When cold chains clench my wrists through skin to bone
and fetters grasp my ankles tight so tight
that bloody sores break weeping while I groan
from day’s beginning to the dark of night;
and when my mind seems riddled with despair
so endless deep at times I wish that Death
might come and take me quickly to his lair
for kind ’twould be to snatch my tortured breath;
’tis then I think on thee, my own true love,
who sighs and waits these seven years for me,
how I’ll fly home an eagle, far above
those dismal decks that sail the storm-tossed sea;
for time itself grows wings towards the day
I’ll lie in thy soft bosom, there to stay.
* * *
One of the performances by Happenstance at Snowshill was ‘Here’s adieu to all judges and juries’, a transportation song. It’s accompanied by a dance that involves many interesting shapes and some enthusiastic thwacking, before the side ‘[d]rop sticks, hold on to next person’s right shoulder and amble off, like convicts’ from my performance notes, provided by Mrs T.
As the performance itself contains lyrics, I chose to write an inspiration piece, musing on poetry that the prisoner might have written to his Polly while incarcerated in ‘a strange country’, so far from home. I opted to compose a sonnet as this seemed to me the form best suited to expressing the prisoner’s thoughts at this time, the physical and psychological tortures of confinement resolving in the solace of believing that Polly waits for him. The solace part of the sonnet owes much to the original words of the chorus (again, from Mrs T.):
How often I wish that the eagle
Would send me her wings, I would fly
I would fly to the arms of my Polly
And in her soft bosom I’d lie.
I found information on prison conditions in a useful article by Andrew C. Rouse, ‘The Transportation Ballad: a song type rooted in eighteenth-century