The Spinster’s Sweet-Arts

A poem by Alfred Tennyson

Milk for my sweet-arts, Bess! fur it mun be the time about now
When dolly cooms in fro’ the far-end close wi’ her paäils fro’ the cow.
Eh! tha be new to the plaäce—thou’rt gaäpin’—doesn’t tha see
I calls ’em arter the fellers es once was sweet upo’ me?


Naäy to be sewer it be past ’er time. What maäkes ’er sa laäte?
Goa to the laäne at the back, an’ looök thruf Maddison’s gaäte!


Sweet-arts! Molly belike may ’a lighted to-night upo’ one.
Sweet-arts! thanks to the Lord that I niver not listen’d to noän!
So I sits i’ my oän armchair wi’ my oän kettle theere o’ the hob,
An’ Tommy the fust, an’ Tommy the second, an’ Steevie an’ Rob.


Rob, coom cop ’ere o’ my knee. Thou sees that i’ spite o’ the men
I ’a kep’ thruf thick an’ thin my two ’oonderd a-year to mysen;
Yis! thaw tha call’d me es pretty es ony lass i’ the Shere;
An’ thou be es pretty a Tabby, but Robby I seed thruf ya theere.


Feyther ’ud saäy I wur ugly es sin, an’ I beänt not vaäin,
But I niver wur downright hugly, thaw soom ’ud ’a thowt ma plaäin,
An’ I wasn’t sa plaäin i’ pink ribbons, ye said I wur pretty i’ pinks,
An’ I liked to ’ear it I did, but I brunt sich a fool as ye thinks;
Ye was stroäkin ma down wi’ the ’air, as I be a-stroäkin o’ you,
But whiniver I looöked i’ the glass I wur sewer that it couldn’t be true;
Niver wur pretty, not I, but ye knaw’d it wur pleasant to ’ear,
Thaw it warn’t not me es wur pretty, but my two ’oonderd a-year.


D’ya mind the murnin’ when we was a-walkin’ togither, an’ stood
By the claäy’d-oop pond, that the foalk be sa scared at, i’ Gigglesby wood,
Wheer the poor wench drowndid hersen, black Sal, es’ed been disgraäced?
An’ I feel’d thy arm es I stood wur a-creeäpin about my waäist;
An’ me es wur allus afear’d of a man’s gittin’ over fond,
I sidled awaäy an’ awaäy till I plumpt foot fust i’ the pond;
And, Robby, I niver ’a liked tha sa well, as I did that daäy,
Fur tha joompt in thysen, an’ tha hoickt my feet wi’ a flop fro’ the claäy.
Ay, stick oop thy back, an’ set oop thy taäil, tha may gie ma a kiss,
Fur I walk’d wi’ tha all the way hoam an’ wur niver sa nigh saäyin’ Yis.
But wa boath was i’ sich a clat we was shaämed to cross Gigglesby Greeän,
Fur a cat may looök at a king thou knaws but the cat mun be clean.
Sa we boäth on us kep out o’ sight o’ the winders o’ Gigglesby Hinn—
Naäy, but the claws o’ tha! quiet! they pricks clean thruf to the skin—
An’ wa boäth slinkt ’oäm by the brokken shed i’ the laäne at the back,
Wheer the poodle runn’d at tha once, an’ thou runn’d oop o’ the thack;
An’ tha squeedg’d my ’and i’ the shed, fur theere we was forced to ’ide,
Fur I seed that Steevie wur coomin’, and one o’ the Tommies beside.


Theere now, what art ’a mewin at, Steevie? for owt I can tell—
Robby wur fust to be sewer, or I mowt ’a liked tha as well.


But, Robby, I thowt o’ tha all the while I wur chaängin’ my gown,
An’ I thowt shall I chaänge my staäte? but, O Lord, upo’ coomin’ down—
My bran-new carpet es fresh es a midder o’ flowers i’ Maäy—
Why ’edn’t tha wiped thy shoes? it wur clatted all ower wi’ claäy.
An’ I could ’a cried ammost, fur I seed that it couldn’t be,
An’ Robby I gied tha a raätin that sattled thy coortin o’ me.
An’ Molly an’ me was agreed, as we was a-cleanin’ the floor,
That a man be a durty thing an’ a trouble an’ plague wi’ indoor.
But I rued it arter a bit, fur I stuck to tha moor na the rest,
But I couldn’t ’a lived wi’ a man an’ I knaws it be all fur the best.


Naäy—let ma stroäk tha down till I maäkes tha es smooth es silk,
But if I ’ed married tha, Robby, thou’d not ’a been worth thy milk,
Thou’d niver ’a cotch’d ony mice but ’a left me the work to do,
And ’a taäen to the bottle beside, so es all that I ’ears be true;
But I loovs tha to maäke thysen ’appy, an’ soa purr awaäy, my dear,
Thou ’ed wellnigh purr’d ma awaäy fro’ my oän two ’oonderd a-year.


