AT THE OLD LADIES’ HOME Poetry/Poem by Ruth Guthrie Harding (1882-?)
THERE in a row of chairs upon the porch
I saw them, women alien from the world,
Set in a niche to watch the world go by:
A few, born saints . . . but some had outworn sin;
Sisters at last, from having done with life.
Here Joan of Arc, grown past her soldier-dream,
And Mariamne, spared her Herod’s wrath,
Forgetting Herod, gossiped for an hour;
While calm Francesca, once knowing Paolo’s love,
Sat knitting peaceful in the noonday sun,
And Nicolette, with Aucassin long gone,
Made painful writing with a wrinkled hand.
“Ah, let me die,” I prayed, “before the glow
Shall leave my body, and before my tears
Shall buy me patience; take me while I feel
The lure-of-things that blesses with its hurt–
Dear God, give me not age!” (For I would keep
You in my heart of hearts . . . for whose sad eyes
These lines are set, O Dearest . . . to the last.)
Just then, among the many faces there,
I glimpsed a face most delicate and pale
And very lovely with that wistfulness
In which the shadows of long sorrow lie;
Meeting my look, she smiled, and, with that smile,
Somehow the lilacs by the iron fence,
The plumed grass brushing low across the path,
Brought back to me an afternoon in May
And a sweet garden where I sometimes played
When I fared forth in gingham pinafore:
I saw Another (dead so many years,
Her name I could not in that hour recall):
Old she had been as ashes in a jar
She kept upon a high, old-fashioned chest
In an old-fashioned room in her still house . . .
Now I remembered with what passionate warmth
A cheek had once been pressed against my cheek,
What frail and trembling arms had lifted me
To touch that silvery dust within the jar.
Perhaps it is God’s will I shall grow old
And none may read beneath my quietness . . .
Gardens in May, or any memory
Of you! And yet for very shame to-night
I change my prayer, and ask for strength to live.