Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THREE GREAT LADIES, by SARAH NORCLIFFE CLEGHORN



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THREE GREAT LADIES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: They seemed a sort of frame for the town's life
Last Line: Of her familiar saint of self-control.
Subject(s): Women


They seemed a sort of frame for the town's life,
In their old houses, wide with porch and wing,
Bowered with syringa, snowdrop, flowering currant,
On a green street of elms and lawns and leisure,
A quarter of a century ago;
Three powerful New England Abbesses
Dwelling secluded in their Priories.

I

THE VICTORIAN

She drove behind an ambling chestnut horse
In a high stilted buggy; at home she rolled
Like a plump pea about the stately pod
Of her centennial house. She lived at ease
On the invested habits saved and stored
For seventy years; and kept her bygone place
As the Preceptor's wife she once had been,
Up at the old Academy. Plump and smooth
Were her jowls, like an infant's; and not more
Tranquil an infant's breath in sleep, than heaved
The small round of her bodice in the sermon.
When she took lilies-of- the-valley down
To lay them alongside the Latin stone
Upon her scholar-husband's mossy grave
She stooped with placid eyes, and turned away
With placid eyes, contented with herself,
(Or so, at any rate, I always judged)
To think that she had not forgotten him.

II

THE AMAZON

The ample body of this Amazon
(Or if you like to call her an old Roman)
Was like a porcelain stove, where late at night,
Richly and gustily her spirit crackled.
Her tongue was like a flag ripped with the wind.
Her church was one exotic in New England;
And by her countenance there must have been
Latin or Oriental blood in her.
Her ancestors were canny mountain lawyers,
Judges, commissioners, and Congressmen,
Who in their boyhood, ploughing out the rocks
From their broad, beautiful and barren fields,
Held open in the other hand their Blackstone.
This their descendant jeered at sorrow and want,
Dared her old age to come upon her, found
Her loneliness a tonic. In the end,
In her last illness, in her ninetieth year,
She seemed, like a hawk, to fly into the face
Of her own death, and beat it with fierce wings.

III

THE VESTAL

Those thickly gathered, uniformly brown
Skirts, and brown comb in sleekly parted hair,
Still seem to me more nunlike than the veil;
And she more delicately virginal
Than the most soft young sylph; more innocent
Her worn, enduring body of eighty years.
Her pleasant patrimony all was spent
In her fond brother's ventures; she began,
In comfort-loving middle age, to save,
Closely to save and turn; I will not say
To scrimp, of what was so serenely done,
With such a dedicated firmness. More,
As years went by, her face, her house, her ways,
Withdrew into their mould. Time made her face
More and more gaunt, more rigorous and more sweet;
Her house more mystic, stately and forlorn;
It's pictures more symbolic and more strange, --
Pictures of heaven, and of pilgrimage.
Through downward shutters scarcely did the sun
Force in a lath of light to show their strangeness.
Order and peace in her cold kitchen; order
And peace in her faintly warmed sitting-room.
Something about it made you fanciful;
A person might imagine that he heard
Beating of wings, hushed beating of the wings
Of her familiar saint of self-control.





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