Sunday July 4th 1836
I made a vow within my soul, O Child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of death on every tender part
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, thou
Whose eyes ne’er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose sufferings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.
Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (1810–1865) was a popular British novelist and prolific short-story writer with a strong social consciousness. She was married to William Gaskell, a well-known lecturer and Unitarian minister, and they had six children. Their first child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1833. Another child, a son, died in infancy, but her other four daughters survived into adulthood. Gaskell’s first novel, Mary Barton, published anonymously, grew out of the loss of her infant son and showed uncommon sympathy for the brutally impoverished millworkers of Manchester. The book created a sensation and her identity as its author soon became known. Subsequent novels continued to show a rich sympathy for the poor and for the status of women in Victorian society. In addition to her novels, Gaskell published a great many short stories, several of which were published in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round. She also published a notable biography of Charlotte Brontë. “On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl” is her best known poem.