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 There are many better written poems, but this is the one that, more than any other, I’ve been asked to send round to friends.  The “statutory cause” in the final line is adultery, one of the five permissible grounds for divorce in the UK (the others being desertion, two years separation with consent, five years separation without consent, and unreasonable behaviour)  –  each of which may be used as evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

An Unfaithful Wife to Her Husband*

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Branded and blackened by my own misdeeds,

I stand before you not as one who pleads

For mercy or forgiveness, but as one,

After a wrong is done

Who seeks the why and wherefore.

Go with me,

Back to those early years of love, and see

Just where our paths diverged.  You must recall

Competitors and rivals, till at last

You bound me sure and fast

With vow and ring.

I was the central thing

In all the universe for you just then.

Just then for me there were no other men.

I cared
Only for tasks and pleasures that you shared.

Such happy, happy days.  You wearied first.

I will not say you wearied, but a thirst

For conquest and achievement in man’s realm

Left love’s barque with no pilot at the helm.

The money madness and the keen desire

To outstrip others, set your heart on fire.

Into the growing conflagration went

Romance and sentiment.

Abroad you were a man of parts and power –

Your double dower

Of brain and brawns gave you a leader’s place;

At home you were dull, tired and commonplace.

You housed me, fed, clothed me, you were kind;

But oh, so blind, so blind.

You could not, would not see my woman’s need

Of small attentions and gave no heed

When I complained of loneliness; you said

‘A man must think about his daily bread

And not waste time in empty social life –

He leaves that sort of duty to his wife

And pays her bills, and lets her have her way,

And feels she should be satisfied.’

Each day,

Our lives that had been one life at the start,

Farther and farther seemed to drift apart.

Dead was the old romance of man and maid.

Your talk was all of politics and trade.

Your work, your club, the mad pursuit of gold

Absorbed your thoughts.  Your duty kiss felt cold

Upon my lips.  Life lost its zest, its thrill


One fateful day when earth seemed very dull

It suddenly grew bright and beautiful.

I spoke a little, he listened much;

There was attention in his eyes, and such

A note of comradeship in his low tone

I felt no more alone.

There was a kindly interest in his air;

He spoke about the way I dressed my hair.

And praised the gown I wore.

It seemed a thousand, thousand years and more,

Since I had been so noticed.  Had mine ear

Been used to compliments year after year,

If I had heard you speak

As this man spoke, I had not been so weak.

The innocent beginning of all my sinning

Was just a woman’s craving to be brought

Into the inner shrine of some man’s thought.

You held me there, as sweetheart and as bride;

And then as wife, you left me far outside.

So far, so far, you could not hear me call;

You might, you should, have saved me from my fall.

I was not bad, just lonely, that was all.

A man should offer something to replace

The sweet adventure of the lover’s chase

Which ends with marriage.  Love’s neglected laws

Pave pathways for the “Statutory cause”.

*in Charles Mylander, Running the Red Lights (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1986)