Thursday, April 11, 2013

Through Them All and Binding Them All

The Thread of Gray
by Ellen Palmer Allerton

I have woven a braid, with patient toil—
'Tis the work of many a day,
There are colors bright, but through them all
Runs a thread of sober gray.

Blue and golden and green and red
I have blended as best I may;
But through them all and binding them all
Runs the thread of sober gray.

The blue and the gold twine out and in,
Like rainbow tints astray;
Then brilliant strands of green and red—
But always the thread of gray.

I know the colors will fade in the sun,
Growing fainter day by day,
Till one from other you scarcely can tell;
But fadeless the thread of gray.

And I think how like to an earnest life,
With its pleasures by the way,
While through them all runs a steady aim,
Like a thread of sober gray.

There are lights and laughter and feast and song,
For labor must have its play—
But over and under and through them all
Runs the thread of sober gray.

The mirth shall fail and the lights grow dim,
And the song shall die away;
But the worker's crown shall be his who keeps
To his thread of sober gray.

Alas for him who into his braid
Weaves only the colors gay!
And alas for the close of the barren life
That loses its thread of gray!

Didactic moral poems are always very difficult to do, but I think this one approaches perfection, with good sense that avoids obvious preachiness, bright imagery, and a structure that fits its theme well. The last of these is particularly impressive: the constancy of the thread of gray is a feature of the poem as well as of the tapestry it is describing. I've said before that the highest standard of poetry is simply that it says something so well that it can't be said better; and Allerton has come pretty close to saying exactly what she wanted to say in a way that can't be said better.

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