"SON," said my mother, When I was knee-high, "You've need of clothes to cover you, And not a rag have I. "There's nothing in the house To make a boy breeches, Nor shears to cut a cloth with Nor thread to take stitches. "There's nothing in the house But a loaf-end of rye, And a harp with a woman's head Nobody will buy," And she began to cry. That was in the early fall. When came the late fall, "Son," she said, "the sight of you Makes your mother's blood crawl,– "Little skinny shoulder-blades Sticking through your clothes! And where you'll get a jacket from God above knows. "It's lucky for me, lad, Your daddy's in the ground, And can't see the way I let His son go around!" And she made a queer sound. That was in the late fall. When the winter came, I'd not a pair of breeches Nor a shirt to my name. I couldn't go to school, Or out of doors to play. And all the other little boys Passed our way. "Son," said my mother, "Come, climb into my lap, And I'll chafe your little bones While you take a nap." And, oh, but we were silly For half an hour or more, Me with my long legs Dragging on the floor, A-rock-rock-rocking To a mother-goose rhyme! Oh, but we were happy For half an hour's time! But there was I, a great boy, And what would folks say To hear my mother singing me To sleep all day, In such a daft way? Men say the winter Was bad that year; Fuel was scarce, And food was dear. A wind with a wolf's head Howled about our door, And we burned up the chairs And sat upon the floor. All that was left us Was a chair we couldn't break, And the harp with a woman's head Nobody would take, For song or pity's sake. The night before Christmas I cried with the cold, I cried myself to sleep Like a two-year-old. And in the deep night I felt my mother rise, And stare down upon me With love in her eyes. I saw my mother sitting On the one good chair, A light falling on her From I couldn't tell where, Looking nineteen, And not a day older, And the harp with a woman's head Leaned against her shoulder. Her thin fingers, moving In the thin, tall strings, Were weav-weav-weaving Wonderful things. Many bright threads, From where I couldn't see, Were running through the harp-strings Rapidly, And gold threads whistling Through my mother's hand. I saw the web grow, And the pattern expand. She wove a child's jacket, And when it was done She laid it on the floor And wove another one. She wove a red cloak So regal to see, "She's made it for a king's son," I said, "and not for me." But I knew it was for me. She wove a pair of breeches Quicker than that! She wove a pair of boots And a little cocked hat. She wove a pair of mittens, She wove a little blouse, She wove all night In the still, cold house. She sang as she worked, And the harp-strings spoke; Her voice never faltered, And the thread never broke. And when I awoke,– There sat my mother With the harp against her shoulder Looking nineteen And not a day older, A smile about her lips, And a light about her head, And her hands in the harp-strings Frozen dead. And piled up beside her And toppling to the skies, Were the clothes of a king's son, Just my size.
Millay was only the third woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Sara Teasdale won it in 1918. We feature both authors' work in our collection of Pulitzer Prize Poetry.
Return to the Edna St. Vincent Millay library , or . . . Read the next poem; The Bean-Stalk