Dolly Varden

A poem by Francis Bret Harte

Dear Dolly! who does not recall
The thrilling page that pictured all
Those charms that held our sense in thrall
Just as the artist caught her,
As down that English lane she tripped,
In bowered chintz, hat sideways tipped,
Trim-bodiced, bright-eyed, roguish-lipped,
The locksmith’s pretty daughter?

Sweet fragment of the Master’s art!
O simple faith! O rustic heart!
O maid that hath no counterpart
In life’s dry, dog-eared pages!
Where shall we find thy like? Ah, stay!
Methinks I saw her yesterday
In chintz that flowered, as one might say,
Perennial for ages.

Her father’s modest cot was stone,
Five stories high; in style and tone
Composite, and, I frankly own,
Within its walls revealing
Some certain novel, strange ideas:
A Gothic door with Roman piers,
And floors removed some thousand years,
From their Pompeian ceiling.

The small salon where she received
Was Louis Quatorze, and relieved
By Chinese cabinets, conceived
Grotesquely by the heathen;
The sofas were a classic sight,
The Roman bench (sedilia hight);
The chairs were French in gold and white,
And one Elizabethan.

And she, the goddess of that shrine,
Two ringed fingers placed in mine,
The stones were many carats fine,
And of the purest water,
Then dropped a curtsy, far enough
To fairly fill her cretonne puff
And show the petticoat’s rich stuff
That her fond parent bought her.

Her speech was simple as her dress,
Not French the more, but English less,
She loved; yet sometimes, I confess,
I scarce could comprehend her.
Her manners were quite far from shy.
There was a quiet in her eye
Appalling to the Hugh who’d try
With rudeness to offend her.

“But whence,” I cried, “this masquerade?
Some figure for to-night’s charade,
A Watteau shepherdess or maid?”
She smiled and begged my pardon:
“Why, surely you must know the name,
That woman who was Shakespeare’s flame
Or Byron’s, well, it’s all the same:
Why, Lord! I’m Dolly Varden!”

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