The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond

As part of their unit on Choral Poetry, Eagles read 'The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond' by Charles Causley. It is based on a murder that took place on Bodmin Moor in 1844. On the first reading, we couldn't decide if we had more sympathy for Charlotte or for Matthew, the man who was tried for her murder, but after further research it appeared that the case against Matthew was very strong. 

The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond

Charlotte Dymond, a domestic servant aged eighteen, was murdered near Rowtor Ford on Bodwin Moor on Sunday 14 April 1844 by her young man: a crippled farm-hand, Matthew Weeks, aged twenty-two.  A stone marks the spot.

It was a Sunday evening

And in the April rain

That Charlotte went from our house

And never came home again.

Her shawl of diamond redcloth,

She wore a yellow gown,

She carried the green gauze handkerchief

She bought in Bodmin town.

About her throat her necklace

And in her purse her pay:

The four silver shillings

She had at Lady Day.

In her purse four shillings

And in her purse her pride

As she walked out one evening

Her lover at her side.

Out beyond the marshes

Where the cattle stand,

With her crippled lover

Limping at her hand.

Charlotte walked with Matthew

Through the Sunday mist,

Never saw the razor

Waiting at his wrist.

Charlotte she was gentle

But they found her in the flood

Her Sunday beads among the reeds

Beaming with her blood.

Matthew, where is Charlotte,

And wherefore has she flown?

For you walked out together

And now are come alone.

Why do you not answer,

Stand silent as a tree,

Your Sunday worsted stockings

All muddied to the knee?

Why do you mend your breast-pleat

With a rusty needle’s thread

And fall with fears and silent tears

Upon your single bed?

Why do you sit so sadly

Your face the colour of clay

And with a green gauze handkerchief

Wipe the sour sweat away?

Has she gone to Blisland

To seek an easier place,

And is that why your eye won’t dry

And blinds your bleaching face?

Take me home! cried Charlotte,

‘I lie here in the pit!

A red rock rests upon my breasts

And my naked neck is split!’

Her skin was soft as sable,

Her eyes were wide as day,

Her hair was blacker than the bog

That licked her life away;

Her cheeks were made out of honey,

Her throat was made of flame

Where all around the razor

Had written its red name.

As Matthew turned at Plymouth

About the tilting Hoe,

The cold and cunning constable

Up to him did go:

‘I’ve come to take you, Matthew,

Unto the magistrate’s door.

Come quiet now, you pretty poor boy,

And you must know what for.’

‘She is as pure,’ cried Matthew,

‘As is the early dew,

Her only stain it is the pain

That round her neck I drew!

‘She is as guiltless as the day

She sprang forth from her mother.

The only sin upon her skin

Is that she loved another.’

They took him off to Bodmin,

They pulled the prison bell,

They sent him smartly up to heaven

And dropped him down to hell.

All through the granite kingdom

And on its travelling airs

Ask which of these two lovers

The most deserves your prayers.

And your steel heart search, Stranger,

That you may pause and pray

For lovers who come not to bed

Upon their wedding day,

But lie upon the moorland

Where stands the sacred snow

Above the breathing river,

And the salt sea-winds go.

Charles Causley