Poetry Porch: Poetry

Three Balladic Compositions
from “The Margaret-Ghost”
by Julia Budenz

                                                            Cambridge, January 10-11

Dear Leila,

Fair Margaret at her window sat
     And watched the moon-bright sky.
Great Margaret at her window stood
     And saw the sun pass by.

To her the apple tree could speak,
     Her did the roses kiss,
To her the cold came through the cracks
     And froze the buds of bliss.

Far from the window she must roam,
     Far from the harbor sail.
Close to the shore she must go down
     Under the ruthless gale.

Down went her book, too. Now she is
     The written, not the writer.
What knowledge blows on her? She is
     The victim, not the fighter.

The night was black, the night was white,
     The air was snow and sleet.
In glided Margaret’s grimly ghost
     And stood at Julia’s feet.

I was killed once, I was killed twice,
     I am killed yet again.
My life and loveliness are lost
     Through your unlovely pen.

She ceased, but Julia was not moved
     By midnight’s wintry weather.
They stayed there at the windowpane
     Like tree and tree together.


[No. 216]


                                                            Cambridge, March 9

Dear Mariana,

The crocus golden in the sun
     In sun is brief; too soon it dies.
It disappears in sleet and snow.
     I wish I were where Helen lies.

Does he thus speak who sang of love
     And death? Or is the song my own?
Or is it yours? And are you you
     Or are you Margaret all alone?

No Helen would have died for me,
     She said, or would have died for you.
For him she died for whom her heart
     Beat and stopped beating, ever true.

I wish my grave were growing green,
     He said, on fair Kirconnell Lee
And I were lying in her arms
     Who braved dread death to succor me.

Who is burd Helen? Is she love
     Or is she knowledge and the quest
For knowledge or the ultimate:
     Beauty, pure motion and deep rest?

When beauty dies do I die too,
     Unloved, unloving, knowing naught,
Under the ugly wave undone,
     Motionless, restless, placeless, caught?

Why when the snow has disappeared
     And days of golden sun return
Is there no body lying low,
     No crocus corpse to find and mourn?


[No. 228]


                                                            Cambridge, March 15

Dear Mariana,

Blue is the sky and bright the air
     And light or dark the crocus gleams
White, gold, white-purple, purple-white,
     Oh, purple, one in many streams.

Oh, all too late eternity
     Now calls me. I am moribund.
Oh, all too soon infinitude
     Summons. I am not wholly nunned.

High in the sky, low on the earth,
     The Ides are jovial. The god
Laughs and the blossoms laugh and I
     Wander and wonder if I could.


[No. 229]


“Balladic” compositions from “The Margaret-Ghost,” which is Section One of “Knowledge,” which is Part Three of “By the Tree of Knowledge,” which is Book Five of “The Gardens of Flora Baum,” a poem in five books. All of the pieces in this section are “letters” that have some connection with Margaret Fuller (1810-1850). The three given here also have connections with ballads that Margaret Fuller knew and pondered and quoted.

With No. 216 (January 10-11) cf., e.g., “Fair Margaret and Sweet William” (Child 74, esp. 74B) and Margaret Fuller’s letter to William Henry Channing (Cambridge, Mass., probably Sept. 1, 1844) citing lines from this ballad and reflecting upon the names Margaret, William, and Julia. With No. 228 (March 9) and No. 229 (March 15) cf., e.g., “Fair Helen” (Scott, Minstrelsy, vol. 2) and the poem by Margaret Fuller which Fuller attributes to her character Mariana in the fourth chapter of Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 (Boston, 1844) and which she explicitly connects with this ballad.

Copyright © 2009 by Julia Budenz.