US: Poem: The Ropewalk Pubdate: 1859 Source: The Courtship of Miles Standish, and other poems Author: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Publisher: Ticknor and Fields Pages 171-174


IN that building, long and low, With its windows all a-row, Like the port-holes of a hulk, Human spiders spin and spin, Backward down their threads so thin Dropping, each a hempen bulk.

At the end, an open door; Squares of sunshine on the floor Light the long and dusky lane; And the whirring of a wheel, Dull and drowsy, makes me feel All its spokes are in my brain.

As the spinners to the end Downward go and reascend, Gleam the long threads in the sun; While within this brain of mine Cobwebs brighter and more fine By the busy wheel are spun.

Two fair maidens in a swing, Like white doves upon the wing, First before my vision pass; Laughing, as their gentle hands Closely clasp the twisted strands, At their shadow on the grass.

Then a booth of mountebanks, With its smell of tan and planks, And a girl poised high in air On a cord, in spangled dress, With a faded loveliness, And a weary look of care.

Then a homestead among farms, And a woman with bare arms Drawing water from a well; As the bucket mounts apace, With it mounts her own fair face, As at some magician's spell.

Then an old man in a tower, Ringing loud the noontide hour, While the rope coils round and round Like a serpent at his feet, And again, in swift retreat, Nearly lifts him from the ground.

Then within a prison-yard, Faces fixed, and stern, and hard, Laughter and indecent mirth; Ah! it is the gallows-tree! Breath of Christian charity, Blow, and sweep it from the earth!

Then a school-boy, with his kite Gleaming in a sky of light, And an eager, upward look; Steeds pursued through lane and field; Fowlers with their snares concealed; And an angler by a brook. Ships rejoicing in the breeze, Wrecks that float o'er unknown seas, Anchors dragged through faithless sand; Sea-fog drifting overhead,

And, with lessening line and lead, Sailors feeling for the land. All these scenes do I behold, These, and many left untold, In that building long and low; While the wheel goes round and round, With a drowsy, dreamy sound, And the spinners backward go.