Guest poem sent in by Jennifer McWhorter
(Poem #1928) The Workbox
See, here's the workbox, little wife, That I made of polished oak.' He was a joiner, of village life; She came of borough folk. He holds the present up to her As with a smile she nears And answers to the profferer, ''Twill last all my sewing years!' 'I warrant it will. And longer too. 'Tis a scantling that I got Off poor John Wayward's coffin, who Died of they knew not what. 'The shingled pattern that seems to cease Against your box's rim Continues right on in the piece That's underground with him. 'And while I worked it made me think Of timber's varied doom; One inch where people eat and drink, The next inch in a tomb. 'But why do you look so white, my dear, And turn aside your face? You knew not that good lad, I fear, Though he came from your native place?' 'How could I know that good young man, Though he came from my native town, When he must have left there earlier than I was a woman grown?' 'Ah, no. I should have understood! It shocked you that I gave To you one end of a piece of wood Whose other is in a grave?' 'Don't, dear, despise my intellect, Mere accidental things Of that sort never have effect On my imaginings.' Yet still her lips were limp and wan, Her face still held aside, As if she had known not only John, But known of what he died.
My closest friend turned me on to this poem about 13 years ago and it has haunted me ever since. When I first read it, I saw only a surface tale of a woodworker/coffin maker who made a box for his wife from a leftover bit from his work. But on a second read I saw a woman whose husband had killed her lover and who was now giving her a very unmistakable message: "I'm not fooled, and this is all you have of him now. You might be next." It's pretty powerful story telling. Regards, Jenn [Links] Wikipedia on Hardy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Hardy