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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

The Quaker Widow

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

[From Poetical Works. Household Edition. 1883.]

THEE finds me in the garden, Hannah,—come in! ’Tis kind of thee

To wait until the Friends were gone, who came to comfort me.

The still and quiet company a peace may give, indeed,

But blessed is the single heart that comes to us at need.

Come, sit thee down! Here is the bench where Benjamin would sit

On First-day afternoons in spring, and watch the swallows flit:

He loved to smell the sprouting box, and hear the pleasant bees

Go humming round the lilacs and through the apple-trees.

I think he loved the spring: not that he cared for flowers: most men

Think such things foolishness,—but we were first acquainted then,

One spring: the next he spoke his mind; the third I was his wife,

And in the spring (it happened so) our children entered life.

He was but seventy-five; I did not think to lay him yet

In Kennett graveyard, where at Monthly Meeting first we met.

The Father’s mercy shows in this: ’tis better I should be

Picked out to bear the heavy cross—alone in age—than he.

We’ve lived together fifty years: it seems but one long day,

One quiet Sabbath of the heart, till he was called away;

And as we bring from Meeting-time a sweet contentment home,

So, Hannah, I have store of peace for all the days to come.

I mind (for I can tell thee now) how hard it was to know

If I had heard the spirit right, that told me I should go;

For father had a deep concern upon his mind that day,

But mother spoke for Benjamin,—she knew what best to say.

Then she was still: they sat awhile: at last she spoke again,

“The Lord incline thee to the right!” and “Thou shalt have him, Jane!”

My father said. I cried. Indeed, ’twas not the least of shocks,

For Benjamin was Hicksite, and father Orthodox.

I thought of this ten years ago, when daughter Ruth we lost:

Her husband’s of the world, and yet I could not see her crossed.

She wears, thee knows, the gayest gowns, she hears a hireling priest—

Ah, dear! the cross was ours: her life’s a happy one, at least.

Perhaps she’ll wear a plainer dress when she’s as old as I,—

Would thee believe it, Hannah? once I felt temptation nigh!

My wedding-gown was ashen silk, too simple for my taste;

I wanted lace around the neck, and a ribbon at the waist.

How strange it seemed to sit with him upon the women’s side!

I did not dare to lift my eyes: I felt more fear than pride,

Till, “in the presence of the Lord,” he said, and then there came

A holy strength upon my heart, and I could say the same.

I used to blush when he came near, but then I showed no sign;

With all the meeting looking on, I held his hand in mine.

It seemed my bashfulness was gone, now I was his for life:

Thee knows the feeling, Hannah,—thee, too, hast been a wife.

As home we rode, I saw no fields look half so green as ours;

The woods were coming into leaf, the meadows full of flowers;

The neighbors met us in the lane, and every face was kind,—

’Tis strange how lively everything comes back upon my mind.

I see, as plain as thee sits there, the wedding-dinner spread:

At our own table we were guests, with father at the head,

And Dinah Passmore helped us both,—’twas she stood up with me,

And Abner Jones with Benjamin,—and now they’re gone, all three!

It is not right to wish for death; the Lord disposes best.

His Spirit comes to quiet hearts, and fits them for His rest;

And that He halved our little flock was merciful, I see:

For Benjamin has two in heaven, and two are left with me.

Eusebius never cared to farm,—’twas not his call, in truth,

And I must rent the dear old place, and go to daughter Ruth.

Thee’ll say her ways are not like mine,—young people now-a-days

Have fallen sadly off, I think, from all the good old ways.

But Ruth is still a Friend at heart; she keeps the simple tongue,

The cheerful, kindly nature we loved when she was young;

And it was brought upon my mind, remembering her, of late,

That we on dress and outward things perhaps lay too much weight.

I once heard Jesse Kersey say, a spirit clothed with grace,

And pure, almost, as angels are, may have a homely face.

And dress may be of less account: the Lord will look within:

The soul it is that testifies of righteousness or sin.

Thee mustn’t be too hard on Ruth: she’s anxious I should go,

And she will do her duty as a daughter should, I know.

’Tis hard to change so late in life, but we must be resigned:

The Lord looks down contentedly upon a willing mind.