Laetitia Pilkington, “Sorrow”




While sunk in deepest solitude and woe,
My streaming eyes with ceaseless sorrow flow,
While anguish wears the sleepless night away,
And fresher grief awaits returning day;
Encompassed round with ruin, want and shame,                               5
Undone in fortune, blasted in my fame;
Lost to the soft endearing ties of life,
And tender names of daughter, mother, wife;
Can no recess from calumny be found?
And yet can fate inflict a deeper wound!                                              10
As one who, in a dreadful tempest toss’d,
If thrown by chance upon some desert coast,
Calmly awhile surveys the fatal shore,
And hopes that fortune can inflict no more;
Till some fell serpent makes the wretch his prey,                               15
Who ‘scap’d in vain the dangers of the sea;
So I who hardly ‘scap’d domestic rage,
Born with eternal sorrows to engage,
Now feel the pois’nous force of sland’rous tongues,
Who daily wound me with envenom’d wrongs.                                   20
Shed then a ray divine, all gracious heav’n,
Pardon the soul that sues to be forgiven,
Though cruel human-kind relentless prove,
And least resemble thee in acts of love;
Though friends who should administer relief,                                     25
Add pain to woe, and misery to grief,
And oft! too oft! with hypocritic air,
Condemn those faults in which they deeply share:
Yet thou who dost our various frailties know,
And see’st each spring from whence our actions flow,                       30
Shalt, while for mercy to thy throne I fly,
Regard the lifted hand and streaming eye.
Thou didst the jarring elements compose,
When this harmonious universe arose;
O speak the tempest of the soul to peace,                                           35
Bid the tumultuous war of passion cease;
Receive me to thy kind paternal care,
And guard me from the horrors of despair.
And since no more I boast a mother’s name,
Nor in my children can a portion claim,                                                40
The helpless babes to thy protection take,
Nor punish for their hapless mother’s sake.
Thus the poor bird, when frighted from her nest,
With agonizing love, and grief distress’d,
Still fondly hovers o’er the much-lov’d place,                                       45
Through strengthless, to protect her tender race;
In piercing notes she movingly complains,
And tells the unattending woods her pains.
And thou, my soul’s once fondest, dearest part,
Who schem’d my ruin with such cruel art,                                            50
From human laws no longer seek to find
A pow’r to loose that knot which God has join’d,
The props of life are rudely pull’d away,
And the frail building falling to decay,
My death shall give thee thy desir’d release,                                        55
And lay me down in everlasting peace.


9 calumny Slander, “a false statement about a person that is made to damage their reputation” (OED).

16 ‘scap’d Escaped.

25-26 friends… add pain to woe, misery to grief The poet Jonathan Swift, once patron and friend to Pilkington, would after her divorce disavow her and call her “’the most profligate whore in either kingdom.” (History Ireland, vol. 17, no. 2, Mar/April 2009).

39-40 And since no more I boast a mother’s name,/Nor in my children can a portion claim Post divorce Pilkington’s husband assumed all their possessions and disallowed her seeing their children. (History Ireland, vol. 17, no. 2, Mar/April 2009).

49 And thou, my soul’s once fondest, dearest part “Mem. My Husband, who was then suing for a divorce” [Author’s Note].

SOURCE: Poems by Eminent Ladies, vol. II (London, 1755), pp. 255-57. [Hathitrust]

Edited by Carina Thanh-Ngoc DeLorenzo