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.
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.’
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)