155 To a Shred of Linen

Lydia Sigourney

Would they swept cleaner! –

Here’s a littering shred

Of linen left behind — a vile reproach

To all good housewifery.  Right glad am I,

That no neat lady, train’d in ancient times

Of pudding-making, and of sampler-work,

And speechless sanctity of household care,

Hath happened here, to spy thee.  She, no doubt,

Keen looking through her spectacles, would say,

This comes of reading books:— or some spruce beau,

Essenc’d and lilly-handed, had he chanc’d

To scan thy slight superfices, ‘twould be

“This comes of writing poetry.” – Well – well—

Come forth – offender! – hast thou aught to say?

Canst thou by merry thought, or quaint conceit,

Repay this risk, that I have run for thee?

— Begin at the alpha, and resolve thyself

Into thine elements.  I see the stalk

And bright, blue flower of flax, which erst o’erspread

That fertile land, where mighty Moses stretch’d

His rod miraculous.  I see thy bloom

Tinging, too scantly, these New England vales.


But, lo! The sturdy farmer lifts his fail,

To crush thy bones unpitying, and his wife

With ‘kerchief’d head, and eyes brimful of dust,

Thy fibrous nerves, with hatchel-tooth divides.

— I hear a voice of music – and behold!

The ruddy damsel singeth at her wheel,

While by her side the rustic lover sits.

Perchance, his shrewd eye secretly doth count

The mass of skeins, which, hanging on the wall

Increaseth day by day.  Perchance his thought,

(For men have deeper minds than women—sure!)

Is calculating what a thrifty wife

The maid will make; and how his dairy shelves

Shall groan beneath the weight of the golden cheese,

Made by her dexterous hand, while many a keg

And pot of butter, to the market borne,

May transmigrated, on his back appear,

In new thanksgiving coats.

Fain would I ask,

Mine own New England, for thy once loved wheel,

By sofa and piano quite displac’d.

Why dost thou banish from thy parlor-hearth

That old Hygeian harp, whose magic rul’d

Dyspepsia, as the minstrwl-shepherd’s skill

Exorcis’d Saul’s ennui?  There was no need,

In those good times, of trim calisthenics,

And there was less of gadding, and far more

Of home-born, heart-felt comfort, rooted strong

In industry, and bearing such rare fruit,

As wealth might never purchase.

But come back,

Thou shred of linen.  I did let thee drop,

In my harangue, as wiser ones have lost

The thread of their discourse.  What was thy lot

When the rough battery of the loom had stretch’d

And knit thy sinews, and the chemist sun

Thy brown complexion bleach’d?

Methinks I acan

Some idiosyncrasy, that marks thee out

A defunct pillow-case. – Did the trim guest,

To the best chamber usher’d, e’er admire

The snowy whiteness of thy freshen’d youth

Feeding thy vanity? Or some sweet babe

Pour its pure dream of innocence on thee!

Say, hast thou listen’d to the sick one’s moan,

When there was none to comfort? – or shrunk back

From the dire tossings of the proud man’s brow?

Or gather’d from young beauty’s restless sigh

A tale of untold love?

Still, close and mute!—

Wilt tell no secrets, ha? – Well then, go down,

With all thy churl-kept hoard of curious lore,

In majesty and mystery, go down

Into the paper-mill, and from its jaws,

Stainless and smooth, emerge. – Happy shall be

The renovation, if on thy fair page

Wisdom and truth, their hallow’d lineaments

Trace for posterity.  So shall thine end

Be better than thy birth, and worthier bard

Thine apotheosis immortalise.



Select Poems, Lydia Howard Sigourney, Public Domain


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