George Sterling

(1869-1926 / United States)

The Young Witch - Poem by George Sterling

1698
(Elder Davenport Speaks)

Cry bravely, O town crier,
(And ye, young men, beware!)
How Yale Ratchford, the strong smith,
Is gone God knoweth where!

Yea! the tall smith is gone
And comes not home again.
Though he had a shrewish wife,
He was a man among men.

He shall drink no more ale,
Nor smoke at the tavern door,
Nor sing old songs at his forge,
And wrestle young men no more.

This he got for being so strong,
And this for being so bold
As to have in scorn the white witch
Who slept in her hair of gold.

By the dark pond in the hills
She lived when her dam died,
With a black cat which minded her,
And a black dog at her side.

In pinewood and marshy places
Her low song was sung,
Where long moss is, and toadstools
The hue of a goblin's tongue.

Where got she her sullen mouth
And where her swaying form?
Would she live on eggs and apples
When the blood of men is warm?

All the town people went shy of her
When the Ratchford baby died.
Folk tell how she laughed that day,
And no folk say she cried.

Yale Ratchford cut him a switch
From a hickory at his door,
And he went up among the hills
To see she laughed no more.

There were whispers of a hanging
The day that he went forth,
As had been done by holy men
At Salem in the north.

A bear was shot at Hadlyme
With fur as soft as silk,
And Goodman Ames of Saybrook
Found minnows in the milk.

That night the geese went over,
A-belling for the Pole.
Some say it was the dark hounds
That bay a loosened soul.

But saved, or damned forever,
He comes back home no more,
And we who searched the witch's house
Found grass against the door.

His wife is shrill in question,
As she was shrill ere he left,
For all that she is well-nurtured,
A saver, and right deft.

Now shall be heard much rumor,
And talk at the tavern door;
And if a stranger come from Boston,
They'll tell him o'er and o'er.

It was not wise to go hillward
With hand shut on a switch:
It is not given to young men
To rid the land of a witch—

Not with eyes so wide apart,
And with a face so white!
Not if she wander naked
By a shrunk moon's light!

What shall he do her of service
As the strong do for the fair?
Shall he forge her an iron marriage-ring,
Or shoes for the Devil's mare?

For they ha' gone forever—
Vanished, as men say true,
In blue sky or blue water
Or the wind between the two.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010



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