Sweärin agean, you Toms, as ye used to do twelve year sin’!
Ye niver ’eärd Steevie swear ’cep’ it wur at a dog coomin’ in,
An’ boath o’ ye mun be fools to be hallus a-shawin’ your claws,
Fur I niver cared nothink for neither—an’ one o’ ye deäd ye knaws!
Coom give hoäver then, weant ye? I warrant ye soom fine daäy—
Theere, dig down—I shall hew to gie one or tother awaäy.
Can’t ye taäke pattern by Steevie? ye shant hew a drop fro’ the paäil.
Steevie be right good manners bang thruf to the tip o’ the taäil.

Robby, git down wi’tha, wilt tha? let Steevie coom oop o’ my knee.
Steevie, my lad, thou ’ed very nigh been the Steevie fur me!
Robby wur fust to be sewer, ’e wur burn an’ bred i’ the ’ouse,
But thou be es ’ansom a tabby es iver patted a mouse.


An’ I beänt not vaäin, but I knaws I ’ed led tha a quieter life
Nor her wi’ the hepitaph yonder! “A faäithfnl an’ loovin’ wife!”
An’ ’cos o’ thy farm by the beck, an’ thy windmill oop o’ the croft,
Tha thowt tha would marry ma, did tha? but that wur a bit ower soft,
Thaw thou was es soäber es daäy, wi’ a niced red faäce, an’ es cleän
Es a shillin’ fresh fro’ the mint wi’ a bran-new ’eäd o’ the Queeän,
An’ thy farmin’ es cleän es thysen’, fur, Steevie, tha kep’ it sa neät
That I niver not spied sa much es a poppy along wi’ the wheät,
An’ the wool of a thistle a-flyin’ an’ seeädin’ tha haäted to see;
’Twur es bad es a battle-twig1 ’ere i’ my oän blue chaumber to me.
Ay, roob thy whiskers ageän ma, fur I could ’a taäen to tha well,
But fur thy bairns, poor Steevie, a bouncin’ boy an’ a gell.


An’ thou was es fond o’ thy bairns es I be mysen o’ my cats,
But I niver not wish’d fur childer, I hevn’t naw likin’ fur brats;
Pretty anew when ya dresses ’em oop, an’ they goäs fur a walk,
Or sits wi’ their ’ands afoor ’em, an’ doesn’t not ’inder the talk!
But their bottles o’ pap, an’ their mucky bibs, an’ the clats an’ the clouts,
An’ their mashin’ their toys to pieäces an’ maäkin’ ma deaf wi’ their shouts,
An’ hallus a-joompin’ about ma as if they was set upo’ springs,
An’ a haxin’ ma hawkard questions, an’ saäyin’ ondecent things,
Alt’ a-callin’ ma ‘hugly’ mayhap to my faäce, or a teärin’ my gown—
Dear! dear! dear! I mun part them Tommies—Steevie git down.


Ye be wuss nor the men-tommies, you. I tell’d ya, na moor o’ that!
Tom, lig theere o’ the cushion, an’ tother Tom ’ere o’ the mat.


Theere! I ha’ master’d them! Hed I married the Tommies—O Lord,
To loove an’ obaäy the Tommies! I couldn’t ’a stuck by my word.
To be horder’d about, an’ waäked, when Molly ’d put out the light,
By a man coomin’ in wi’ a hiccup at ony hour o’ the night!
An’ the taäble staäin’d wi’ ’is aäle, an’ the mud o’ ’is boots o’ the stairs,
An’ the stink o’ ’is pipe i’ the ’ouse, an’ the mark o’ ’is ’eäd o’ the chairs!
An’ noun o’ my four sweet-arts ’ud ’a let me ’a led my oän waäy,
Sa I likes ’em best wi’ taäils when they ’evn’t a word to saäy.


An’ I sits i’ my oän little parlour, an’ sarved by my oän little lass,
Wi’ my oän little garden outside, an’ my oän bed o’ sparrow-grass,
An’ my oän door-poorch wi the woodbine an’ jessmine a-dressin’ it greeän,
An’ my oän fine Jackman i’ purple a roäbin’ the ’ouse like a Queeän.


An’ the little gells bobs to ma hoffens es I be abroad i’ the laänes,
When I goäs fur to coomfut the poor es be down wi’ their haäches an’ their paäins:
An’ a haäf-pot o’ jam, or a mossel o’ meät when it beänt too dear,
They maäkes ma a graäter Laädy nor ’er i’ the mansion theer,
Hes ’es hallus to hax of a man how much to spare or to spend;
An’ a spinster I be an’ I will be, if soä pleäse God, to the hend.


Mew! mew!—Bess wi’ the milk! what ha maäde our Molly sa laäte?
It should ’a been ’ere by seven, an’ theere—it be strikin’ height—
‘Cushie wur craäzed fur’er cauf’ well—I ’eärd ’er a maäkin’ ’er moän,
An’ I thowt to mysen ‘thank God that I hevn’t naw cauf o’ my oän.’
Set it down!
Now Robby!
You Tommies shall waäit to-night
Till Robby an’ Steevie ’es ’ed their lap—an’ it sarves ye right.

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