Category: Ballads and Other Poems
How The Women Went From Dover
|The tossing spray of Cocheco's fall
Hardened to ice on its rocky wall,
As through Dover town in the chill gray dawn,
Three women passed, at the cart tail drawn!
Bared to the waist, for the north wind's grip
And keener sting of the constable's whip,
The blood that followed each hissing blow
Froze as it sprinkled the winter snow.
Priest and ruler, boy and maid
Followed the dismal cavalcade;
And from door and window, open thrown,
Looked and wondered gaffer and crone.
"God is our witness," the victims cried,
"We suffer for him who for all men died;
The wrong ye do has been done before,
We bear the stripes that the Master bore!"
"Smite, Goodman Hate-Evil! harder still!"
The magistrate cried, "Lay on with a will!
Drive out of their bodies the Father of Lies,
Who through them preaches and prophesies!"
So into the forest they held their way,
By winding river and frost-rimmed bay,
Over wind-swept hills that felt the beat,
Of the winter sea at their icy feet.
The Indian hunter, searching his traps,
Peered stealthily through the forest gaps;
And the outlying settler shook his head,--
"They're witches going to jail," he said.
At last a church-house came in view;
A blast on his horn the constable blew;
And the boys of Hampton cried up and town
"The Quakers have come!" to the wondering town.
From bar and woodpile the goodman came;
The goodwife quitted her quilting frame
With her child at her breast; and hobbling slow,
The granddam followed to see the show.
Once more the torturing whip was swung,
Once more keen lashes the bare flesh stung.
"Oh, spare! They are bleeding!" a little maid cried,
And covered her face the sight to hide....
Then on they passed, in the waning day,
Through Seabrook woods, a weariful way;
By great salt meadows and sand-hills bare,
And glimpses of blue sea here and there.
Then by the church house in Salisbury town,
The sufferers stood, in the red sundown,
Bare for the lash! O pitying Night,
Drop swift thy curtain and hide the sight!
With shame in his eye and wrath on his lip
The Salisbury constable dropped his whip.
"This warrant means murder foul and red;
Cursed is he who serves it," he said.
"Show me the order, and meanwhile strike
A blow at your peril!" said Justice Pike.
Of all the rulers the land possessed,
Wisest and boldest was he and best....
He read the warrant: "'These convey
From our precincts; at every town on the way
Give each ten lashes.' God judge the brute!
I tread his order under my foot!
"Cut loose these poor ones and let them go;
Come what will of it, all people shall know,
No warrant is good, though backed by the Crown,
For whipping women in Salisbury town...."
The Quakers sank on their knees in praise
And thanks. A last, low sunset blaze
Flashed out from under a cloud and shed
A golden glory on each bowed head.
The tale is one of an evil time,
When souls were fettered and thought was crime,
And heresy's whisper above its breath
Meant shameful scourging and bonds and death!
- John Greenleaf Whittier