Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

(1844-1911 / Andover, Massachusetts)

A Woman's Mood - Poem by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

Because you cannot pluck the flower,
You pass the sweet scent by;
Because you cannot have the stars
You will not see the sky


No matter what the fable means
Put into English speech;
No matter what the thing may be
You long for, out of reach.


'T is out of reach, and that 's enough
For you and me for aye,
And understood in that still speech
That souls interpret by.


The 'little language' of a look,
A tone, a turn, a touch,
An eloquence that while it speaketh
Nothing, yet sayeth much.


Suppose that in some steadfast hour
I offered you the hand
Of a woman's faithful friendliness-
Ah, hush! I understand.


I spare you speech, to spare you pain;
Perhaps I 'd spare you more
Than men are made to comprehend,
If, as I said before,


I held to you that open hand,
And you should turn away
I hardly know which one of us
Were hurt the worse that day.


I hardly know the reason why,
But women are so made;
I could not give a man a rose
To see it 'neath his tread.


Although he trod on it, indeed,
To save his very soul
From stifling in the thoughts of me
Its sweetness might enroll.


I 'd rather he should gather it
Within his trembling hand
As sacredly as twilight takes
The shapes of sea and land,


And solemnly as twilight learns,
In lonely, purple state,
Upon the hills the sun has fled
To bide its time, and wait.


For what?-to wait for what, you ask?
I cannot tell, indeed,
For what. I do not know for what.
It is the woman's creed!


I only know I 'd wait, and keep
Steel-loyal and steel-true
Unto the highest hope I held,
Though 't were the saddest, too.


Unto the deepest faith I had
In a created thing;
Unto the largest love I knew,
Though love's delight took wing


And fled away from me, and left
Love's dear regret alone.
The chrism of loving all I could,
And loving only one.


I think the woman I preferred-
If I were such a man-
Might lean out helpfully across
My life's imperfect plan;


Might lend me mercy, grace, and peace
In fashion womanly,
Although I knew her rarest smile
Would never shine on me;


I think I 'd say right manfully,-
And so it all would end,-
Than any other woman's love,
I 'd rather be her friend!


And take the hand she dared not hold,
Before its courage slips,
And take the word she could not speak
From off her grieving lips,


And be to her heart what I could
(We will not mark the line),
And, like a comrade, call her soul
To walk in peace with mine.


A nobler man for that grave peace,
I think, dear friend, I were,
And richer were I than to lose
My love in losing her.


And if I speak a riddle, sir,
That on your fancy jars,-
You know we're talking about flowers,
And thinking about stars!


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, September 7, 2010



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