A Loyal Woman’s No

No! is my answer from this cold bleak ridge
Down to your valley: you may rest you there:
The gulf is wide, and none can build a bridge
That your gross weight would safely hither bear.

Pity me, if you will. I look at you
With something that is kinder far than scorn,
And think, “Ah well! I might have grovelled too;
I might have walked there, fettered and forsworn.”

I am of nature weak as others are;
I might have chosen comfortable ways;
Once from these heights I shrank, beheld afar,
In the soft lap of quiet, easy days.

I might—(I will not hide it)—once I might
Have lost, in the warm whirlpools of your voice,
The sense of Evil, the stern cry of Right;
But truth has steered me free, and I rejoice:

Not with the triumph that looks back to jeer
At the poor herd that call their misery bliss;
But as a mortal speaks when God is near,
I drop you down my answer; it is this:—

I am not yours, because you seek in me
What is the lowest in my own esteem:
Only my flowery levels can you see,
Nor of my heaven-smit summits do you dream.

I am not yours, because you love yourself:
Your heart has scarcely room for me beside.
I could not be shut in with name and pelf;
I spurn the shelter of your narrow pride!

Not yours; because you are not man enough
To grasp your country’s measure of a man!
If such as you, when Freedom’s ways are rough,
Cannot walk in them, learn that women can!

Not yours, because, in this the nation’s need,
You stoop to bend her losses to your gain,
And do not feel the meanness of your deed;
I touch no palm defiled with such a stain!

Whether man’s thought can find too lofty steeps
For woman’s scaling, care not I to know;
But when he falters by her side, or creeps,
She must not clog her soul with him to go.

Who weds me must at least with equal pace
Sometimes move with me at my being’s height:
To follow him to his more glorious place,
His purer atmosphere, were keen delight.

You lure me to the valley: men should call
Up to the mountains, where the air is clear.
Win me and help me climbing, if at all!
Beyond these peaks rich harmonies I hear,—

The morning chant of Liberty and Law!
The dawn pours in, to wash out Slavery’s blot:
Fairer than aught the bright sun ever saw
Rises a nation without stain or spot.

The men and women mated for that time
Tread not the soothing mosses of the plain;
Their hands are joined in sacrifice sublime;
Their feet firm set in upward paths of pain.

Sleep your thick sleep, and go your drowsy way!
You cannot hear the voices in the air!
Ignoble souls will shrivel in that day:
The brightness of its coming can you bear?

For me, I do not walk these hills alone:
Heroes who poured their blood out for the Truth,
Women whose hearts bled, martyrs all unknown,
Here catch the sunrise of immortal youth

On their pale cheeks and consecrated brows!
It charms me not,—your call to rest below:
I press their hands, my lips pronounce their vows:
Take my life’s silence for your answer: No.

Lucy Larcom