The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems


Edna St. Vincent Millay

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This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:40.

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eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

Table of Contents

  1. A Visit to the Asylum
  2. The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver
  3. The Concert
  4. Departure
  5. Feast
  6. Sonnets
    1. “I know I am but summer to your heart,”
    2. “I shall go back again to the bleak shore”
    3. “Oh, Oh, you will be sorry for that word”
    4. “Pity me not because the light of day”
    5. “Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly”
    6. “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,”
  7. The Wood Road

A Visit to the Asylum

Once from a big, big building,
When I was small, small,
The queer folk in the windows
Would smile at me and call.

And in the hard wee gardens
Such pleasant men would hoe:
“Sir, may we touch the little girl’s hair!” —
It was so red, you know.

They cut me coloured asters
With shears so sharp and neat,
They brought me grapes and plums and pears
And pretty cakes to eat.

And out of all the windows,
No matter where we went,
The merriest eyes would follow me
And make me compliment.

There were a thousand windows,
All latticed up and down.
And up to all the windows,
When we went back to town,

The queer folk put their faces,
As gentle as could be;
“Come again, little girl!” they called, and I
Called back, “You come see me!”

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

“Son,” said my mother,
 When I was knee-high,
“you’ve need of clothes to cover you,
 and not a rag have I.

“There’s nothing in the house
 To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with,
 Nor thread to take stitches.

“There’s nothing in the house
 But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
 Nobody will buy,”
 And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
 When came the late fall,
“Son,” she said, “the sight of you
 Makes your mother’s blood crawl, —

“Little skinny shoulder-blades
 Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
 God above knows.

“It’s lucky for me, lad,
 Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
 His son go around!”
 And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
 When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
 Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn’t go to school,
 Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
 Passed our way.

“Son,” said my mother,
 “Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
 While you take a nap.”

And, oh, but we were silly
 For half and hour or more,
Me with my long legs,
 Dragging on the floor,

A-rock-rock-rocking
 To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
 For half an hour’s time!

But there was I, a great boy,
 And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
 To sleep all day,
 In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
 Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
 And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf’s head
 Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
 And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
 Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
 Nobody would take,
 For song or pity’s sake.

The night before Christmas
 I cried with cold,
I cried myself to sleep
 Like a two-year old.

And in the deep night
 I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
 With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
 On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
 From I couldn’t tell where.

Looking nineteen,
 And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
 Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
 In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
 Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
 From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings
 Rapidly,

And gold threads whistling
 Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
 And the pattern expand.

She wove a child’s jacket,
 And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
 And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
 So regal to see,
“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
 I said, “and not for me.”
 But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
 Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
 And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
 She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
 In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
 And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
 And the thread never broke,
 And when I awoke, —

There sat my mother
 With the harp against her shoulder,
Looking nineteeen,
 And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
 And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
 Frozen dead.

And piled beside her
 And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
 Just my size.

The Concert

No, I will go alone.
I will come back when it’s over.
Yes, of course I love you.
No, it will not be long.
Why may you not come with me? —
You are too much my lover.
You would put yourself
Between me and song.

If I go alone,
Quiet and suavely clothed,
My body will die in its chair,
And over my head a flame,
A mind that is twice my own,
Will mark with icy mirth
The wise advance and retreat
Of armies without a country,
Storming a nameless gate,
Hurling terrible javelins down
From the shouting walls of a singing town

Where no women wait!
Armies clean of love and hate,
Marching lines of pitiless sound
Climbing hills to the sun and hurling
Golden spears to the ground!
Up the lines a silver runner
Bearing a banner whereon is scored
The milk and steel of a bloodless wound
Healed at length by the sword!

You and I have nothing to do with music.
We may not make of music a filigree frame,
Within which you and I,
Tenderly glad we came,
Sit smiling, hand in hand.

Come now, be content.
I will come back to you, I swear I will;
And you will know me still.
I shall be only a little taller
Than when I went.

Departure

It’s little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it’s little I care;
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.

It’s little I know what’s in my heart,
What’s in my mind it’s little I know,
But there’s that in me must up and start,
And it’s little I care where my feet go.

I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Nor the roof of a house, nor the eyes of a face.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it’s little enough I care:
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.

‘Is something the matter, dear,’ she said,
‘That you sit at your work so silently?’
‘No, mother, no, ’twas a knot in my thread.
There goes the kettle, I’ll make the tea.’

Feast

I drank at every vine.
The last was like the first.
I came upon no wine
So wonderful as thirst.

I gnawed at every root.
I ate of every plant.
I came upon no fruit
So wonderful as want.

Feed the grape and bean
To the vintner and monger:
I will lie down lean
With my thirst and my hunger.

Sonnets

I

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.

II

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed will escape my door
But by a yard or two, and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand;
I shall be gone to what I understand
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung;
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.

III

Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give me back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard,
“What a big book for such a little head!”
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!
Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more:
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

IV

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at ever turn.

V

Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly
Of all the things that are the outward you,
And my gaze wanders ere your tale is through
To webs of my own weaving, or I see
Abstractedly your hands about your knee
And wonder why I love you as I do,
Then I recall, “Yet Sorrow thus he drew “;
Then I consider, “Pride thus painted he.”
Oh, friend, forget not, when you fain would note
In me a beauty that was never mine,
How first you knew me in a book I wrote,
How first you loved me for a written line:
So are we bound till broken is the throat
Of Song, and Art no more leads out the Nine.

VI

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows it boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The Wood Road

If I were to walk this way
Hand in hand with Grief,
I should mark that maple-spray
Coming into leaf.
I should note how the old burrs
Rot upon the ground.
Yes, though Grief should know me hers
While the world goes round,
It could not if truth be said
This was lost on me:
A rock-maple showing red,
Burrs beneath a tree.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005