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Poem by John Townsend Trowbridge

Dorothy in the Garret

In the low-raftered garret, stooping
  Carefully over the creaking boards,
Old Maid Dorothy goes a-groping
  Among its dusty and cobwebbed hoards;
Seeking some bundle of patches, hid
  Far under the eaves, or bunch of sage,
Or satchel hung on its nail, amid
  The heirlooms of a bygone age.

There is the ancient family chest,
  There the ancestral cards and hatchel;
Dorothy, sighing, sinks down to rest,
  Forgetful of patches, sage, and satchel.
Ghosts of faces peer from the gloom
  Of the chimney, where with swifts and reel,
And the long-disused, dismantled loom,
  Stands the old-fashioned spinning-wheel.

She sees it back in the clean-swept kitchen,
  A part of her girlhood's little world;
Her mother is there by the window, stitching;
  Spindle buzzes, and reel is whirled
With many a click: on her little stool
  She sits, a child, by the open door,
Watching, and dabbling her feet in the pool
  Of sunshine spilled on the gilded floor

Her sisters are spinning all day long;
  To her wakening sense the first sweet warning
Of daylight come is the cheerful song
  To the hum of the wheel in the early morning.
Benjie, the gentle, red-cheeked boy.
  On his way to school, peeps in at the gate;
In neat white pinafore, pleased and coy,
  She reaches a hand to her bashful mate;

And under the elms, a prattling pair.
  Together they go, through glimmer and gloom:--
It all comes back to her, dreaming there
  In the low-raftered garret room;
The hum of the wheel, and the summer weather.
  The heart's first trouble, and love's beginning,
Are all in her memory linked together;
  And now it is she herself that is spinning.

With the bloom of youth on cheek and lip.
  Turning the spokes with the flashing pin,
Twisting the thread from the spindle-tip,
  Stretching it out and winding it in.
To and fro, with a blithesome tread,
  Singing she goes, and her heart is full,
And many a long-drawn golden thread
  Of fancy is spun with the shining wool.

Her father sits in his favorite place,
  Puffing his pipe by the chimney-side;
Through curling clouds his kindly face
  Glows upon her with love and pride.
Lulled by the wheel, in the old arm-chair
  Her mother is musing, cat in lap,
With beautiful drooping head, and hair
  Whitening under her snow-white cap.

One by one, to the grave, to the bridal,
  They have followed her sisters from the door;
Now they are old, and she is their idol:--
  It all comes back on her heart once more.
In the autumn dusk the hearth gleams brightly,
  The wheel is set by the shadowy wall,--
A hand at the latch,--'tis lifted lightly,
  And in walks Benjie, manly and tall.

His chair is placed; the old man tips
  The pitcher, and brings his choicest fruit;
Benjie basks in the blaze, and sips,
  And tells his story, and joints his flute:
O, sweet the tunes, the talk, the laughter!
  They fill the hour with a glowing tide;
But sweeter the still, deep moments after,
  When she is alone by Benjie's side.

But once with angry words they part:
  O, then the weary, weary days!
Ever with restless, wretched heart,
  Plying her task, she turns to gaze
Far up the road; and early and late
  She harks for a footstep at the door,
And starts at the gust that swings the gate,
  And prays for Benjie, who comes no more.

Her fault? O Benjie, and could you steel
  Your thoughts towards one who loved you so?--
Solace she seeks in the whirling wheel,
  In duty and love that lighten woe;
Striving with labor, not in vain,
  To drive away the dull day's dreariness,--
Blessing the toil that blunts the pain
  Of a deeper grief in the body's weariness.

Proud and petted and spoiled was she:
  A word, and all her life is changed!
His wavering love too easily
  In the great, gay city grows estranged:
One year: she sits in the old church pew;
  A rustle, a murmur,--O Dorothy! hide
Your face and shut from your soul the view--
  'Tis Benjie leading a white-veiled bride!

Now father and mother have long been dead,
  And the bride sleeps under a churchyard stone,
And a bent old man with a grizzled head
  Walks up the long dim aisle alone.
Years blur to a mist; and Dorothy
  Sits doubting betwixt the ghost she seems,
And the phantom of youth, more real than she,
  That meets her there in that haunt of dreams.

Bright young Dorothy, idolized daughter,
  Sought by many a youthful adorer,
Life, like a new-risen dawn on the water,
  Shining an endless vista before her!
Old Maid Dorothy, wrinkled and gray,
  Groping under the farm-house eaves,--
And life was a brief November day
  That sets on a world of withered leaves!

Yet faithfulness in the humblest part
  Is better at last than proud success,
And patience and love in a chastened heart
  Are pearls more precious than happiness;
And in that morning when she shall wake
  To the spring-time freshness of youth again,
All trouble will seem but a flying flake,
  And lifelong sorrow a breath on the pane.

John Townsend Trowbridge

John Townsend Trowbridge's other poems:
  1. The Old Burying-Ground
  2. Menotomy Lake
  3. The Tragedy Queen
  4. An Idyl of Harvest Time
  5. Filling an Order

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