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A Scottish Dozen: Uncollected Poems by Marion Bernstein

Linda Fleming and Edward Cohen



Published in the Glasgow Weekly Mail, 5 September 1885, p. 7.
A worn and weary woman
    Lay on a poorhouse bed;
She knew that she was dying,
    She wished that she was dead.

For her years had all been dreary,
    And her cares a mighty throng,
And her heart had grown a-weary
    That she should have lived so long.

“Let me die,” she whispered softly,
    In a slow and silent prayer;
“Take me from earth’s gloomy shadows,
    ’Twill be brighter ‘over there.’”

But she knew not that the angels
    Watched and waited at her side,
Till she saw their glorious faces
    When they took her, as she died.

And as Lazarus was carried
    From a beggar’s grave away,
So the pauper woman’s spirit
    Rose with angel hosts that day.

Never more to see a shadow,
    Never more to know a care;
Far away from all earthly sorrows,
    She is happy “over there.”

As her wan and wasted body
    Lay unmourned upon its bier,
Careless strangers washed it roughly,
    Not a single friend came near.

For when care her strength had wasted,
    When in daily need of aid,
Every earthly friend had failed her—
    To their charge it will be laid.

As friends grudged what would have fed her,
    Grudging “Guardians” had to feed;
Even now, with sore begrudging,
    They supply her latest need.

See the scanty poorhouse coffin,
    For her wasted frame too small;
She is crushed and smashed to fit it!
    Soon the grave will cover all.

Yet the Lord looked down from Heaven,
    Though they thought He would not see;
And He said, “As thus they did to her,
    They did it unto Me!”

Not of kings, or queens, or princes,
    However great they be,
Hath Christ said, “Your deeds towards them
    I count as done to Me.”

But He said this of the stranger,
    Of the ragged, starving poor,
Of the sick and lonely pris’ner,
    Of the beggar at your door.

For Christ scorns the pride of riches,
    And the rank by worldlings prized;
And He holds the nearest to Him
    Those whom this world hath despised.

Tremble for your pride, ye scorners,
    Guilt lies darkly at your door;
And “Rejoice in tribulation”
    Ye who suffer with the poor.
In “Mirren’s Autobiography” Marion Bernstein insists that, despite growing up “feeble and lame,” she has diverted her attention from her own disability to “the sorrows of others.” Among these sorrows were the living conditions suffered by the urban poor. “Coffining the Pauper” was suggested by a brief report, tucked into the lower left corner of page 6 of the Glasgow Weekly Mail for 8 August 1885, of a complaint filed in Dublin against a supplier of coffins for “the poor of the union.” The grim story—only 160 words in length—relates some of the “shocking and inhuman scenes” that played out when corpses were “squeezed” into undersized coffins. Bernstein transforms the report into a parable, with Christian undertones suggested by Proverbs 19 and Matthew 25.