Main Contents & Search
How slender is the cord that binds
In friendship sympathizing minds**
In this cold world below,
Yet, gently touched, unworn 't will last
Until life's earthly day is passed,
And still will stronger grow.
But our cold breath will sometimes make
The strongest friendship sever, break,
When gales could have no power.
Tis not the storms of pelting rain
That casts the mildew on the grain,
But misty clouds that lower.
The massive iron rent in two,
Still may be joined as strong as new,
Yes, just the very same;
But friendship shattered, never more
Can be the same as 'twas before,
Altho' it bear the name.
When one leaf's withered on the flower,
Is lost to us its primal power,
However balmy sweet.
We value not the faded rose,
No joy to us it e'er bestows,
But cast it at our feet.
Yet, did each blossom, fresh and fair,
Remain in all its fragrance there,
No power but death could sever.
The more the storm that flower should wring,
The closer to it should we cling,
Nor leave it friendless, never.
"Friendship" appeared in The Cornucopia, published for the Strawberry Festival and Fair of the Congregational Church, South Berwick, ME., June 22, 1871. The poem was published anonymously. Some readers believe Jewett to be the author, but this has not been confirmed. The text is available courtesy of the Old Berwick Historical Society.
slender is the cord: Possibly an allusion to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Research: Laura Crow.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
Is this poem by Sarah Orne Jewett?
This is a forum for discussing this question. If you would like to present a position on any aspect of this question, send a short explanation to the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project site manager (see Home Page / Project Intro).
"Friendship IS by Jewett"
Sharon K. Sedlacek
May 4, 2004
"Discontent" and "Friendship"
I think Jewett wrote both of these poems because they both contain a sense of Jewett's spirituality. Both of the poems contain a type of moral message, and while "Discontent" is directed towards children, "Friendship" seems more mature and directed toward adults. It almost seems as if "Friendship" was written after "Discontent." I think they are both about being the best person you can be, regardless of circumstances, yet "Friendship" carries the message further and also says to be the best friend you can be, even in difficult times.
Jewett uses the image of a flower in both poems, with elements of nature in both of them, but the images in "Friendship" are more complex. In "Discontent," the buttercup who wishes she was a daisy, "all trig and tall," and who wants "frills around her neck," droops and hides because she wants to be something she is not. She is told by the robin she is being silly for only caring about appearances, and for wishing for something that is not essential in life. The advice to the buttercup is to be the best little flower she can be, and not to think of any other flower as being above her, as God intended her to be exactly what she was.
There are some powerful and conflicting images in "Friendship." Friendship is a slender cord that binds like-minds in this cold world, yet gently touched grows stronger. But something as light as cold breath will sever the strongest friendship. It's not strong gales and storms that do damage, but misty clouds that lower (threaten, diminish), which mildews the grain. I think she compares this image to what ruins friendship - it's not sudden outbursts but insinuating threats and dark anger held inside (coldness) that shatters it. This could possibly be compared to the buttercup who is drooping and hiding from her situation - it is about not being honest and open with yourself or others. But I think above all, both poems are about trust - trust in self and trust in others.
The idea that something as massive as iron that has been severed can be made whole again is compared to the fragile bonds of friendship that once shattered, (trust) can never be the same again. But Jewett portrays that finding one withered leaf on the flower doesn't require throwing away the whole flower, because there still remains the lingering sweetness of its blossoms. Just as the robin told the buttercup, you are worth something because God made you the way He did, so is friendship worth holding onto because there is a type of spirituality involved within the relationship. Friendship is one of those "unwriteable" or transcendent things that we should always appreciate. We should cling to the flower of friendship, no matter how stormy the situation, and we should never ignore it because it has faded, but we should embrace it and "leave it friendless never." I think "Discontent" tells us to value self, not to cast away ourselves for something else, or to put others above ourselves. On the other hand, "Friendship" tells us to value others, not to cast them away, and not to put ourselves above others. There is a spirituality and rightness in both poems that feel Jewett-like.
Main Contents & Search