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Short poem

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

Habeus Corpus

              1My body, eh? Friend Death, how now?
              2  Why all this tedious pomp of writ?
              3Thou hast reclaimed it sure and slow
              4  For half a century bit by bit.

              5In faith thou knowest more to-day
              6  Than I do, where it can be found!
              7This shrivelled lump of suffering clay,
              8  To which I am now chained and bound,

              9Has not of kith or kin a trace
            10  To the good body once I bore;
            11Look at this shrunken, ghastly face:
            12  Didst ever see that face before?

            13Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
            14  Thy only fault thy lagging gait,
            15Mistaken pity in thy heart
            16  For timorous ones that bid thee wait.

            17Do quickly all thou hast to do,
            18  Nor I nor mine will hindrance make;
            19I shall be free when thou art through;
            20  I grudge thee nought that thou must take!

            21Stay! I have lied; I grudge thee one,
            22  Yes, two I grudge thee at this last,--
            23Two members which have faithful done
            24  My will and bidding in the past.

            25I grudge thee this right hand of mine;
            26  I grudge thee this quick-beating heart;
            27They never gave me coward sign,
            28  Nor played me once the traitor's part.

            29I see now why in olden days
            30  Men in barbaric love or hate
            31Nailed enemies' hands at wild crossways,
            32  Shrined leaders' hearts in costly state:

            33The symbol, sign and instrument
            34  Of each soul's purpose, passion, strife,
            35Of fires in which are poured and spent
            36  Their all of love, their all of life.

            37O feeble, mighty human hand!
            38  O fragile, dauntless human heart!
            39The universe holds nothing planned
            40  With such sublime, transcendent art!

            41Yes, Death, I own I grudge thee mine
            42  Poor little hand, so feeble now;
            43Its wrinkled palm, its altered line,
            44  Its veins so pallid and so slow --

   *   *   *   (Unfinished here.)

            45Ah, well, friend Death, good friend thou art;
            46  I shall be free when thou art through.
            47Take all there is -- take hand and heart;
            48  There must be somewhere work to do.


1] The title (Latin) means "You should have the body"--a common-law writ (line 2) issued by a court to summon someone before it, here to Death to summon the poet.

9] kith or kin: ones known ("cuth") to you, or ones related to you.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Helen Jackson, Poems (Boston: Roberts Brother, 1892), pp. 261-63. PS 2107 P6 1892 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1892
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/8

Composition date: 1885
Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Helen Hunt Jackson