Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FLAX-BEATER, by ALICE CARY



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE FLAX-BEATER, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Now give me your burden, if burden you bear
Last Line: "that demon was thee!"
Subject(s): Death Children; Mothers; Evil


"Now give me your burden if burden you bear,"
So the flax-beater said,
"And press out and wring out the rain from your hair,
And come into my shed;
The sweetest sweet-milk you shall have for your fare,
And the whitest white-bread,
With a sheaf of the goldenest straw for your bed;
Then give me your burden, if burden you bear,
And come into my shed!

"I make bold to press my poor lodging and fare,
For the wood-path is lone,
Aye, lonely and dark as a dungeon-house stair,
And jagged with stone.
Sheer down the wild hills, and with thorn-brush o'ergrown,
I have lost it myself in despite of my care,
Though I'm used to rough ways and have courage to spare;
And then, my good friend, if the truth must be known,
The huts of the settlers that stand here and there
Are as rude as my own.

"The night will be black when the day shall have gone;
'T is the old of the moon,
And the winds will blow stiff, and more stiffly right on,
By the cry of the loon;
Those terrible storm-harps, the oaks, are in tune,
That creaking will fall to a crashing anon;
For the sake of your pitiful, poor little one,
You cannot, good woman, have lodging too soon!

"Hark! thunder! and see how the waters are piled,
Cloud on cloud, overhead;
Mayhap I'm too bold, but I once had a child --
Sweet lady, she's dead --
The daffodil growing so bright and so wild
At the door of my shed
Is not yet so bright as her glad golden head,
And her smile! ah, if you could have seen how she smiled!
But what need of praises -- you too have a child!"
So the flax-beater said.

"Ah, the soft summer-days, they were all just as one,
And how swiftly they sped;
When the daisy scarce bent to her fairy-like tread,
And the wife, as she sat at her wheel in the sun,
Sang sea-songs and ditties of true-love that run
All as smooth as her thread;
When her darling was gone then the singing was done,
And she sewed her a shroud of the flax she had spun,
And a cap for her head.

"See, that cloud running over the last little star,
Like a great inky blot,
And now, in the low river hollows afar,
You can hear the wild waters through driftwood and bar,
Boil up like a pot;
It is as if the wide world was at war,
So give me your burden, if such you have got,
And come to my shed, for you must, will or not."

"Get gone you old man! I've no burden to bear;
You at best are misled!
And as for the rain, let it fall on my hair;
Is that so much to dread,
That I should be begging for lodging and fare
At a flax-beater's shed?
Get gone, and have done with your insolent stare,
And keep your gold straw, if you leave me instead
But the ground for my bed!"
'T was thus the strange woman with wringing wet hair
In her wretchedness said.

"No burden! and what is it then that I trace
Wrapt so close in your shawl?
I remember the look of the dear little face,
And remember the look of the head, round and small,
That I saw once for all
Under thin, filmy folds, like the folds of your shawl!"
"Why, then, 't is my bride-veil and gown, have the grace
To believe -- they are rolled in my kerchief of lace;
And that, old man, is all!"

"Woman! woman! bethink what it is that you say,
Lest it bring you to harm.
A bride-veil and gown are not hid such a way
As the thing in your arm!"
"My good man, my dear man, remember, I pray,
What trifles were sacred your own wedding day,
And leave me my bride-veil and gown hid away
From the fret of the storm.
Oh, soften your heart to accept what I say --
It is these, only these that I have in my arm!"

"Only these! just a touch of this thing, and I know
That my thoughts were misled!
But why turn you pale? and why tremble you so?
If it be as you said,
You have nothing from me nor from mortal to dread."
Her voice fell to sobs, and she hung down her head,
Hugged his knees, kissed his hands, kissed his feet as she said:
"Now spare me, oh spare me this death-dealing blow,
And give me your cold, coldest pity, instead;
I was crazed, and I spake you a lie in my woe;
I am bearing my dead,
To bury it out of my sight, you must know;
But, good and sweet sir, I am wed, I am wed!"

"Unswathe you the corpse, then, and give it to me,
If that all be so well;
But what are these slender blue marks that I see
At the throat? Can you tell?"
"The kisses I gave it as it lay on my knee!"
"And dare you, false woman, to lie so to me?"
"Why, then 't was the spell
And work of a demon that came out of hell."
"Now God give you mercy, if mercy there be,
For the angels that fell,
Because, if there came up a demon from hell,
That demon was thee!"





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