To a Shred of Linen

Image from flickr-jennamay

The following article, from the Cincinnati Chronicle, bears upon it the impress of inspiration. It shows how easily the pencil of genius can hallow the most trilling subject. The pen of no ordinary mind could have imparted the playful dignity to a linen rag, which Mrs. Sigourney has thrown around it. There will be few objections to literary ladies, if their “shreds of linen” always receive so beautiful an apotheosis.

TO A SHRED OF LINEN.

Would they swept cleaner!—
Here’s a littering shred
Of linen left behind, —a vile reproach
To all good housewifery. Right glad am I,
That no neat lady, train’d in ancient times
Of pudding making, and of sampler work,
And speckless sanctity of household care,
Hath happened here  to spy thee. She, no doubt,
When looking through her spectacles, would say,
“This comes of reading books:”—or some spruce beau
Essenced and lily-handed, had he chanced
To scan thy slight superfices, ‘twould be
“This comes of writing poetry.”—Well—well—
Come forth—offender!—hast thou aught to say?
Canst thou by merry thought, or quaint conceit,
Repay this risk, that I have run for thee?
——Begin at alpha, and resolve thyself
Into thine elements. I see the stalk
And bright, blue flower of flax, which erst o’erspread
That fertile land, where mighty Moses stretched
His rod miraculous. I see thy bloom
Tinging, though scantly, these New England vales.
But, lo! the sturdy farmer lifts his flail,
To crush thy bones unpitying, and his wife
With ‘kerchief’d head, and eyes brimful of dust,
Thy fibrous nerves, with hatchel tooth divides.

——I hear a voice of music—and behold!
The ruddy damsel singeth at her wheel,
While by her side the rustic lover sits.
Perchance, his shrewd eye secretly doth count
The mass of skeins, which, hanging on the wall,
Increaseth day by day. Perchance his thought,
For men have deeper minds than women—sure!
Is calculating what a thrifty wife
The maid will make; and how his dairy shelves
Shall groan beneath the weight of golden cheese,
Made by her dexterous hand — while many a keg
And pot of butter, to the market borne,
May, transmigrated, on his back appear,
In new thanksgiving coats.

Fain would I ask,
Mine own New England, for thy once loved wheel,
By sofa and piano quite displaced —
Why dost thou banish from thy parlor-hearth
That old Hygean harp, whose magic ruled
Dyspepsia, as the minstrel-shepherd’s skill
Exorcised Saul’s ennui? There was no need,
In those good times, of callisthenics,
And there was less of gadding, — and far more
Of home-born, heartfelt comfort, rooted strong
In industry, and bearing such rare fruit,
As wealth might never purchase.

But come back,
Thou shred of linen. I did let thee drop,
In my harangue, as wiser ones have lost
The thread of their discourse. What was thy lot
When the rough battery of the loom had stretch’d
And knit thy sinews, and the chemist sun
Thy brown complexion bleach’d.

Image from Vagabond Language

Methinks I scan
Some idiosyncrasy, that marks thee out
A defunct pillow-case.—Did the trim guest,
To the best chamber usher’d, e’er admire
The snowy whiteness of thy freshen’d youth
Feeding thy vanity? or some sweet babe
Pour its pure dream of innocence on thee?
Say, hast thou listen’d to the sick one’s moan,
When there was none to comfort?—or shrunk back
From the dire tossings of the proud man’s brow?
Or gather’d from young beauty’s restless sigh
A tale of untold love?

Still, close and mute!—
Wilt tell no secrets, ha! Well then, go down,
With all thy churl-kept hoard of curious lore,
In majesty and mystery, go down
Into the paper-mill, and from its jaws,
Stainless and smooth, emerge. Happy shall be
The renovation, if on thy fair page
Wisdom and truth, their hallowed lineaments
Trace for posterity.  So shall thine end
Be better than thy birth, and worthier bard
Thine apotheosis immortalize.

Alton Observer (Alton, Illinois) Jul 6, 1837

Image from Cynthia’s Linen Room

From History of American Women:

Lydia Sigourney (1791–1865) was a popular poet, essayist and travel writer during the early and mid 19th century. Most of her works were published with just her married name Mrs. Sigourney. Her poetry, like her prose, was about public subjects – history, slavery, missionary work and current events – or treated personal matters, especially loss and death, as experiences common to all. In contrast to Emily Dickinson or Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sigourney wrote for popular consumption, and was among the first American women to establish a successful writing career.

Read more at the  link.

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