The Convict by William Wordsworth

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

In November, 2019 the state of Oklahoma released almost 500 "non-violent" criminals in the largest commutation in US history. This brought up many issues regarding the justice system and the court system. But it also brings up a critical issue about the role and goals of the penal system. 

Can convicts be reformed? If it is possible then what is in our best interest to support? If a convict CAN be reformed, then should not not attempt to help them do so? And at the very least, should we not get in the way of possible reform?

These are some important questions, among many others, that William Wordsworth asked in this poem.

It was so controversial, in fact, that he removed it from all subsequent publication.



By WIlliam Wordsworth


The glory of the evening was spread through the west;

—On the slope of a mountain I stood,

While the joy that precedes the calm season of rest

Rang loud through the meadow and wood.

“And must we then part from a dwelling so fair?’’

In the pain of my spirit I said,

And with a deep sadness I turned, to repair

To the cell where the convict is laid.

The thick-ribbed walls that o’ershadow the gate

Resound; and the dungeons unfold:

I pause; and at length, through the glimmering grate,

That outcast of pity behold.

His black matted head on his shoulder is bent,

And deep is the sigh of his breath,

And with stedfast dejection his eyes are intent

On the fetters that link him to death.

‘Tis sorrow enough on that visage to gaze,

That body dismiss’d from his care;

Yet my fancy has pierced to his heart, and pourtrays

More terrible images there.

His bones are consumed, and his life-blood is dried,

With wishes the past to undo;

And his crime, through the pains that o’erwhelm him,


Still blackens and grows on his view.