Guest poem sent in by Michelle Whitehead
(Poem #1501) The Quality of Mercy is not Strain'd
The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much To mitigate the justice of thy plea; Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.
The Merchant of Venice, Act IV Scene 1 I am currently studying "Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct" at Uni. I have been using the Minstrels site to spark discussion with my fellow students about the portrayal of lawyers in literature. I was wondering whether all the Minstrels out there would like to help me out by submitting their favourite 'lawyer' poems, whether positive or negative? Since it is not currently on the list I thought I would start the ball rolling with Portia's speech from The Merchant of Venice, which is perhaps the best known 'positive' representation of a lawyer in poetry - although Portia was only impersonating a lawyer and thus could freely use the language of religion and morality. However, Portia triumphs because she knows the loophole in the legislation that favours her client. She works within the man-made law to give effect to the 'higher law' which is the subject of this poem. This is, in effect, a statement of her personal ethics. Other lawyer poems which are already archived by the Minstrels include: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1392.html (The Law the Lawyers Know About - H.D.C. Pepler; suggests lawyers are ignorant of natural and moral laws - presumably having spent too much time with their noses in books, though there is also a suggestion of an inherent lack of ethics; this poem obviously touched a nerve in some poetically-inclined members of the legal profession...) http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1393.html (The Lawyers Know Too Much - Carl Sandburg; this poem is another unflattering depiction of lawyers. It suggests they inhabit a dead world of rhetoric, divorced from the real, living world, yet sucking it dry. I personally find the rhetorical question which ends this poem to be a wonderful image for prompting thought about legal ethics and the public perception of lawyers!) http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/868.html (Partition - W.H.Auden; looks at Radcliffe's partitioning of India & Pakistan; gives some sense of the harried nature of lawyers, particularly mediators trying to do the best for both sides.) http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1126.html (The Shooting of Dan McGrew - Robert W. Service; very entertaining yarn from the Yukon gold fields; in contrast with the cold, dispassionate environment of the first two poems above, this poem introduces some of the drama of courtroom narratives; lawyers are only mentioned in the last stanza, but they are portrayed as dispassionate untanglers of the facts - the ones who sift through the story to find the 'truth' - a truth which significantly differs from the conclusion of the narrating witness, who is the involved observer of human nature) http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/842.html (To a Goose - Robert Southey; once again, lawyers are only incidental to this poem... though here their portrayal as perpetually malevolent forces in society is used more as an accepted cliche which the poem (very subtly) questions. The other cliche in the poem is the 'love-sick poet's sonnet' - but the poem is a sonnet which is anything but love-sick! Hence an implied questioning of the reliability of cliches.) Cheers, Michelle Whitehead