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The Young War Widow Speaks

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 12, 2013

The Young War Widow Speaks

By Ruby Baird Andersen

What good is a medal of oak leaves
On velvet in a case,
When the mind holds on to pictures
The heart cannot erase?
What good is a gilded name plate
On the town’s memorial plaque
When your only love has gone
And can never, oh, never come back?

On the back-yard bench the spring sun lies
Where he liked to sit making fishing flies.

No alchemy can work
In teeming word, or sun,
If the heart is but a withered cone
And every dream is done.
Though I’m young in numbered years
And should be babbling bold,
I know of silence and longsuffering
As do the tired ones and the old.

The plum hangs ripe on the green-leafed limb,
Just a little taller than the head of him.

Learn, I must, of many things,
And unlearn many more.
What is the shape of memory?
Is it twisted, pointed, and sharp?
Or large, star-shaped, and smooth
Like the dulcet tones of the harp?

The sumac is red near the canyon’s mouth,
Three years since he went to camp in the South.

Seasons can return again,
New life that is spring’s,
Exultation that belongs to May time,
And fruition that August brings;
But blood and bone are passing,
And muscle cannot last,
Passion palpitates but once,
Life’s momentum soon is past.
Memory often serves as bread,
Or as a drink from which one sips,
But memory cannot place a kiss
Fresh upon the lips.

The snowflakes slant around the corner light–
There’s a mound that’s cold in a foreign night.

Is it creeping centuries,
Or only a thousand hours
That by this casement window
I’ve climbed the night’s blue towers
To find this word, this answer:
There’s One who understands–
I must lift my heart myself,
With a pair of working hands.

(1948)



7 Comments »

  1. I couldn’t resist trying to track down the writer, to see if she was writing from painful personal experience. And if the Ruby Baird Andersen I’ve found is the right one–and I suspect that it is, since a line from the biographical sketch says that she “enjoyed writing poetry and many of her poems were published in newspapers, magazines and books. . . . A collection of her poems and some art work was compiled into a book by her daughters and granddaughters in 2007″–then she wasn’t a war widow.

    But, the sad prize for irony goes to her: she died before this poem was published, in 1947, of a heart condition related to scarlet fever which she had contracted as a child. She was 45, and was survived by her husband and two teen-aged daughters.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 12, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

  2. Thanks for that research, Mark!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 12, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  3. I should probably get back to work, but I glanced at another result of my Google search on “Ruby Baird Andersen” and found this note from the RS Magazine:

    The Relief Society General Board is pleased to announce the names of the three prize winners in the 1947 Eliza R. Snow Memorial Prize Poem contest.

    This contest was announced in the June 1947 issue of the Magazine, and closed September 15, 1947.

    The first prize of twenty dollars is awarded to Katherine Fernelius Larsen, 1232 Warnock Avenue, Salt Lake City, Utah, for her poem “The Cherry Orchard.”

    The second prize of fifteen dollars is awarded to Alice Morrey Bailey, 256 Iowa Street, Salt Lake City, Utah, for her poem “Migrant.”

    The third prize of ten dollars is awarded to Ruby Baird Andersen, 324 North 5th East, Provo, Utah, for her poem “The Young War Widow Speaks.”

    Comment by Mark B. — September 12, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

  4. Great research, Mark.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — September 12, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

  5. I really liked this one. She may not have been writing from personal experience, but it seems she got it about right.

    Comment by lindberg — September 13, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  6. Incidentally, it looks like her house still stands, according to Google Maps. I’m tempted to go drive past the next time I’m in Provo.

    Comment by lindberg — September 13, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  7. I like that, lindberg — it collapses the years to make an almost-contact like that.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

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