Mother, sit down, for I have much to say
Anent this wide-spread, ever-growing theme
Of Woman and her virtues and her rights.
I left you for the large, loud world of men,
When I had lived one little score of years.
I judged all women by you, and my heart
Was filled with high esteem and reverence
For your angelic sex; and for the wives,
The sisters, daughters, mothers of my friends
I held but holy thoughts. To fallen stars
(Of whom you told me in our last sweet talk,
Warning me of the dangers in my path)
I gave wide pity as you bade me to,
Saying their sins harked back to my base sex.
Now, listen, mother mine: Ten years have passed
Since that clean-minded and pure-bodied youth,
Thinking to write his name upon the stars,
Went from your presence. He returns to you
Fallen from his high altitude of thought,
Hiding deep scars of sins upon his soul,
His fair illusions shattered and destroyed.
And would you know the story of his fall?
He sat beside a good man's honored wife
At her own table. She was beautiful
As woods in early autumn. Full of soft
And subtle witcheries of voice and look--
His senior, both in knowledge and in years.
The boyish admiration of his glance
Was white as April sunlight when it falls
Upon a blooming tree, until she leaned
So close her rounded body sent quick thrills
Along his nerves. He thought it accident
And moved a little; soon she leaned again.
The half-hid beauties of her heaving breast
Rising and falling under scented lace;
The teasing tendrils of her fragrant hair,
With intermittent touches on his cheek,
Changed the boy's interest to the man's desire.
She saw that first young madness in his eyes,
Smiled, and fanned the flame. That was his fall;
And as some mangled fly may crawl away
And leave his wings behind him in the web,
So were his wings of faith in womanhood
Left in the meshes of her sensuous net.
The youth, forced into sudden manhood, went
Seeking the lost ideal of his dreams.
He met, in churches and in drawing-rooms,
Women who wore the mask of innocence
And basked in public favor, yet who seemed
To find their pleasure playing with men's hearts,
As children play with loaded guns. He heard
(Until the tale fell dull upon his ears)
The unsolicited complaints of wives
And mothers all unsatisfied with life
While crowned with every blessing earth can give,
Longing for God knows what to bring content,
And openly or with appealing look
Asking for sympathy. (The first blind step
That leads from wifely honor down to shame
Is ofttimes hid with flowers of sympathy.)
He saw proud women who would flush and pale
With sense of outraged modesty if one
Spoke of the ancient sin before them, bare
To all men's sight, or flimsily conceal
By veils that bid adventurous eyes proceed,
Charms meant alone for lover and for child.
He saw chaste virgins tempt and tantalize,
Lure and deny, invite--and then refuse,
And drive men forth, half crazed, to wantons' arms.
Mother, you taught me there were but two kinds
Of women in the world--the good and bad.
But you have been too sheltered in the safe,
Old-fashioned sweetness of your quiet life
To know how women of these modern days
Make license of their new-found liberty.
Why, I have been more tempted and more shocked
By belles an beauties in the social whirl,
By trusted wives and mothers in their homes,
Than by the women of the underworld
Who sell their favors. Do you think me mad?
No, mother; I am sane, but very sad.
I miss my boyhood's faith in Woman's worth--
Torn from my heart by "good folks" of the earth.
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Cosmopolitan (July 1915): 150-151.
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