Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MY FADED SHAWL, by ALICE CARY



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MY FADED SHAWL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Tell you a story, do you say?
Last Line: The first, last gift of charley.
Subject(s): Gifts & Giving


TELL you a story, do you say?
Whatever my wits remember?
Well, going down to the woods one day
Through the winds o' the wild November,
I met a lad, called Charley.

We lived on the crest o' the Krumley ridge,
And I was a farmer's daughter,
And under the hill by the Krumley bridge
Of the crazy Krumley water,
Lived this poor lad, Charley.

Right well I knew his ruddy cheek,
And step as light as a feather,
Although we never were used to speak,
And never to play together,
I and this poor lad Charley.

So, when I saw him hurrying down
My path, will you believe me?
I knit my brow to an ugly frown, --
Forgive me, oh forgive me!
Sweet shade of little Charley.

The dull clouds dropped their skirts of snow
On the hills, and made them colder;
I was only twelve years old, or so,
And may be a twelve-month older
Was Charley, dearest Charley.

A faded shawl, with flowers o' blue,
All tenderly and fairly
Enwrought by his mother's hand, I knew,
He wore that day, my Charley,
My little love, my Charley.

His great glad eyes with light were lit
Like the dewy light o' the morning;
His homespun jacket, not a whit
Less proudly, for my scorning,
He wore, brave-hearted Charley.

I bore a pitcher, -- 't was our pride, --
At the fair my father won it,
And consciously I turned the side
With the golden lilies on it,
To dazzle the eyes o' Charley.

This pitcher, and a milk-white loaf,
Piping hot from the platter,
When, where the path turned sharply off
To the crazy Krumley water,
I came upon my Charley.

He smiled, -- my pulses never stirred
From their still and steady measures,
Till the wind came flapping down like a bird
And caught away my treasures.
"Help me, O Charley! Charley!

My loaf, my golden lilies gone!"
My heart was all a-flutter;
For I saw them whirling on and on
To the frozen Krumley water,
And then I saw my Charley,

The frayed and faded shawl from his neck
Unknot, with a quick, wise cunning,
And speckled with snow-flakes, toss it back,
That he might be free for running.
My good, great-hearted Charley.

I laid it softly on my arm,
I warmed it in my bosom,
And traced each broider-stitch to the form
Of its wilding model blossom,
For sake of my gentle Charley.

Away, away! like a shadow fleet!
The air was thick and blinding;
The icy stones were under his feet,
And the way was steep and winding.
Come back! come back my Charley!

He waved his ragged cap in the air,
My childish fears to scatter;
Dear Lord, was it Charley? Was he there,
On th' treacherous crust o' th' water?
No more! 't is death! my Charley.

The thin blue glittering sheet of ice
Bends, breaks, and falls asunder;
His arms are lifted once, and twice!
My God! he is going under!
He is drowned! he is dead! my Charley.

The wild call stops, -- the blood runs chill;
I dash the tears from my lashes,
And strain my gaze to th' foot o' th' hill, --
Who flies so fast through the rushes?
My drowned love? my Charley?

My brain is wild, -- I laugh, I cry, --
The chill blood thaws and rallies;
What holds he thus, so safe and high?
My loaf? and my golden lilies?
Charley! my sweet, sweet Charley!

Across my mad brain word on word
Of tenderness went whirling;
I kissed him, called him my little bird
O' th' woods, my dove, my darling, --
My true, true love, my Charley.

In what sweet phrases he replied
I know not now -- no matter --
This only, that he would have died
In the crazy Krumley water
To win my praise, -- dear Charley!

He took the frayed and faded shawl,
For his sake warmed all over,
And wrapped me round and round with all
The tenderness of a lover, --
My best, my bravest Charley!

And when his shoes o' the snows were full, --
Aye, full to their tops, -- a-smiling
He said they were lined with a fleece o' wool,
The pain o' th' frost beguiling.
Was ever a lad like Charley?

So down the slope o' th' Krumley ridge.
Our hands locked fast together,
And over the crazy Krumley bridge,
We went through the freezing weather, --
I and my drowned Charley.

The corn fields all of ears were bare;
But the stalks, so bright and brittle,
And the black and empty husks were there
For the mouths of the hungry cattle.
We passed them, I and Charley.

And passed the willow-tree that went
With the wind, as light as a feather,
And th' two proud oaks with their shoulders bent
Till their faces came together, --
Whispering, I said to Charley:

The hollow sycamore, so white,
The old gum, straight and solemn,
With never the curve of a root in sight;
But set in the ground like a column, --
I, prattling to my Charley.

We left behind the sumach hedge,
And the waste of stubble crossing,
Came at last to the dusky edge
Of the woods, so wildly tossing, -- I and my quiet Charley.

Ankle-deep in the leaves we stood, --
The leaves that were brown as leather
And saw the choppers chopping the wood, --
Seven rough men together, --
I and my drooping Charley.

I see him now as I saw him stand
With my loaf -- he had hardly won it --
And the beautiful pitcher in his hand,
With the golden lilies on it, --
My little saint -- my Charley.

The stubs were burning hear and there,
The winds the fierce flames blowing,
And the arms o' th' choppers, brown and bare,
Now up, now down are going, --
I turn to them from Charley.

Right merrily the echoes ring
From the sturdy work a-doing,
And as the woodsmen chop, they sing
Of the girls that they are wooing.
O what a song for Charley!

This way an elm begins to lop,
And that, its balance losing,
And the squirrel comes from his nest in the top,
And sits in the boughs a-musing.
What ails my little Charley?

The loaf from out his hand he drops,
His eyelid flutters, closes;
He tries to speak, he whispers, stops, --
His mouth its rose-red loses, --
One look, just one, my Charley.

And now his white and frozen cheek
Each wild-eyed chopper fixes,
And never a man is heard to speak
As they set their steel-blue axes,
And haste to the help o' Charley!

Say, what does your beautiful pitcher hold?
Come tell us if you can, sir!
The chopper's question was loud and bold,
But never a sign nor answer:
All fast asleep was Charley.

The stubs are burning low to th' earth,
The winds the fierce flames flaring,
And now to the edge of the crystal hearth
The men in their arms are bearing
The clay-cold body of Charley.

O'er heart, o'er temple those rude hands go,
Each hand as light as a brother's,
As they gather about him in the snow,
Like a company of mothers, --
My dead, my darling Charley.

Before them all (my heart grew bold,)
From off my trembling bosom,
I unwound the mantle, fold by fold,
All for my blighted blossom,
My sweet white flower, -- my Charley.

I have tokens large, I have tokens small
Of all my life's lost pleasures,
But that poor frayed and faded shawl
Is the treasure of my treasures, --
The first, last gift of Charley.





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