The Ballad of the Harp Weaver

“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,

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 upon 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

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.