of my grief, he playful leaves my side --
You cannot slay my only son, my darling and my pride!

"Life for a life," again he said, yet hurried a tear to hide;
Then gazing from the casement low, his cheek flushed in its pride.
The pleader's eye had followed his, to where his mother stood,
Well might the conqueror be proud of one so pure and good!

The doomed man's mother grasped his arm; thy mother, Cromwell, see!
Perchance the time may come, stern man, she may thus plead for thee.
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay," hath said the Lord thy King --
Spare, spare my child, and blessings rare upon thy household bring.

"Life for life," -- then spare my son, and, Cromwell, let me die;
A mother's love will brave all earth, and even death defy.
The warrior in his fancy saw his mother's bended knee,
Tearing her gray hairs in her grief, yet all unheard her plea.

His stern heart softened, and his eye betrayed the pitying gleam
Which brightened his harsh, stern old face, like a celestial beam.
Go, woman, go, thy prayer is heard, and thy dear son shall live!
This time shall mercy, justice rule, and I for once forgive.






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