A Celebration of Women Writers


The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950). New York: Printed for Frank Shay (Flying Cloud Press), 1922.

[Cover] 

THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER

BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY


[Page] 


[Page] 

THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER


[Page] 

BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
Poetry:
A FEW FIGS FROM THISTLES
THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER
RENASCENCE
SECOND APRIL
Plays:
ARIA DA CAPO
THE LAMP AND THE BELL


[Page] 

THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER


[Frontispiece] 


[Title Page] 

THE BALLAD OF THE HARP-WEAVER

BY EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

NEW YORK: Printed for FRANK SHAY
and sold by him at FOUR CHRISTOPHER ST.,
in the shadow of old JEFFERSON MARKET, 1922


[Page] 

Copyright, 1922, by FRANK SHAY
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States by
The Flying Cloud Press
FIRST EDITION


[Page] 

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.

[Page] 

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.

[Page] 

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."

[Page] 

And, oh, but we were silly
  For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
  Dragging on the floor,

A-rock-rock-rocking
  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?

[Page] 

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.

[Page] 

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,

[Page] 

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
  Rapidly,

[Page] 

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.

[Page] 

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,–

[Page] 

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.

Editorial Credits

Provenance of the Text.

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) and published in 1922. The text therefore fell out of copyright and entered the public domain in the United States as of 1998.

For The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver and several other works published in the early twenties, Millay won the the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. The copytext for this on-line edition of The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver belongs to the University of Pittsburgh Library.

Editorial Credits