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Padraic Colum's "An Old Woman of the Roads"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum

Introduction and Text of "An Old Woman of the Roads"

Padraic Colum's spiritual classic, "An Old Woman of the Roads," plays out in six quatrains, each with the rime-scheme, ABCB; the poem thematically dramatizes an old woman's desire to possess her own home, where she can find physical shelter as she seeks soul solace of the Divine Belovèd.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

An Old Woman of the Roads

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house—a house of my own—
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

Reading of "An Old Woman of the Roads"

Commentary

Padraic Colum's little drama features a tired old woman who dreams of owning her own little house where she can spend her days quietly caring for a few simple possessions and seeking divine solitude.

First Quatrain: The Pride of Home Ownership

O, to have a little house!
To own the hearth and stool and all!
The heaped up sods upon the fire,
The pile of turf against the wall!

The speaker laments that she does not own her own little house, in which she could take great pride. She wishes to her own fireplace with a hearth and a stool sitting beside it. She would be so pleased to be in possession of the equipment that is used to keep the fire going. The "pile of turf against the wall" would be a beautiful sight for her, if only all those things could belong to her.

Second Quatrain: The Joy of Caring for Things

To have a clock with weights and chains
And pendulum swinging up and down!
A dresser filled with shining delph,
Speckled and white and blue and brown!

The old woman then mentions some other possessions she would enjoy owning in her own little home; she would like to have her own time-piece, a beautiful clock with a pendulum and chains. The woman gives a fair amount of space to describing the clock, emphasizing its component parts.

In addition to the clock with its "weights and chains," she would cherish a "dresser filled with shining delph / Speckled and white and blue and brown." The old woman would also like to own a set of dishes that she would keep in her very own cabinet. Her desire for delftware demonstrates that she is aware of the various colors and patterns of the crockery.

Third Quatrain: The Dream of the Householder

I could be busy all the day
Clearing and sweeping hearth and floor,
And fixing on their shelf again
My white and blue and speckled store!

The speaker reports that she would spend her days in her home. She fantasizes with great pleasure and enjoyment that if she owned her own little home filled with sod for the fire, a working clock, and a cabinet filled with fine pottery, she would keep herself

occupied with her daily tasks of cleaning and maintaining her simple possessions.

The old woman's pride of ownership shines through her dreams of keeping her possessions clean and tidy. In addition to keeping the hearth clean and the floor swept, she would rearrange her delftware, an act that would show her gratitude for being able to do such work.

Fourth Quatrain: Enjoyment of Quiet Time

I could be quiet there at night
Beside the fire and by myself,
Sure of a bed and loth to leave
The ticking clock and the shining delph!

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At night, the old woman would enjoy being quiet, sitting by a warming fire. She would relish her privacy, knowing that she had her own place to sleep. She would want to remain in her home and not be venturing out; she would find herself unwilling to leave all her possessions, such as her time-piece and her dishes and other crockery.

Fifth Quatrain: Weary of Homelessness

Och! but I'm weary of mist and dark,
And roads where there's never a house nor bush,
And tired I am of bog and road,
And the crying wind and the lonesome hush!

The speaker's mind finally returns to her homeless state of being, from where she reports that she is "weary of mist and dark." Spending her time homeless traveling through the open landscape has made her grow "tired" of "bog and road."

Instead of the little fantasy of taking care of her own little house, she must endure the constant motion of traveling, often never seeing a house or bush. The sound of wind that reminds her of someone weeping and during the times when there is no sound at all, she has found these period beginning to weight heavily on her mind and heart.

Sixth Quatrain: Shelter for Body and Soul

And I am praying to God on high,
And I am praying Him night and day,
For a little house—a house of my own—
Out of the wind's and the rain's way.

After such an itinerant life, the old woman laments, reporting that she is supplicating to God for her own little sheltering home. She seeks shelter for her body out of the bad weather she has continued to endure, as she has also continued to seek shelter for her soul through her many prayers and lamentations directed to her Divine Belovéd.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the theme of Padraic Colum's poem, "An Old Woman of the Roads"?

Answer: The dramatization of an old homeless woman's desire to own a small home.

Question: Why was Padraic Colum's poem, "An Old Woman of the Roads" written?

Answer: The poem thematically dramatizes an old woman's desire to possess her own home, where she can find physical shelter as she seeks soul solace of the Divine Beloved. The poet was likely aware of such a woman and was impressed with the old woman's direction in life; thus he offers his little drama, in which he allows the woman to tell her own story to express her thoughts and feelings in a colorway.

Question: When was "An Old Woman of the Roads" written?

Answer: Padraic Colum lived from 1881 to 1972. His first poems were published in 1902. So he likely wrote the poem between 1900 and 1970.

Question: Does Padraic Colum's poem, "An Old Woman of the Roads" have a rhyme scheme?

Answer: This poem features six quatrains, each with the rime-scheme, ABCB.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error" at https://hubpages.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-U...

Question: Who was the poem "An Old Woman of the Roads" written about?

Answer: The poem features a monologue spoken by "an old woman" who has been without her own home for a number of years.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on August 17, 2016:

Stella, the character of the old woman is impressive. She prays for the material possession of a "little house," but she seems to understand that the shelter of the soul requires more than a mere building. She seems to know that the attitude of caring for material possessions is more important than the mere acquisition of things. But she is also physically tired from battling the elements; thus she does find some solace in prayer.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on August 16, 2016:

A house is of the most importance to the woman in the poem. I suppose if you have none that's a great need. Thanks for your poem, Stella

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