A Ballad


O H , ponder well, ye helpmates dear,
When flakes of snow are spread!
For truant wives who disappear
May find a colder bed .

On February's day the second
At Impington befell
A miracle — by some 'twas reckon'd
A fact — as Jones can tell.

The fools against conviction strive:
The learn'd at Cambridge know
Of this old woman found alive
Beneath six feet of snow.

A wise Collegiate of St. Peter, ,
Besides one Oaks a Surgeon,
With Stiffle John, the tale's repeater,
A tale which prov'd him her John .

For he the funnel clapp'd his eye on,
Which this old woman made.
He roar'd, with courage of a lion,
" Come out! " — and she obey'd.

But first — " Oh, Stiffle , is it you ? "
The dear old woman cries;
For John at Impington she knew,
But knew he told no lies.

To fib, this John was ever loth —
A man of truth severe.
Yet he will take his Bible oath
To this old woman's ear .

She heard (an ear that faith surpasses)
The horsemen's tramping feet,
The gypsies hunting for their asses,
The lamb's pathetic bleat:

She heard in snow the hour that flies
Upon the village clock;
But could not hear the husband's cries,
And sav'd herself the shock .

Though he, like Orpheus , call'd her name
The mournful parish round,
And very near her bonnet came,
Nor wife nor bonnet found.

She there contemplated the Moon,
Approaching to the new:
It said, or seem'd to say, that soon
Would melt her snowy pew.

A pew it might be call'd; for there,
To penance of not eating,
She added a new form of prayer,
And said, or sung, repeating,

For eight long days, for eight long nights,
On mere snow-broth she fed;
And, using snow for want of lights,
Her Almanack she read.

Upon its leaves her prayers and thanks —
A pencil's modest earning,
Hermetically seal'd for Banks ,
Are prodigies of Learning.

It has been said she wrote in Coptic ,
Or else in pure Phaenician ;
Which proves how piercing was the optic
For one in her condition.

Of all that pass'd in this her gaol,
So little could it vary,
In pages ten she told the tale
To her Apothecary.

Of certain functions, neat though few,
Which Nature's wheel demands,
She found with only one or two
Enough upon her hands.

She tapp'd her box, and with an air
A pinch of snuff she took;
It made her sneeze, and this with care
She noted in a book.

It has not yet been ascertain'd
If she had room for sneezing —
Or all effusions were detain'd,
Like rivers plugg'd and freezing.

Her toes, 'tis verily believ'd,
Will first or last come off;
But, though by want of breath aggriev'd,
It sav'd her from a cough.

The rings were sav'd — the two she wore —
For her's a wedded life;
The widow pin'd for want of more,
And was again a wife.

The rings pack'd up in papers neat,
She pinn'd 'em to her shift;
And wrote upon the winding-sheet,
" For Bet's good man a gift. "

It has been said, but not by Jones ,
That she had some who taught her —
That she's a niece of Bloody-bones ,
Or Betty Canning's daughter.

But what refutes at once the doubt,
And makes the wonder true,
Is — that her face the legend suits,
And is of snowy hue.
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