Shakesperian Readings

By Phoebe Cary 1824–1871 Phoebe Cary
Oh, but to fade, and live we know not where,
To be a cold obstruction and to groan!
This sensible, warm woman to become
A prudish clod; and the delighted spirit
To live and die alone, or to reside
With married sisters, and to have the care
Of half a dozen children, not your own;
And driven, for no one wants you,
Round the pendant world; or worse than worse
Of those that disappointment and pure spite
Have driven to madness: ’Tis too horrible!
The weariest and most troubled married life
That age, ache, penury, or jealousy
Can lay on nature, is a paradise
To being an old maid.

That very time I saw, (but thou couldst not,)
Walking between the garden and the barn,
Reuben, all armed; a certain aim he took
At a young chicken standing by a post,
And loosed his bullet smartly from his gun,
As he would kill a hundred thousand hens.
But I might see young Reuben’s fiery shot
Lodged in the chaste board of the garden fence,
And the domesticated fowl passed on,
In henly meditation, bullet free.

My father had a daughter got a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I good-looking,
I should, your lordship.
And what’s her residence?
A hut my lord, she never owned a house,
But let her husband, like a graceless scamp,
Spend all her little means,—she thought she ought,—
And in a wretched chamber, on an alley,
She worked like masons on a monument,
Earning their bread. Was not this love indeed?

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Poet Phoebe Cary 1824–1871


Subjects Reading & Books, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Home Life, Marriage & Companionship, Humor & Satire, Poetry & Poets, Theater & Dance, Disappointment & Failure, Living

Poetic Terms Blank Verse


The sisters ALICE (1820—1871) and PHOEBE CARY (1824—1871) grew up on a farm near Cincinnati, Ohio, in an area later immortalized by Alice’s Clovernook stories. There they immersed themselves in the classics of literature under the tutelage of an older sister whose death in 1833 affected them deeply. Although both published poems while still teenagers, it wasn’t until 1850, after their work had been noticed by such luminaries . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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