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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.

When from the dark synod, or blood-reeking field,

To his chamber the monarch is led,

All soothers of sense their soft virtue shall yield,

And quietness pillow his head.

But if grief, self-consumed, in oblivion would doze,

And conscience her tortures appease,

’Mid tumult and uproar this man must repose ;

In the comfortless vault of disease.

When his fetters at night have so press’d on his limbs,

That the weight can no longer be borne,

If, while a half-slumber his memory bedims,

The wretch on his pallet should turn,

While the jail-mastiff howls at the dull clanking chain,

From the roots of his hair there shall start

A thousand sharp punctures of cold-sweating pain,

And terror shall leap at his heart.

But now he half-raises his deep-sunken eye,

And the motion unsettles a tear;

The silence of sorrow it seems to supply,

And asks of me why I am here.

“Poor victim ! no idle intruder has stood

“With o’erweening complacence our state to compare,

”But one, whose first wish is the wish to be good,

“Is come as a brother thy sorrows to share.

“At thy name though compassion her nature resign,

“Though in virtue’s proud mouth thy report be a


”My care, if the arm of the mighty were mine,

“Would plant thee where yet thou might’st blossom



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