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Before The Mirror

by Elizabeth Drew Stoddard, 1895

Now like the Lady of Shalott,
  I dwell within an empty room,
And through the day and through the night
  I sit before an ancient loom.

And like the Lady of Shalott
  I look into a mirror wide,
Where shadows come, and shadows go,
  And ply my shuttle as they glide.

Not as she wove the yellow wool,
  Ulysses' wife, Penelope;
By day a queen among her maids,
  But in the night a woman, she,

Who, creeping from her lonely couch,
  Unraveled all the slender wool;
Or, with a torch, she climbed the towers,
  To fire the fagots on the roof!

But weaving with a steady hand
  The shadows, whether false or true,
I put aside a doubt which asks
  "Among these phantoms what are you?"

For not with altar, tomb, or urn,
  Or long-haired Greek with hollow shield,
Or dark-prowed ship with banks of oars,
  Or banquet in the tented field;

Or Norman knight in armor clad,
  Waiting a foe where four roads meet;
Or hawk and hound in bosky dell,
  Where dame and page in secret greet;

Or rose and lily, bud and flower,
  My web is broidered. Nothing bright
Is woven here: the shadows grow
  Still darker in the mirror's light!

And as my web grows darker too,
  Accursed seems this empty room;
For still I must forever weave
  These phantoms by this ancient loom.

Published in Poems

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