Edna St. Vincent Millay ( - )

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

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

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

Theres nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a womans 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 mothers blood crawl,

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

Its lucky for me, lad,
Your daddys in the ground,
And cant 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,
Id not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldnt 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 Ill 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,

To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hours 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 wolfs 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 couldnt break,
And the harp with a womans head
Nobody would take,
For song or pitys 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 couldnt tell where.

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a womans 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 couldnt see,
Were running through the harp-strings

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

She wove a childs 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,
Shes made it for a kings 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,
Shw 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 kings son,
Just my size.

Edna St. Vincent Millay's other poems:
  1. She is Overheard Singing
  2. Pastoral
  3. Sonnets 06: No Rose That In A Garden Ever Grew
  4. MacDougal Street
  5. Three Songs of Shattering

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