Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
VI. Human Experience
In Prison
May Riley Smith (1842?–1927)
 
GOD pity the wretched prisoners,
  In their lonely cells to-day!
Whatever the sins that tripped them,
  God pity them! still I say.
 
Only a strip of sunshine,        5
  Cleft by rusty bars;
Only a patch of azure,
  Only a cluster of stars;
 
Only a barren future,
  To starve their hope upon;        10
Only stinging memories
  Of a past that’s better gone;
 
Only scorn from women,
  Only hate from men,
Only remorse to whisper        15
  Of a life that might have been.
 
Once they were little children,
  And perhaps their unstained feet
Were led by a gentle mother
  Toward the golden street;        20
 
Therefore, if in life’s forest
  They since have lost their way,
For the sake of her who loved them,
  God pity them! still I say.
 
O mothers gone to heaven!        25
  With earnest heart I ask
That your eyes may not look earthward
  On the failure of your task.
 
For even in those mansions
  The choking tears would rise,        30
Though the fairest hand in heaven
  Would wipe them from your eyes!
 
And you, who judge so harshly,
  Are you sure the stumbling-stone
That tripped the feet of others        35
  Might not have bruised your own?
 
Are you sure the sad-faced angel
  Who writes our errors down
Will ascribe to you more honor
  Than him on whom you frown?        40
 
Or, if a steadier purpose
  Unto your life is given;
A stronger will to conquer,
  A smoother path to heaven;
 
If, when temptations meet you,        45
  You crush them with a smile;
If you can chain pale passion
  And keep your lips from guile;
 
Then bless the hand that crowned you,
  Remembering, as you go,        50
’T was not your own endeavor
  That shaped your nature so;
 
And sneer not at the weakness
  Which made a brother fall,
For the hand that lifts the fallen,        55
  God loves the best of all!
 
And pray for the wretched prisoners
  All over the land to-day,
That a holy hand in pity
  May wipe their guilt away.        60
 
 
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