In Prison

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,
Cleft by rusty bars;
Only a patch of azure,
Only a cluster of stars;

Only a barren future,
To starve their hope upon;
Only stinging memories
Of a past that’s better gone;

Only scorn from women,
Only hate from men,
Only remorse to whisper
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;

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!
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,
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
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?

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,
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,
’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,
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.