OLD BROIDERIES
by Josephine Preston Peabody
[ To C. H. B. ]
Out of the carven chest of treasured things
That holds them dark and breathless, like a tomb,
I lift these scriptured songs of many a loom
That labors now no longer, — nay, nor sings.
And, one by one, their soft unfolding brings
Along the air some touch of ghostly bloom;
The tacit reminiscence of perfume, —
The uncomplaining dust of mouldered springs.
Whether it be from hues, once richly bled
Of rooted flowers, some magic takes the sense,
Or if it be that meek aroma, wed
To flush and sheen and shadow, shaken thence,
Or clinging touch of aging silken thread,
They hold me with a tongueless eloquence.
I marvel how the broiderers could find
So sweet the summer shapes that never fade,
Though some mere passing race of man and maid
Have paled, and wasted, and gone down the wind!
Yet here the toilful art of one could bind
No dream with tenderer woven light and shade,
Than sovran bloom and fruitage, rare arrayed,
Or listless tendrils idly intertwined.
Ah, bitter-sweet! For caged care to slake
Its thirst with joyance of the weed that grows,
The whim of leaf and leaf, and petal-flake,
Whatever way the breath of April blows.
And poor, wise, withered hands with skill to make
The red, unhuman gladness of the rose!
There is a certain damask here, moon-pale,
With the wan iris of a snow on snow,
Or petal against petal cheek ablow.
It wears its glories bride-like, under veil;
But shadowed, half, the blanched folds exhale
Sweet confidence of color; and there grow —
Entwined and severed by the gloom and glow —
Dim vines to muse upon till fancy fail.
I wonder: was it woven in a dream,
When, for a space, one dreamer had his fill
Of perfectness, — all white desires supreme
That lure and mock the thwarted human will?
The worker's dumb. The web lives on, agleam,
Untroubled as a lily, and as still.
Ah, nameless maker at whose heart I guess
Through the surviving fabric! You were one
With potter and with poet, — you that spun
And you that stitched, unsung for it; no less
A part and pulse of all the want and stress
Of effort without end till time be done, —
The lift of longing wings unto the Sun,
Forever beckoned by far loveliness.
O wistful soul of all men, heart I hear
Close beating for the heart that understands,
Kin I deny so often, — now read clear
Across the foreign years and far-off lands,
Let me but touch and greet you, near and dear,
Cherishing these, with hands that love your hands!
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