empathy and writing poetry

Posted by Raj Arumugam on March 02, 2012

empathy and writing poetry
Sarah Malcolm

Empathy goes a great way in helping one write poetry.

I looked at an engraving of Sarah Malcolm by William Hogarth (1697-1764) recently. I did some research about Sarah Malcolm and moved by her story, I wrote a poem which is reproduced below.

For this technique to work, one must be genuinely interested in the subject. One draws on one's natural empathy for our fellow human beings and pays attention to the individual emotion or suffering of one's subject. Then only does one get genuine verse with real power in it. Try it. Meanwhile, here's the poem I wrote using this technique:



I, Sarah Malcolm


I am Sarah Malcolm - 
yes, the one they call the Irish Laundress
and the jury found me guilty of the murders
(the Infamous Murderess
of Mrs Lydia Duncomb, 
Mrs Harrison and the servant Ann Price
in Mrs Lydia’s chamber
at the Inns of Court in the Temple; 
and the jury only needed 15 minutes

and there was disbelief when I admitted to robbery
but not murder
and there was disgust
when I said the blood on my clothing was my own menstrual blood
and not the blood of Ann Price: 
I had broken a taboo in talking of menstrual blood
for, as they say, 
only loose and the not so virtuous women speak that way

and of course even after the judgement
I have been deemed even more guilty 
for I am of a different Communion
of the Catholic faith, not Anglican -
just as the Ordinary, James Guthrie described me
in instructing me here at Newgate on the Christian faith; 
and I have earned the name now of many
as the evil, barbaric, and stubborn woman

And now Mr Hogarth sketches and paints 
that you might have a view of me; 
and the appointed date is 7 March 1733
when I will be executed...
and these lines I add to the picture
that you might remember me


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