Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
Her Letter
By Bret Harte (1836–1902)
 
From “Complete Poetical Works”

I’M sitting alone by the fire,
  Dressed just as I came from the dance,
In a robe even you would admire—
  It cost a cool thousand in France;
I’m be-diamonded out of all reason,        5
  My hair is done up in a cue:
In short, sir, “the belle of the season”
  Is wasting an hour on you.
 
A dozen engagements I’ve broken;
  I left in the midst of a set;        10
Likewise a proposal, half-spoken,
  That waits—on the stairs—for me yet.
They say he’ll be rich—when he grows up—
  And then he adores me indeed.
And you, sir, are turning your nose up,        15
  Three thousand miles off, as you read.
 
“And how do I like my position?”
  “And what do I think of New York?”
“And now, in my higher ambition,
  With whom do I waltz, flirt, or talk?”        20
“And is n’t it nice to have riches,
  And diamonds and silks, and all that?”
“And is n’t it a change to the ditches
  And tunnels of Poverty Flat?”
 
Well, yes—if you saw us out driving        25
  Each day in the Park, four-in-hand—
If you saw poor dear mama contriving
  To look supernaturally grand—
If you saw papa’s picture, as taken
  By Brady, and tinted at that—        30
You’d never suspect he sold bacon
  And flour at Poverty Flat.
 
And yet, just this moment, when sitting
  In the glare of the grand chandelier—
In the bustle and glitter befitting        35
  The “finest soirée of the year”—
In the mists of a gaze de Chambéry,
  And the hum of the smallest of talk—
Somehow, Joe, I thought of the “Ferry,”
  And the dance that we had on “The Fork”;        40
 
Of Harrison’s barn, with its muster
  Of flags festooned over the wall;
Of the candles that shed their soft luster
  And tallow on head-dress and shawl;
Of the steps that we took to one fiddle;        45
  Of the dress of my queer vis-à-vis,
And how I once went down the middle
  With the man that shot Sandy McGee;
 
Of the moon that was quietly sleeping
  On the hill, when the time came to go;        50
Of the few baby peaks that were peeping
  From under their bedclothes of snow;
Of that ride—that to me was the rarest;
  Of—the something you said at the gate.
Ah, Joe, then I was n’t an heiress        55
  To “the best-paying lead in the State!”
 
Well, well, it’s all past; yet it’s funny
  To think, as I stood in the glare
Of fashion and beauty and money,
  That I should be thinking, right there,        60
Of some one who breasted high water,
  And swam the North Fork, and all that,
Just to dance with old Folinsbee’s daughter,
  The Lily of Poverty Flat.
 
But goodness! what nonsense I’m writing!        65
  (Mama says my taste still is low),
Instead of my triumphs reciting,
  I’m spooning on Joseph—heigh-ho!
And I’m to be “finished” by travel—
  Whatever’s the meaning of that—        70
Oh! why did papa strike pay gravel
  In drifting on Poverty Flat?
 
Good night—here’s the end of my paper;
  Good night—if the longitude please—
For maybe, while wasting my taper,        75
  Your sun’s climbing over the trees.
But know, if you haven’t got riches,
  And are poor, dearest Joe, and all that,
That my heart’s somewhere there in the ditches,
  And you’ve struck it—on Poverty Flat.        80
 
 
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