Framing Sarah Malcolm
Halfway along the gallery you hang
quietly in shades of grey and yellow
avoiding my gaze, face implacable.
Irish laundress – infamous murderess.
Flanked by kings, courtiers and classical nymphs,
your place assured by Master Hogarth's craft.
Who, two days before your execution,
called to capture you with oils and canvas.
Each brush stroke holds you in static panic,
knowing that as the paint embodies you,
your life unwinds towards its final frame.
A cart, a crowd, a rope, a drop, one breath
before you plunge to trade your mortal pain
for this work of art – this still life.
from the National Gallery of Edinburgh: "Sarah Malcolm was executed in 1733 at the age of 25 for the murder of her mistress Lydia Duncomb and two fellow servants. Malcolm denied having any part in the killing but was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Hogarth sketched her in Newgate Prison in London two days before her execution on 7 March at Fleet Street. Hogarth then went on to make this painting and an engraving, that was popular due to her notoriety. This picture is said to have been bought from the artist by Horace Walpole and was in the Walpole sale at Strawberry Hill on 14 May 1842."
Jane Baston is originally from Oxfordshire. She lived and worked in Lebanon and the USA for a number of years. She has now settled in Scotland where she spends time writing, walking and dancing. Her poetry and reviews have appeared in numerous places including Stand, Mslexia, Rain Taxi and Lunar Poetry. She has also published essays in Studies in English Literature, Prose Studies and Film and Literature Quarterly.
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