Giles Corey recants

Such was the fever
of the times that I
spoke against my Martha,
accused of witchcraft.

My wife hath ben wont to sitt up after
I went to bed, & I have perceived her
to kneel down to the harth. as if she
were at prayr, but heard nothing.

Then I, too, was named.

In our lives before, we had
not been blameless,
but neither then nor
now were we

the Devil’s servants. Had such
power been mine,
I would have retrieved
the words I uttered

into that foul air,
declared as you
did, Martha,  your
purity; your piety:

I am an innocent person;
I never had to do with
Witchcraft since I was
born. I am a gospel woman.

You will die without
I will die without

any word they
wish to hear, mute
before their authority.
Peine forte et dure

they call it, the
torture enacted to force
a plea from the mouth
of the accused,

naked and weighted
with plank and stone —
stone after stone, Martha —
until the third day,

my breath too
crushed, too shallow
to sustain me. Had four
words been left

in me then, I would
have said to you,
Forgive me, but
I had just two, for them:

More weight.
You will hear me
soon, anyway, your small
feet fluttering

helplessly above
this mad earth. I will
say it then, Martha,
with the breath of a

better god, into your
bruised and blameless ear:

Forgive me.


First Martha and then Giles Corey were accused of witchcraft during the hysteria that gripped Salem Village, Massachusetts, in 1692-93.  Giles, who initially testified against his wife, later tried to recant his testimony, and, in his own case, refused to enter a plea, leaving him subject to peine forte et dure,  or being pressed to death.  He succumbed on Sept. 19, 1692, 330 years ago today.  Martha was hanged as a witch three days later.  (Italicized stanzas are taken from trial transcripts, part of a documentary repository available at










  1. Pat Brooks · · Reply

    I miss you Cate!


    1. Feel free to e-mail me, or PM me on Facebook, old friend.


  2. Ignorance and cruelty have walked hand-in-hand with humanity since the beginning. I cannot fathom how some people are capable of such evil deeds, but then I just open my eyes wider today and I start to understand. Love the olde English. 🙂 -Russ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Russ. It’s fascinating that a repository of documents related to this time still exists. I am distantly related by marriage to Susannah Martin, who was among those hanged, so the period holds a special interest for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. i imagine there were different motivations for marriage in those times as opposed to now. but i still for the life of me cant imagine why you’d sentence your spouse to death, even if you suspected them. very nice poem, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome. The hysteria of the time is key to understanding what can be understood. No one was safe from being accused — and hanged — as a witch. Speaking against what was happening meant risking one’s own life. That a number of those accused (19, I believe, comprising 14 women and 5 men) chose to die rather than confess (and thereby literally save their own necks) speaks to the nobility of human character, as other aspects of this sad episode speak to its less savory aspects.

      Liked by 1 person

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