Friday, August 04, 2006

Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)

A name is always favorable to Anonymous. So biography brings a poet closer to me. Dora Sigerson Shorter, whom I named in the previous post with her poem, "Beware," was an Irish poet and writer who was born in Dublin. Her father was a surgeon and her mother was a writer, doubtlessly having an affect upon daughter Dora.

Shorter also wrote collections of short stories, brief and tragic and spun out of her Irish heritage. My online search turned up her Father Confessor Stories of Death and Danger. Of this group, "Priscilla" is a posthumous profile of a village mystery woman and spinster, whose coveted and locked box revealed not treasures but the faded satin of an unused wedding dress and the bound love letters of her unfaithful paramour. "Transmigration," another from this collection is a winding tale written without regard to the reader's need for tension and climax. It stopped me from reading more of her short stories.

Shorter was friends with another Irish literary star, Katherine Tynan (1861-1931), who in her lifetime, produced over 100 novels, three autoboigraphical pieces and books of poetry. Tynan is connected with WB Yeats and both women were literary precedents to another Dubliner, James Joyce.

Shorter's poetry isn't beckoning me from any of my usual interests. They're fables with aphorisms built into the narrative. Most are dark, despairing and firmly located in place. Additional Shorter poems at this site and here is the poem, The Comforters.

I'm posting " The White Witch," which is longer tha "Beware" but uses the same rhyme scheme (A B C B) and four-line stanzas. (Perhaps there's a name for this pattern?) The voice is a fluid quickstep (or jig) with a countenance similar to her prose: dark romance, jilted love and mythical Irish characters.

The White Witch

Heaven help your home to-night,
MacCormac; for I know
A white witch woman is your bride:
You married for your woe.

You thought her but a simple maid
That roamed the mountain-side;
She put the witch’s glance on you,
And so became your bride.

But I have watched her close and long
And know her all too well;
I never churned before her glance
But evil luck befell.

Last week the cow beneath my hand
Gave out no milk at all;
I turned, and saw the pale-haired girl
Lean laughing by the wall.

“A little sup,” she cried, “for me;
The day is hot and dry.”
“Begone!” I said, “you witch’s child,”
She laughed a loud good-bye.

And when the butter in the churn
Will never rise, I see
Beside the door the white witch girl
Has got her eyes on me.

At dawn to-day I met her out
Upon the mountain-side,
And all her slender finger-tips
Were each a crimson dyed.

Now I had gone to seek a lamb
The darkness sent astray:
Sore for a lamb the dawning winds
And sharp-beaked birds of prey.

But when I saw the white witch maid
With blood upon her gown,
I said, “I’m poorer by a lamb;
The witch has dragged it down.”

And “Why is this, your hands so red
All in the early day?”
I seized her by the shoulder fair,
She pulled herself away.

“It is the raddle on my hands,
The raddle all so red,
For I have marked MacCormac’s sheep
And little lambs,” she said.

“And what is this upon your mouth
And on your cheek so white?”
“Oh, it is but the berries’ stain”;
She trembled in her fright.

“I swear it is no berries’ stain,
Nor raddle all so red;”
I laid my hands about her throat,
She shook me off, and fled.

I had not gone to follow her
A step upon the way,
When came I to my own lost lamb,
That dead and bloody lay.

“Come back,” I cried, “you witch’s child,
Come back and answer me:”
But no maid on the mountain-side
Could ever my eyes see.

I looked into the glowing east,
I looked into the south,
But did not see the slim young witch,
With crimson on her mouth.

Now, though I looked both well and long,
And saw no woman there,
Out from the bushes by my side
There crept a snow-white hare.

With knife in hand, I followed it
By ditch, by bog, by hill;
I said, “Your luck be in your feet,
For I shall do you ill.

I said, “Come, be you fox or hare,
Or be you mountain maid,
I’ll cut the witch’s heart from you,
For mischief you have made.”

She laid her spells upon my path,
The brambles held and tore,
The pebbles slipped beneath my feet,
The briars wounded sore.

And then she vanished from my eyes
Beside MacCormac’s farm,
I ran to catch her in the house
And keep the man from harm.

She stood with him beside the fire,
And when she saw my knife,
She flung herself upon his breast
And prayed he’d save her life.

“The woman is a witch,” I cried,
“So cast her off from you;”
“She’ll be my wife to-day,” he said,
“Be careful what you do!”

“The woman is a witch,” I said;
He laughed both loud and long:
She laid her arms about his neck,
Her laugh was like a song.

“The woman is a witch,” he mocked,
And laughed both long and loud;
She bent her head upon his breast,
Her hair was like a cloud.

I said, “See blood upon her mouth
And on each finger tip!”
He said, “I see a pretty maid,
A rose upon her lip.”

He took her slender hand in his
To kiss the stain away—
Oh, well she cast her spell on him,
What could I do but pray?

“May heaven guard your house to-night!”
I whisper as I go,
“For you have won a witch for bride,
And married for your woe.”

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