Infanticide in Madagascar

A luxury of summer green
Is on the southern plain,
And water-flags, with dewy screen,
Protect the ripening grain.
Upon the sky is not a cloud
To mar the golden glow,
Only the palm-tree is allowed
To fling its shade below.

And silvery, mid its fertile brakes,
The winding river glides,
And every ray in heaven makes
Its mirror of its tides.
And yet it is a place of death—
A place of sacrifice ;
Heavy with childhood’s parting breath
Weary with childhood’s cries.

The mother takes her little child—
Its face is like her own ;
The cradle of her choice is wild—
Why is it left alone ?
The trampling of the buffalo
Is heard among the reeds,
And sweeps around the carrion-crow
That amid carnage feeds.

Oh ! outrage upon mother Earth
To yonder azure sky ;
A destined victim from its birth,
The child is left to die.
We shudder that such crimes disgrace
E’en yonder savage strand ;
Alas ! and hath such crime no trace
Within our English land ?

Pause, ere we blame the savage code
That such strange horror keeps;
Perhaps within her sad abode
The mother sits and weeps,
And thinks how oft those eyelids smiled,
Whose close she may not see,
And says, "Oh, would to God, my child,
I might have died for thee !"

Such law of bloodshed to annul
Should be the Christian’s toil ;
May not such law be merciful,
To that upon our soil ?
Better the infant eyes should close
Upon the first sweet breath,
Than weary for their last repose,
A living life in death !

Look on the children of our poor
On many an English child :
Better that it had died secure
By yonder river wild.
Flung careless on the waves of life,
From childhood’s earliest time,
They struggle, one perpetual strife,
With hunger and with crime.

Look on the crowded prison-gate—
Instructive love and care
In early life had saved the fate
That waits on many there.
Cold, selfish, shunning care and cost,
The poor are left unknown ;
I say, for every soul thus lost,
We answer with our own.


  The Malagassy regard certain days as propitious to every procedure resulting from the events of those days, and other days as the reverse. This delusive influence inculcates the belief, that all born on these inauspicious days will be its subjects and agents through life, and superinduces a conviction, that to spare and nurse the unhappy infants, born on such days, would be to cherish sorcerers, the chief instruments in inflicting every calamity they fear. On the birth, therefore, of an infant, the great solicitude of the parents is to know its vintana, or destiny, which must be ascertained by certain rules. Amongst the varied exhibitions of the domination of superstition, there is not, perhaps, presented a scene of more affecting wretchedness than the one displayed in the engraving. An infant, perfectly helpless, and unconscious, smiling perhaps in innocence, is laid in a narrow entrance to a village, or a fold, through which there is barely room for cattle to pass, several of which are driven violently in, and made to pass over the spot on which the child is placed, while the parents, with agonizing feelings, stand by waiting the result. If the oxen pass over without injuring the infant, the omen is propitious; the powerful and evil destiny is removed, and the parents may, without apprehension, embrace and cherish their offspring.
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Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Letitia Elizabeth Landon was an English poet. Born 14th August 1802 at 25 Hans Place, Chelsea, she lived through the most productive period of her life nearby, at No.22. A precocious child with a natural gift for poetry, she was driven by the financial needs of her family to become a professional writer and thus a target for malicious gossip (although her three children by William Jerdan were successfully hidden from the public). In 1838, she married George Maclean, governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast, whence she travelled, only to die a few months later (15th October) of a fatal heart condition. Behind her post-Romantic style of sentimentality lie preoccupations with art, decay and loss that give her poetry its characteristic intensity and in this vein she attempted to reinterpret some of the great male texts from a woman’s perspective. Her originality rapidly led to her being one of the most read authors of her day and her influence, commencing with Tennyson in England and Poe in America, was long-lasting. However, Victorian attitudes led to her poetry being misrepresented and she became excluded from the canon of English literature, where she belongs. more…

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"Infanticide in Madagascar" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 1 Apr. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/44785/infanticide-in-madagascar>.

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