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"Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter's pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year's ill,
And prayer to purify the new year's will."
Helen Hunt Jackson, A Calendar of Sonnet's: February
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What does 'penitential' mean in the excerpt below from 'Of Love and Other Demons'?

''Since the maid had not told her where the bite was located, Bernarda raised the girl's chemise and examined her inch by inch, using the light to follow the penitential braid that curled around her body like a lion's tail.''

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