Selections of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry on Abortion and Infant Death


"The Revealing Angels"

"On the Death of an Infant"

Selection from "Ellen: A Poem"

"The Revealing Angels"

Then through the awful silence of the world,
Where noise had ceased, they came--
The sinful hosts.
They came from lowly and from lofty places,
Some poorly clad, but many clothed like queens;
They came from scenes of revel and from toil;
From haunts of sin, from palaces, from homes,
From boudoirs, and from churches.
They came like ghosts--
The vast brigades of women who had slain
Their helpless, unborn children. With them trailed
Lovers and husbands who had said, 'Do this,'
And those who helped for hire.
They stood before the Angels--before the Revealing angels they stood.
And they heard the Angels say;
And all the listening world heard the Angels say;
'These are the vilest sinners of all;
For the Lord of Life made sex that birth might come;
Made sex and its keen compelling desire
To fashion bodies wherein souls might go
From lower planes to higher,
Until the end is reached (which is Beginning).
They have stolen the costly pleasures of the senses
And refused to pay God's price.
They have come together, these men and these women,
As male and female they have come together
In the great creative act.
They have invited souls, and then flung them out into space;
They have made a jest of God's design.
All other sins look white beside this sinning;
All other sins may be condoned, forgiven;
All other sinners may be cleansed and shriven;
Not these, not these.
Pass on, and meet God's eyes.'


"On The Death of an Infant"

Blest Babe! it at length has withdrawn,
The Seraphs have rocked it to sleep;
Away with an angelic smile it has gone,
And left a sad parent to weep!

It soars from the ocean of pain,
On breezes of precious perfume;
O be not discouraged when death is but gain —
The triumph of life from the tomb.

With pleasure I thought it my own,
And smil'd on its infantile charms;
But some mystic bird, like an eagle, came down,
And snatch'd it away from my arms.

Blest Babe, it ascends into Heaven,
It mounts with delight at the call;
And flies to the bosom from whence it was given,
The Parent and Patron of all.



Selection from "Ellen: A Poem"


Whoe'er upon a lustrous face delighted,
Hath seen the headlong lapse from joy to pain,
When one with warmest happiest eye-beam sighted,
Reels, sinks, and dies, by unwarned death-stroke slain,--
Can see that radiance in a moment blighted,
As the quick ruddy flood ebbed back again,
And she knows that she has but felt and seen
A vision brief of what she once had been.

What she had been--and what she is! O fall
Unthinkable! Groan, nursing Nature, groan
Through thy divinest deeps; hoarse discords all,
Howl curst confusion's howl; loud load of moan,
Break the strong heart of woe; black night, appall
Hell's inmates with thy gloom; for here is grown
A deed that outbids chaos, while the power
That wrought this death,--the social whole,--doth lower,

And menace more, deaf as the darkening cloud
That clasps the earth with sleety fingers hard,
Heedless as the sunned sea that, wild and loud,
Outroars the wind his mate, and on the scarred
Defenceless shore wrecks a whole navy proud,
Smiling on victims like a springing pard.
How long, O God! how long shall this be fate?
O man! this needs not, must not, be thy state.

O woman! thou, thou art a heaven-hung nest,
By soundless wings o'erbrooded, where is hatched
Earth's paragon, Heaven's heir and 'waited guest.
Earth worships thee, and warmly art thou watched
By prescient angels, and, by all the best
That know exulted in as the unmatched
Delight of whate'er lives and wills and loves,
The central majesty to all that moves.

All essences that sparkle, in their glee
Of life, upon the joy of Nature's face,
And, quivering in the wind-waved cypress-tree
Or in the leopard's gait, glow into grace,
Or, throbbing through the wood's wild melody,
To music soar, find their selectest place
In thee, selectest for a large fulfillment,
And sweetest, subtlest for a fine distillment.

All integrants of being, the low and higher,
The lords of work, the visionary powers,
Leap with the lightnings of a holier fire
In thee; and, like young bees to honeyest flowers,
Imaginations in unbought attire
Crowd to thy brain, and, buoyed by sweetening showers,
Shed softly by the tenderest loves, presage
Life's mightiness from their elected cage.

The gladdened insights, intuitions named,
That flashing come,--so wise their swift discernings,--
A freight from Heaven on sightless fibril flamed,
Hushed duties, aspirations, holiest yearnings,
Prime impulses most prodigally framed,
All reap in thee their ripest inmost earnings.
The Fates their longest ranges weave through thee,
Sorrow and joy their deepest ecstasy.

She is a woman, too, this haggard one,
And those about her, some more sunken still,
A monstrous group, each fearfully alone,
All homeless, uncaressed, the cloven will
Confounded, blinded, shattered on its throne
Mid rifled loves, that naught of earth can kill,
And whose sick pulses throb a pauseless dirge
And all their music in one wailing merge.

And like them, there outside, that blasted throng
Ubiquitous, stript of their woman's dues,--
A live distemperature that saps the strong
Well blood of manhood,--jubilant abuse,
Defiant ever-pelting storm of wrong,
Discordant willingness in the strung thews
Of myriad harps, swept by a touch so foul
The tuneful strings yield but a barren howl.

No victor Knight beside his lady fair,
Mid glittering gaze of plumèd chivalry,
Not Bayard's self, whose deferential air
A bloom of inwardness was sure to be,
With more of Christian lustre shone than there
Horatio on that friendless company.
He full performed the gentlemanly task,
To see the woman still behind the mask.

And those banned, lonesome lost ones, they were saved,
A moment saved. A moment their soul-ache
Stopt beating, when the woman new was laved
By the resurging spirit, as in a lake
Of soft absolving light, and thoughts that raved
Around infected prison-walls, now take
Repose,--stilled in that manly presence pure,--
And tune themselves, again serene, secure.

E'en in the most unsexed of all, whom years
Had more and more in fleshly bands enwrapt,
Through smeary eyelids, long unwashed by tears,
A light (chaos with primal day-beam capt)
Strange glistened in the unhallowed lap of leers,
A soft maternal light inaptly apt,
Ray from a blessing that had failed to bless,
Sole flower in a hot weedy wilderness.

In younger days she lost an infant boy,
And the dead babe had grown within her mind
(Angel asleep mid sensual tumult's joy),
Until by such mute secret nurture kind
He came to manhood, so without alloy
She seemed in this fine form her child to find;
And when Horatio touched with grief she saw
She trembled, and her heart stood still for awe.