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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Mother Margary

By George Shepard Burleigh (1821–1903)

[Born in Plainfield, Conn., 1821. Died, 1903. Poems. 1849. Revised by the Author for this Work. 1888.]

ON a bleak ridge, from whose granite edges

Sloped the rough land to the grisly north,

And whose hemlocks, clinging to the ledges,

Like a thinned banditti straggled forth—

In a crouching, wormy-timbered hamlet

Mother Margary shivered in the cold,

With a tattered robe of faded camlet

On her shoulders—crooked, weak, and old.

Time on her had done his cruel pleasure,

For her face was very dry and thin,

And the records of his growing measure

Lined and cross-lined all her shrivelled skin.

Scanty goods to her had Heaven allotted,

Yet her thanks rose oftener than desire,

While her bony fingers, bent and knotted,

Fed with withered twigs the dying fire.

Raw and dreary were the northern winters;

Winds howled pitiless around her cot,

Or with long sighs made the jarring splinters

Moan the misery she bemoanèd not.

Drifting tempests rattled at her windows,

And hung snow-wreaths round her naked bed;

While the wind-flaws muttered o’er the cinders

Till the last spark struggled and was dead.

Life had fresher hopes when she was younger,

But their dying wrung out no complaints;

Cold, and penury, neglect, and hunger—

These to Margary were guardian saints.

When she sat, her head was prayer-like bending;

When she rose, it rose not any more;

Faster seemed her true heart graveward tending

Than her tired feet, weak and travel-sore.

She was mother of the dead and scattered—

Had been mother of the brave and fair;

But her branches, bough by bough, were scattered

Till her torn heart was left dry and bare.

Yet she knew, though sorely desolated,

When the children of the poor depart,

Their earth-vestures are but sublimated,

So to gather closer in the heart.

With a courage which had never fitted

Words to speak it to the soul it blessed,

She endured, in silence and unpitied,

Woes enough to mar a stouter breast.

There was born such holy trust within her,

That the graves of all who had been dear,

To a region clearer and serener

Raised her spirit from our chilly sphere.

They were footsteps on her Jacob’s ladder;

Angels to her were the loves and hopes

Which had left her purified, but sadder;

And they lured her to the emerald slopes

Of that heaven where anguish never flashes

Her red fire-whip,—happy land, whose flowers

Blossom over the volcanic ashes

Of this blighted, blighting world of ours.

All her power was a love of goodness;

All her wisdom was a mystic faith

That the rough world’s jargoning and rudeness

Turn to music at the gate of death.

So she walked while feeble limbs allowed her,

Knowing well that any stubborn grief

She might meet with could no more than crowd her

To that wall whose opening was relief.

So she lived, an anchoress of sorrow,

Lone and peaceful, on the rocky slope;

And, when burning trials came, would borrow

New fire of them for the lamp of hope.

When at last her palsied hand, in groping,

Rattled tremulous at the grated tomb,

Heaven flashed round her joys beyond her hoping,

And her young soul gladdened into bloom.