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  4. Before the Mirror by Elizabeth Drew Barstow Stoddard
Before the Mirror

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Now like the Lady of Shalott,
   I dwell within an empty room,
And through the day and through the night
   I sit before an ancient loom.

And like the Lady of Shalott
   I look into a mirror wide,
Where shadows come, and shadows go,
   And ply my shuttle as they glide.

Not as she wove the yellow wool,
   Ulysses’ wife, Penelope;
By day a queen among her maids,
   But in the night a woman, she,

Who, creeping from her lonely couch,
   Unraveled all the slender woof;
Or, with a torch, she climbed the towers,
   To fire the fagots on the roof!

But weaving with a steady hand
   The shadows, whether false or true,
I put aside a doubt which asks
   ‘Among these phantoms what are you?’

For not with altar, tomb, or urn,
   Or long-haired Greek with hollow shield,
Or dark-prowed ship with banks of oars,
   Or banquet in the tented field;

Or Norman knight in armor clad,
   Waiting a foe where four roads meet;
Or hawk and hound in bosky dell,
   Where dame and page in secret greet;

Or rose and lily, bud and flower,
   My web is broidered. Nothing bright
Is woven here: the shadows grow
   Still darker in the mirror’s light!

And as my web grows darker too,
   Accursed seems this empty room;
For still I must forever weave
   These phantoms by this ancient loom.


Source: She Wields a Pen: American Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (University of Iowa Press, 1997)
Before the Mirror

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