Magdalena

by Frances Fuller Victor

You say there's a Being all-loving,

Whose nature is justice and pity;

Could you say where you think he is roving?

We have sought him from city to city,

But he never is where we can find him,

When outrage and sorrow beset us;

It is strange we are always behind him,

Or that He should forever forget us.

But being a god, he is thinking

Of the masculine side of the Human;

And though just, it would surely be sinking

The God to be thoughtful for woman.

For him and by him was man made:

Sole heir of the earth and its treasures;

An after-thought, woman—the handmaid,

Not of God, but of man and his pleasures.

Should you say that man's God would reprove us,

If we found him and showed him our bruises?

It is dreary with no one to love us,

Or to hold back the hand that abuses:

Man's hand, that first led and caressed us,

Man's lips, that first kissed and betrayed;—

If his God could know how he's oppressed us,

Do you think that we need be afraid?

For we loved him—and he who stood nearest

To God, who could doubt or disdain?

When he swore by that God, and the dearest

Of boons that he hoped to obtain

Of that God, that he truly would keep us

In his heart of hearts precious and only:

Say, how could we think he would steep us

In sorrow, and leave us thus lonely?

But you see how it is: he has left us,

This demi-god, heir of creation;

Of our only good gifts has bereft us,

And mocked at our mad desolation:

Says that we knew that such oaths would be broken—

Says we lured him to lie and betray;

Quotes the word of his God as a token

Of the law that makes woman his prey.

And now what shall we do? We have given

To this master our handmaiden's dower:

Our beauty and youth, aye, and even

Our souls have we left in his power.

Though we thought when we loved him, that loving

Made of woman an angel, not demon;

We have found, to our fond faith's disproving,

That love makes of woman a leman!

Yes, we gave, and he took: took not merely

What we gave, for his lying pretences:

But our whole woman world, that so dearly

We held by till then: our defences

Of home, of fair fame; the affection

Of parents and kindred; the human

Delight of child-love; the protection

That is everywhere owed to a woman.

You say there's a Being all-loving,

Whose nature is justice and pity:

Could you say where you think he is roving?

We have sought him from city to city.

We have called unto him, our eyes streaming

With the tears of our pain and despair:

We have shouted unto him blaspheming,

And whispered unto him in prayer.

But he sleeps, or is absent, or lending

His ear to man's prouder petition:

And the black silence over us bending

Scorches hot with the breath of perdition.

For this fair world of man's, in which woman

Pays for all that she gets with her beauty,

Is a desert that starves out the human,

When her charms charm not squarely with duty.

For man were we made, says the preacher,

To love him and serve him in meekness,

Of man's God is man solely the teacher

Interpreting unto our weakness:

He the teacher, the master, dispenser

Not only of law, but of living,

Breaks his own law with us, then turns censor,

Accusing, but never forgiving.

Do you think that we have not been nursing

Resentment for wrong and betrayal?

From our hearts, filled with gall, rises cursing,

To our own and our masters' dismayal.

'Tis for this that we seek the all-loving,

Whose nature is justice and pity;

And we'll find Him, wherever he's roving,

In country, in town, or in city.

He must show us his justice, who made us;

He must place sin where sin was conceived;

We must know if man's God will upbraid us

Because we both loved and believed.

We must know if man's riches and power,

His titles, crowns, sceptres and ermine,

Weigh with God against womanhood's dower,

Or whether man's guilt they determine.

It would seem that man's God should restrain him,

Or else should avenge our dishonor:

Shall the cries of the hopeless not pain him,

Or shall woman take all guilt upon her?

Let us challenge the maker that made us;

Let us cry to Christ, son of a woman;

We shall learn if, when man has betrayed us,

Heaven's justice accords with the human.

We must know if because we were lowly,

And kept in the place man assigned us,

He could seek us with passions unholy

And be free, while his penalties bind us.

We would ask if his gold buys exemption,

Or whether his manhood acquits him;

How it is that we scarce find redemption

For sins less than his self-law permits him.

Do we dare the Almighty to question?

Shall the clay to the potter appeal?

To whom else shall we go with suggestion?

Shall the vase not complain to the wheel?

God answered Job out of the groaning

Of thunder and whirlwind and hailing;

Will he turn a deaf ear to our moaning,

Or reply to our prayers with railing?

Did you speak of a Christ who is tender—

A deity born of a woman?

Of the sorrowful, God and defender,

And brother and friend of the human?

Long ago He ascended to heaven,

Long ago was His teaching forgotten;

The lump has no longer the leaven,

But is heavy, unwholesome and rotten.

The gods are all man's, whom he praises

For laws that make woman his creature;

For the rest, theological mazes

Furnish work for the salaried preacher.

In the youth of the world it was better,

We had deities then of our choosing;

We could pray, though we wore then a fetter,

To a Goddess of binding and loosing.

We could kneel in a grove or a temple,

No man's heavy hand on our shoulder:

Had in Pallas Athene example

To make womanhood stronger and bolder.

But the temples are broken and plundered,

Sacred altars profanely o'erthrown;

Where the oracle trembled and thundered,

Are a cavern, a fount, and a stone.

Yet we would of the Christ hear the story,

'Twas familiar in days that are ended;

His humility, purity, glory,

Are they not into heaven ascended?

We see naught but scorning and hating;

We hear naught but threats and contemning:

For your Christian is good and berating,

And your sinner is first in condemning.

Should you say that the Christ would reprove us,

If we found him and told him our trouble?

It is fearful with no one to love us,

And our pain and despair growing double.

It is mad'ning to feel we're excluded

From the homes of the mothers that bore us;

And that man, by no false arts deluded,

May enter unchallenged before us.

It is hard to be humble when trodden;

We cannot be meek when oppressed;

Nor pure while our souls are made sodden

With loathing that can't be confessed;

Or true, while our bread and our shelter

By a lying pretence is obtained—

Deceived, in deception we welter;

By a touch are we evermore stained.

O hard lot of woman! the creature

Of a creature whose God is asleep,

Or gone on a journey. You teach her

She was made to sin, suffer, and weep;

We wait for a new revelation,

We cry for a God of our own;

O God unrevealed, bring salvation,

From our necks lift the collar of stone!