The Ropewalk


    In that building, long and low,
    With its windows all a-row,
        Like the port-holes of a hulk,
    Human spiders spin and spin,
    Backward down their threads so thin
        Dropping, each a hempen bulk.

    At the end, an open door;
    Squares of sunshine on the floor
        Light the long and dusky lane;
    And the whirring of a wheel,
    Dull and drowsy, makes me feel
        All its spokes are in my brain.

    As the spinners to the end
    Downward go and reascend,
        Gleam the long threads in the sun;
    While within this brain of mine
    Cobwebs brighter and more fine
        By the busy wheel are spun.

    Two fair maidens in a swing,
    Like white doves upon the wing,
        First before my vision pass;
    Laughing, as their gentle hands
    Closely clasp the twisted strands,
        At their shadow on the grass.

    Then a booth of mountebanks,
    With its smell of tan and planks,
        And a girl poised high in air
    On a cord, in spangled dress,
    With a faded loveliness,
        And a weary look of care.

    Then a homestead among farms,
    And a woman with bare arms
        Drawing water from a well;
    As the bucket mounts apace,
    With it mounts her own fair face,
        As at some magician's spell.

    Then an old man in a tower,
    Ringing loud the noontide hour,
        While the rope coils round and round
    Like a serpent at his feet,
    And again, in swift retreat,
        Nearly lifts him from the ground.

    Then within a prison-yard,
    Faces fixed, and stern, and hard,
        Laughter and indecent mirth;
    Ah! it is the gallows-tree!
    Breath of Christian charity,
        Blow, and sweep it from the earth!

    Then a school-boy, with his kite
    Gleaming in a sky of light,
        And an eager, upward look;
    Steeds pursued through lane and field;
    Fowlers with their snares concealed;
        And an angler by a brook.

    Ships rejoicing in the breeze,
    Wrecks that float o'er unknown seas,
        Anchors dragged through faithless sand;
    Sea-fog drifting overhead,
    And, with lessening line and lead,
        Sailors feeling for the land.

    All these scenes do I behold,
    These, and many left untold,
        In that building long and low;
    While the wheel goes round and round,
    With a drowsy, dreamy sound,
        And the spinners backward go.


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