The Female Convict
by LETITIA E. LANDON (1802-1838)
SHE shrank from all, and her silent mood
Made her wish only for solitude:
Her eye sought the ground, as it could not brook,
For innermost shame, on another’s to look;
And the cheerings of comfort fell on her ear
Like deadliest words, that were curses to hear
She still was young, and she had been fair;
But weather-stains, hunger, toil, and care,
That frost and fever that wear the heart,
Had made the colors of youth depart
From the sallow cheek, save over it came
The burning flush of the spirit’s shame.
They were sailing o’er the salt sea-foam,
Far from her country, far from her home;
And all she had left for her friends to keep
Was a name to hide and a memory to weep!
And her future held forth but the felon’s lot,—
To live forsaken, to die forgot!
She could not weep, and she could not pray,
But she wasted and withered from day to day,
Till you might have counted each sunken vein,
When her wrist was prest by the iron chain;
And sometimes I thought her large dark eye
Had the glisten of red insanity.
She called me once to her sleeping-place,
A strange, wild look was upon her face,
Her eye flashed over her cheek so white,
Like a gravestone seen in the pale moonlight,
And she spoke in a low, unearthly tone,—
The sound from mine ear hath never gone!—
“I had last night the loveliest dream:
My own land shone in the summer beam,
I saw the fields of the golden grain,
I heard the reaper’s harvest strain;
There stood on the hills the green pine-tree,
And the thrush and the lark sang merrily.
A long and a weary way I had come;
But I stopped, methought, by mine own sweet home.
I stood by the hearth, and my father sat there,
With pale, thin face, and snow-white hair!
The Bible lay open upon his knee,
But he closed the book to welcome me.
He led me next where my mother lay,
And together we knelt by her grave to pray,
And heard a hymn it was heaven to hear,
For it echoed one to my young days dear.
This dream has waked feelings long, long since fled,
And hopes which I deemed in my heart were dead!—
We have not spoken, but still I have hung
On the Northern accents that dwell on thy tongue.
To me they are music, to me they recall
The things long hidden by Memory’s pall!
Take this long curl of yellow hair,
And give it my father, and tell him my prayer,
My dying prayer, was for him.” ….
Upon the deck a coffin lay;
They raised it up, and like a dirge
The heavy gale swept o’er the surge;
The corpse was cast to the wind and wave,—
The convict has found in the green sea a grave.
Letitia Elizabeth Landon came to the public’s notice around 1824. She went by her initials L.E.L. as a pen name and enjoyed a period of favorable notice by impressive names in English poetry, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti. Her reputation, however, was tarnished by rumor and gossip about illicit affairs and illegitimate children. Later, Landon married George Maclean, Governor of the Gold Coast (present day Ghana) on June 7, 1838. Just four months later, after the couple moved to Africa, Landon was found dead with a bottle of prussic acid in her hand, prompting rumors of suicide and murder. According to Brodie Cruikshank, an inquest determined that she died by accidental overdose and did not commit suicide.