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Original Illustrated Publication

WAITING

Sarah Orne Jewett

I can't believe my wedding day was fifty years ago!
This is the second day of March! The clock is ticking slow;
The sun shines in across the room. Just see the folks go by!
I can't remember half of them who nod so pleasantly.

The little English sparrows** flit in the lilac bush outside;
I like to watch the busy things. There's one that's tried and tried
To break a string the children tied around a branch one day;
How hard he pulls it with his beak! Now he has flown away.

So it was fifty years ago! It doesn't seem so long.
I've felt my age more this last year, and yet I'm pretty strong.
I don't do much about the house, but still I know what's done;
I know as well what's going on as Jane or any one.

Jane frets me dreadfully sometimes and yet she's always kind,
She helps me when there is no need and has me on her mind;
She needn't think I'm past all use or that I'm like to fall;
I've never missed my footing yet, though I'm so old and all.

But things don't seem to take my mind that happen nowadays.
I like the folks I used to know; I keep old-fashioned ways;
I read the Psalms and Book of John and find them always new;
And I can knit, but I can't sew same as I used to do.

The young folks think they understand just how to manage life;
We old folks pity them; we've learnt its change and loss and strife.
Life is a fight I tell you plain, it doesn't come to hand
Just as you want to have it come or just as you have planned.

If you'd foretold me how it's been through all these fifty years
I should have been discouraged and had no lack of fears,
And wished I could lie down and die, but somehow I've had strength
That's come to me with every day all through my whole life's length.

I started fair my wedding day, for my dear man was kind
And always pleasant spoken; we were mostly of a mind.
Of course we had our fallings out but nothing that would last;
It always was my fault, for I was young and spoke too fast.

And John, you see, was older by some ten years than I.
At first I was afraid of him when we kept company.
He was a sort of man on whom you felt you could depend,
But very quiet in his ways. His mother was a Friend.**

My hardest time was when he died. It seemed to me 'twas wrong
The Lord should take him out of life and let me drag along
As best I could, with little means and all my children small,
Just when we seemed to see our way and get ahead at all.

But God knows best. If it had been my life had suited me;
If I had had an easy time, and not known poverty,
I should have been a flighty thing without a bit of sense.
I turned my hand to everything -- to knit or build a fence.

There weren't the folks to call on then that I could get to-day,
For help was scarce, the farms were few, and I'd no means to pay.
I went to work with all my might and tried my home to keep.
But I can tell you many a night I've cried myself to sleep.

I know the Lord has prospered me. I've done the best I could,
And I've stood in my lot and place as anybody should.
The farm-land some folks would have sold I held, because I knew
Some day 't would be good property, and all my hopes come true.

I've parted with it piece by piece -- you see the town has grown,
Just as John always said it would. If other folks had known
And had the foresight that he had! Instead of that they told
How I should never get along unless the farm was sold.

My boys grew fast and soon took hold, and then my way was plain,
For all the money they had cost they soon brought back again;
And like a busy hive of bees we were from morn till night;
We had our health, the Lord be thanked! and that made work seem light.

The children all have settled down in good homes of their own,
Excepting Jane, and but for her I should be left alone;
She had her chances too, but then she's not the marrying kind:
I couldn't do without her now, I'm glad she stayed behind.

I'm glad I'm mistress of my house; the children often say
I must break up, that Jane and I were better off to stay
With some of them, for I'm so old and Jane's not over strong;
But I won't listen to their plans; I've made my own too long.

My life seems like a book that's read and put up on the shelf;
I used to be a hurrying round; I don't feel like myself;
Sometimes I'm tired of keeping still, I want to be at work;
I see so many things to do and I don't like to shirk.

I used to have to toil and plan, and now I have to wait,
And I suppose I mustn't fret, but in a future state
I shall be sure to find my place and be some use again,
For there we still shall serve the Lord -- the Scripture says it plain.**

So it's my golden wedding day, though we have been apart
For forty years, and yet John knows that he has kept my heart,
And I know that he looks for me and waits for me to come;
I've tried to do the best I could -- and here or there it's home!



Notes

"Waiting" was published in Our Continent (1:172), April 26, 1882. This publication included etchings by W. T. Smedley. That publication is reproduced graphically below.

English sparrows: Now generally known as the house sparrow, Passer domesticus, this European sparrow was imported to the Americas where it has become one of the most numerous of birds.

a Friend: a member of the Society of Friends or Quakers.

there we still shall serve the Lord: Possible references include: Daniel 7:13-14, and 27; Psalms 102:20-22.

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.



Copy of original publication of "Waiting"

The illustrator is William Thomas Smedley (1858-1920). Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Smedley studied in Philadelphia, New York, and Paris. He worked as an engraver and illustrator, travelling widely to collect images. (Source: Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers). Among the best reproductions of his work available at this site are his illustrations for "The Flight of Betsey Lane" in A Native of Winby.

This poem was available to me only as a photocopy in sections; therefore this copy of the original publication with its illustrations is reconstructed from a photocopy and reduced in size for web presentation. As a result, the print is not really readable, but the illustrations and layout are reasonably plain.



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