Tuesday, October 27, 1992

Requiem For A Fourteen-Year-Old

In Goderich town The Sun abates December is coming And everyone waits: In a small, dark 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 a 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 allowances for sex or years, A judge's feelings, a mother's tears; Makes no allowances for age or youth Just eye for eye and tooth for tooth Tooth for tooth and eye for eye: A child does murder A 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, 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 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 their leave are bled And the days tick by As the sky turns lead For the small, scared boy On the small, stark bed A fourteen-year-old Who is not quite dead.

- Pierre Berton

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