cover image Ballad of Harp-Weaver

Ballad of Harp-Weaver

Edna St Vincent Millay. Philomel Books, $14.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21611-4

In Millay's disturbing poem, an unseen, adult narrator tells of his harsh childhood and how his widowed mother tried to stay cheerful for her son's sake. The two live in a bare room in the midst of a busy town, and the mother bemoans the fact that the boy has no suitable clothing. But as time passes, they suffer through a severe winter--and slowly starve. Their last possession is a ``harp with a woman's head / Nobody would take, / For song or pity's sake.'' On Christmas Eve, the boy sees his mother weaving magnificent, child-size clothing in the harp strings. But in the morning light he finds her, ``A smile about her lips, / And a light about her head, / And her hands in the harp strings / Frozen dead.'' The poem is an odd choice as the basis of a children's book, ending as it does with every child's worst fear. (A note by the poet's executor presents the verse as Millay's tribute to her own mother.) Peck's ( The Silver Whistle ) oil paintings present a pretty picture of poverty: the faun-like child has roses in his cheeks and a neat haircut throughout (though his mother lacks shears). It's difficult to imagine where this book will find an audience. Ages 5-up. (Oct.)