Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
On an Old Woman Singing
By Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835–1921)
From ‘Titian’s Garden and Other Poems’

SWEET are the songs that I have heard
From green boughs and the building bird;
From children bubbling o’er with tune
While sleep still held me half in swoon,
And surly bees hummed everywhere        5
Their drowsy bass along the air;
From hunters and the hunting-horn
Before the day-star woke the morn;
From boatmen in ambrosial dusk,
Where, richer than a puff of musk,        10
The blossom breath they drifted through
Fell out of branches drenched with dew.
And sweet the strains that come to me
When in great memories I see
All that full-throated quiring throng        15
Go streaming on the winds of song:
Her who afar in upper sky
Sounded the wild Brunhilde’s cry,
With golden clash of shield and spear,
Singing for only gods to hear;        20
And her who on the trumpet’s blare
Sang ‘Angels Ever Bright and Fair,’
Her voice, her presence, where she stood,
Already part of Angelhood.
But never have I heard in song        25
Sweetness and sorrow so prolong
Their life—as muted music rings
Along vibrating silver strings—
As when, with all her eighty years,
With all her fires long quenched in tears,        30
A little woman, with a look
Like some flower folded in a book,
Lifted a thin and piping tone,
And like the sparrow made her moan,
Forgetful that another heard,        35
And sang till all her soul was stirred.
And listening, oh, what joy and grief
Trembled there like a trembling leaf!
The strain where first-love thrilled the bars
Beneath the priesthood of the stars;        40
The murmur of soft lullabies
Above dear unconsenting eyes;
The hymns where once her pure soul trod
The heights above the hills of God,—
All on the quavering note awoke,        45
And in a silent passion broke,
And made that tender tune and word
The sweetest song I ever heard.

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