The Silent Cell
by Ernest Charles Jones
Composed during illness, on the sixth day of my incarceration, in a solitary cell, on bread and water, and without books, --August, 1849.
They told me 'twas a fearful thing
to pine in prison lone:
The brain became a shrivelled scroll,
the heart a living stone.
Nor solitude, nor silent cell
The teeming mind can tame:
No tribute needs the granite-well;
No food the planet-flame.
Denied the fruit of others' thought,
To write my own denied,
Sweet sisters, Hope and Memory, brought
Bright volumes to my side.
And oft we trace, with airy pen,
Full many a word of worth;
For Time will pass, and Freedom then
Shall flash them on the earth.
They told me that my veins would flag,
My ardour would decay;
And heavily their fetters drag
My blood's young strength away.
Like conquerors bounding to the goal,
Where cold, white marble gleams,
Magnificent red rivers! roll!-
Roll! all you thousand streams!.
Oft, to passion's stormy gale,
When sleep I seek in vain,
Fleets of fancy up them sail,
And anchor in my brain.
But never a wish for base retreat,
Or thought of a recreant part,
While yet a single pulse shall beat
Proud marches in my heart.
They'll find me still unchanged and strong,
when breaks their puny thrall;
With hate-for not one living soul-
And pity-for them all.
Jones was one of the most prominent Chartists, and actively worked to take the movement in a more socialist direction. The incarceration that was the occasion for the poem occurred because he had been advocating violent revolution.