Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PENELOPE'S CHRISTMAS DANCE, by VIRGINIA WOODWARD CLOUD



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PENELOPE'S CHRISTMAS DANCE, by            
First Line: Mistress penelope penwick, she
Last Line: "called by her father, ""my sweet p."
Variant Title(s): The Ballad Of Sweet P
Subject(s): American Revolution; Christmas; Trenton, Battle Of (1776); Nativity, The


MISTRESS PENELOPE PENWICK, she,
Called by her father, "My Sweet P,"
Painted by Peale, she won renown
In a clinging, short-waisted satin gown;
A red rose touched by her finger-tips
And a smile held back from her roguish lips.

Thus, William Penwick, the jolly wight,
In clouds of smoke, night after night,
Would tell a tale in delighted pride,
To cronies, who came from far and wide;
Always ending (with candle, he)
"And this is the picture of my Sweet P!"

The tale? 'T was how Sweet P did chance
To give to the British a Christmas dance.
Penwick's house past the outpost stood,
Flanked by the ferry and banked by the wood.
Hessian and British quartered there
Swarmed through chamber and hall and stair.

Fires ablaze and candles alight,
Soldier and officer feasted that night.
The enemy? Safe, with a river between,
Black and deadly and fierce and keen;
A river of ice and a blinding storm! --
So they made them merry and kept them warm.

But while they mirth and roistering made,
Up in her dormer window stayed
Mistress Penelope Penwick apart,
With fearful thought and sorrowful heart.
Night by night had her candle's gleam
Sent through the dark its hopeful beam.

But the nights they came and they passed again,
With never a sign from her countrymen;
For where beat the heart so brave, so bold,
Which could baffle that river's bulwark cold?
Penelope's eyes and her candle's light
Were mocked by the storm that Christmas night.

But lo, full sudden a missile stung
And shattered her casement pane and rung
At her feet! 'T was a word from the storm outside.
She opened her dormer window wide.
A wind-swept figure halted below --
The ferryman, old and bent and slow.
Then a murmur rose upward -- only one,
Thrilling and powerful -- "Washington!"

With jest and laughter and candles bright,
'T was two by the stairway clock that night,
When Penelope Penwick tripped her down,
Dressed in a short-waisted satin gown,
With a red rose (cut from her potted bush).
There fell on the rollicking crowd a hush.

She stood in the soldiers' midst, I ween,
The daintiest thing they e'er had seen!
And swept their gaze with her eyes most sweet,
And patted her little slippered feet.
"'T is Christmas night, sirs," quoth Sweet P,
"I should like to dance! Will you dance with me?"

Oh, but they cheered; ran to and fro,
And each for the honor bowed him low.
With smiling charm and witching grace
She chose him pranked with officer's lace
And shining buttons and dangling sword;
No doubt he strutted him proud as a lord!

Doffed with enmity, donned with glee, --
Oh, she was charming, that Sweet P!
And when it was over, and blood aflame,
Came an eager cry for "A game!" "A game!"
"We'll play at forfeits," Penelope cried.
"If one holdeth aught in his love and pride,

"Let each lay it down at my feet in turn,
And a fine from me shall he straightway learn!"
What held they all in their love and pride?
Straight flew a hand unto every side;
Each man had a sword and nothing more,
And the swords they clanged in a heap on the floor.

Standing there, in her satin gown,
With candlelight on her yellow crown,
And at her feet a bank of steel
(I'll wager that look was caught by Peale!)
Penelope held her rose on high --
"I fine each one for a leaf to try!"

She plucked the petals and blew them out,
A rain of red they fluttered about.
Over the floor and through the air
Rushed the officers here and there;
When lo! a cry! The door burst in!
"The enemy!" Tumult, terror, and din'

Flew a hand unto every side, --
Swords? -- Penelope, arms thrown wide
Leapt that heap of steel before;
Swords behind her upon the floor;
Facing her countrymen staunch and bold,
Who dared the river of death and cold,
Who swept them down on a rollicking horde
And found they never a man with sword!

And so it happened (but not by chance),
In '76 there was given a dance
By a witch with a rose and a satin gown
(Painted in Philadelphia town),
Mistress Penelope Penwick, she,
Called by her father, "My Sweet P."





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