Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Ghost-Bereft (1901)
I. A Misunderstanding
By Jane Barlow (1857–1917)
 
(Connemara. Spring, 1898.)

“’TIS my bitter grief,” she said.
(The western light ebbed, streaming back
Across the ocean-strand that laid
Its frost of foam and rust of wrack
To rim her doorway square and black.        5
Beyond the sill a brooding shade,
Unruffled by the sunset’s wraith
Where from the hearth it glimmered red,
Thronged all her little house with night.
One day that brought her cureless scathe        10
Had sorrow touched her comely head
With sudden snow there set in sight,
The seamew’s wing and merle’s wing mixt
Above kind eyes, and sad and bright,
With folded crease of care betwixt.)        15
  “’Tis my grief: too young and old
Were they all to understand,
When the hunger came and cold;
Though I told them, oft I told,
How the blight was on the land,        20
And the people’s crops around
Lay black-rotted in the ground,
And the good turf gone to loss
In the summer’s teeming rain.
But my talk was all in vain.        25
God forgive me, I’d be cross,
For the children had me vexed,
When it’s asking me they’d keep
From one morning to the next:
Would I give them ne’er a bit?        30
Troth and would I. Deep and steep
I’d have climbed, dear hearts, for it,
Or gone barefoot ten score mile.
But I’d naught, mavrone, I’d naught.
And belike the creatures thought        35
I had plenty all the while.
  “So I’d bid them go to sleep,
Or I’d bid them run and play,
But, poor souls, the live-long day
They’d do nothing else than sit        40
Crouching close about the fire
I was pestered keeping lit
With the driftwood off the shore;
For thin branches, light and small,
Are the best I can drag higher        45
Through this shingle to the door,
Now I’ve no one any more
To be lending me a hand.
  “But the trouble of my trouble,
Whatsoever may befall,        50
Day and night I ne’er forget,
Was my mother there, bent double
Till she looked no size at all
In her little old grey shawl,
With her heart, well knew I, set        55
On her evening cup of tea;
’Deed those times she missed it sore.
When I’d ne’er a grain to wet,
Though a word she wouldn’t say.
  “So, when sunsetting was past,        60
She’d come creeping o’er the floor,
And reach down her cup and plate
Dinny brought her from Belfast—
They be shining yonder yet—
And she’d leave them standing ready.        65
For a sign to show ’twas late.
Then she’d sit again and wait,
Like a lad whose net is cast,
With the little trick she’d planned;
Ah, she’d watch me long and steady,        70
And I’d dread to stir or speak,
But I’d see her how, at last,
Very sorrowful she’d take
And fetch back the empty cup,
Making shift to hang it up        75
With her old hand all ashake;
Maybe thinking in her mind
I’d turned thankless and unkind—
Sure my heart came nigh to break.
  “Many a time I wished to God        80
Not so much that He’d contrive
For the creatures’ bit and sup,
Since the blight’s upon the land,
Scarce a spud left, scarce a sod,
Till the folks can hardly live,        85
And I wouldn’t ask Him aught
That He mightn’t have to give—
But I wished they would be let
Have the sense to understand,
So that less they’d grieve and fret,        90
And be sure I grudged them naught.
’Tis my bitter grief,” she said.
(The listening neighbour duly sought
To speak some witless, kindly word,
That wooeth hope, when hope lies dead.        95
Perhaps she heeded not nor heard,
So far she looked across the strand
And past the lone fields of the sea
Where light down fading paths was fled.)
  “’Tis my heart’s long grief,” said she,        100
  “For they ne’er could understand.”
 
 
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