Saturday, October 30, 2004

Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old

My only connection to the Steven Truscott case is that we studied his case in OAC Law. And for whatever reason, it still resonates with me. Ever since his attempt to clear his name has resurfaced, I've been following it closely. In Thursday's Toronto Star, Pierre Berton republished a poem he wrote to the Star back when Mr. Truscott was convicted. I wish to share this with those who may not have had a chance to read it:

Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old -By Pierre Berton

In Goderich town
The sun abates
December is coming
And everyone waits;
In a small, stark room
On a small, hard bed
Lies a small, pale boy
Who is not quite dead.
The cell is lonely
The cell is cold
October is young
But the boy is old;
Too old to cringe
And too old to cry
Though young —
But never too young to die.
It's true enough
That we cannot brag
Of a national anthem
Or national flag
And though our Vision
Is still in doubt
At last we've something
To boast about:
We've a national law
In the name of the Queen
To hang a child
Who is just fourteen.
The law is clear:
It says we must
And in this country
The law is just.
Sing heigh! Sing ho!
For justice blind
Makes no distinction
Of any kind;
Makes no allowance for sex or years,
A judge's feelings, a mother's tears;
Makes no allowance for age or youth
Just eye for eye and tooth for tooth —
Tooth for tooth and eye for eye:
If a child does murder
The child must die.
Don't fret ... don't worry ...
No need to cry
We'll only pretend he's going to die;
We're going to reprieve him
Bye and bye.
We're going to reprieve him
(We always do).
But it wouldn't be fair
If we told him, too
So we'll keep the secret
As long as we can
And hope that he'll take it
Like a man.
And when we've told him
It's just "pretend"
And he won't be strung
At a noose's end,
We'll send him away
And, as like as not,
Put him in prison
And let him rot.
The jury said "mercy"
And we agree —
O, merciful jury;
You and me.
Oh death can come
And death can go
Some deaths are sudden
And some are slow;
In a small, cold cell
In October mild
Death comes each day
To a frightened child
So muffle the drums and beat them slow,
Mute the strings and play them low,
Sing a lament and sing it well,
But not for the boy in the cold, dark cell,
Not for the parents, trembling-lipped,
Not for the judge, who followed the script;
Save your prayers for the righteous ghouls
In that Higher Court who write the rules
For the judge and jury and hangman, too;
The Court composed of me and you.
In Goderich town
The trees turn red
The limbs go bare
As the leaves are bled
And the days tick by
As the sky turns lead
For the small, scared boy
On a small, stark bed
A fourteen-year-old
Who is not quite dead.

1 comment:

Brian Keith O'Hara said...

I wrote about two cases which to me represent the problem in criminal justice today. Four innocent boys who were framed for crimes they did not commit, allowing the real murderers to get away scot-free.