Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JENNY DUNLEATH, by ALICE CARY



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JENNY DUNLEATH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Jenny dunleath coming back to the town?
Last Line: Despised of the world's favored women -- and wait.
Subject(s): Homecoming; Spinsters; Old Maids


JENNY DUNLEATH coming back to the town?
What! coming back here for good, and for all?
Well, that's the last thing for Jenny to do, --
I'd go to the ends of the earth, -- wouldn't you?
Before I'd come back! She'll be pushed to the wall.
Some slips, I can tell her, are never lived down,
And she ought to know it. It's really true,
You think, that she's coming? How dreadfully bold!
But one don't know what will be done, nowadays,
And Jenny was never the girl to be moved
By what the world said of her. What she approved,
She would do, in despite of its blame or its praise.
She ought to be wiser by this time -- let's see;
Why, sure as you live, she is forty years old!
The day I was married she stood up with me,
And my Kate is twenty: ah yes, it must be
That Jenny is forty, at least -- forty-three,
It may be, or four. She was older, I know,
A good deal, when she was bridesmaid, than I,
And that's twenty years, now, and longer, ago;
So if she intends to come back and deny
Her age, as 't is likely she will, I can show
The plain honest truth, by the age of my Kate,
And I will, too! To see an old maid tell a lie,
Just to seem to be young, is a thing that I hate.

You thought we were friends? No, my dear, not at all!
'T is true we were friendly, as friendliness goes,
But one gets one's friends as one chooses one's clothes,
And just as the fashion goes out, lets them fall.
I will not deny we were often together
About the time Jenny was in her high feather;
And she was a beauty! No rose of the May
Looked ever so lovely as she on the day
I was married. She, somehow, could grace
Whatever thing touched her. The knots of soft lace
On her little white shoes, -- the gay cap that half hid
Her womanly forehead, -- the bright hair that slid
Like sunshine adown her bare shoulders, -- the gauze
That rippled about her sweet arms, just because
'T was Jenny that wore it, -- the flower in her belt, --
No matter what color, 't was fittest, you felt.
If she sighed, if she smiled, if she played with her fan,
A sort of religious coquettishness ran
Through it all, -- a bewitching and wildering way,
All tearfully tender and graciously gay.
If e'er you were foolish in word or in speech,
The approval she gave with her serious eyes
Would make your own foolishness seem to you wise;
So all from her magical presence, and each,
Went happy away: 't was her art to confer
A self-love, that ended in your loving her.

And so she is coming back here! a mishap
To her friends, if she have any friends, one would say.
Well, well, she can't take her old place in the lap
Of holiday fortune: her head must be gray;
And those dazzling cheeks! I would just like to see
How she looks, if I could without her seeing me.

To think of the Jenny Dunleath that I knew,
A dreary old maid with nobody to love her, --
Her hair silver-white and no roof-tree above her, --
One ought to have pity upon her, -- 't is true!
But I never liked her; in truth, I was glad
In my own secret heart when she came to her fall;
When praise of her meekness was ringing the loudest
I always would say she was proud as the proudest;
That meekness was only a trick that she had, --
She was too proud to seem to be proud, that was all.

She stood up with me, I was saying: that day
Was the last of her going abroad for long years;
I never had seen her so bright and so gay,
Yet, spite of the lightness, I had my own fears
That all was not well with her: 't was but her pride
Made her sing the old songs when they asked her to sing,
For when it was done with, and we were aside,
A look wan and weary came over her brow,
And still I can feel just as if it were now,
How she slipped up and down on my finger, the ring,
And so hid her face in my bosom and cried.

When the fiddlers were come, and young Archibald Mill
Was dancing with Hetty, I saw how it was;
Nor was I misled when she said she was ill,
For the dews were not standing so thick in the grass
As the drops on her cheeks. So you never have heard
How she fell in disgrace with young Archibald! No?
I won't be the first, then, to whisper a word, --
Poor thing! if she only repent, let it go!

Let it go! let what go? My good madam, I pray,
Whereof do I stand here accused? I would know, --
I am Jenny Dunleath, that you knew long ago,
A dreary old maid, and unloved, as you say:
God keep you, my sister, from knowing such woe!
Forty years old, madam, that I agree,
The roses washed out of my cheeks by the tears;
And counting my barren and desolate years
By the bright little heads dropping over your knee,
You look on my sorrow with scorn, it appears.

Well, smile, if you can, as you hold up in sight
Your matronly honors, for all men to see;
But I cannot discern, madam, what there can be
To move your proud mirth, in the wildness of night
Falling round me; no hearth for my coming alight, --
No rosy-red cheeks at the windows for me.

My love is my shame, -- in your love you are crowned, --
But as we are women, our natures are one;
By need of its nature, the dew and the sun
Belong to the poorest, pale flower o' the ground.
And think you that He who created the heart
Has struck it all helpless and hopeless apart
From these lesser works? Nay, I hold He has bound
Our rights with our needs in so sacred a knot,
We cannot undo them with any mere lie;
Nay, more, my proud lady, -- the love you have got,
May belong to another as dreary as I!
You have all the world's recognition, -- your bond, --
But have you that better right, lying beyond? --
Agreement with Conscience? -- that sanction whereby
You can live in the face of the cruelest scorns?
Aye, set your bare bosom against the sharp thorns
Of jealousy, hatred, -- against all the harms
Bad fortune can gather, -- and say, With these arms
About me, I stand here to live and to die!
I take you to keep for my patron and saint,
And you shall be bound by that sweetest constraint
Of a liberty wide as the love that you give;
And so to the glory of God we will live,
Through health and through sickness, dear lover and friend,
Through light and through darkness, -- through all, to the end!

Let it go! Let what go? Make me answer, I pray.
You were speaking just now of some terrible fall, --
My love for young Archibald Mill, -- is that all?
I loved him with all my young heart, as you say, --
Nay, what is more, madam, I love him to-day, --
My cheeks thin and wan, and my hair gray on gray!
And so I am bold to come back to the town,
In hope that at last I may lay my bones down,
And have the green grasses blow over my face,
Among the old hills where my love had its birth!
If love were a trifle, the morning to grace,
And fade when the night came, why, what were it worth?

He is married! and I am come hither too late?
Your vision misleads you, -- so pray you, untie
That knot from your sweet brow, -- I come here to die,
And not make a moan for the chances of fate!
I know that all love that is true is divine,
And when this low incident, Time, shall have sped,
I know the desire of my soul shall be mine, --
That, weary, or wounded, or dying, or dead,
The end is secure, so I bear the estate --
Despised of the world's favored women -- and wait.





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