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The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

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“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 an 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 on 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 the 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 nineteen
   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 up beside her
   And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
   Just my size.

Source: The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (Flying Cloud Press, 1922)
The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

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