I Sit and Sew

By Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson 1875–1935
I sit and sew—a useless task it seems,
My hands grown tired, my head weighed down with dreams—
The panoply of war, the martial tred of men,
Grim-faced, stern-eyed, gazing beyond the ken
Of lesser souls, whose eyes have not seen Death,
Nor learned to hold their lives but as a breath—
But—I must sit and sew.

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—
That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire
On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things
Once men. My soul in pity flings
Appealing cries, yearning only to go
There in that holocaust of hell, those fields of woe—
But—I must sit and sew.

The little useless seam, the idle patch;
Why dream I here beneath my homely thatch,
When there they lie in sodden mud and rain,
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?

NOTES: from The Dunbar Speaker and Entertainer

Source: The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson Volume 2 The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers (Oxford University Press, 1988)

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Poet Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson 1875–1935

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Disappointment & Failure, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Persona

 Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson

Biography

Poet, essayist, diarist, and activist Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to mixed-race parents. Her African American, Anglo, Native American, and Creole heritage contributed to her complex understandings of gender, race, and ethnicity, subjects she often addressed in her work. Her first book, Violets and Other Tales (1895), was published when she was just 20. A writer of short stories, essays, and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Disappointment & Failure, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, War & Conflict, Gender & Sexuality

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Persona

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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