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  • Writer's pictureTisha Dolton

The Woman Sits Here Knitting: Jeanne Robert Foster, Adirondack Poet

In celebration of National Poetry Month...

Neighbors of Yesterday by Jeanne Robert Foster

When I go the see her, I look about the room

Where she sits placidly knitting — knitting.

It has the curious musty odor

Of our grandmother's parlors. The old things

One remembers are all around her:

The hair-cloth furniture; the kaleidoscope

On the "What-not", the wax flowers under glass,

The cardboard motto on the walls, saying

"God Bless Our Home" with flourishes

And sprays of rosebuds in fine shaded wools;

The antimacassars on the rocking chairs,

The album on the marble-topped table,

The striped rag carpet hiding the rough floor,

In the corner a sheaf of cat-tails tied with a ribbon,

A box of sea-shells on the mantel,

And a souvenir of Niagara Falls,

And pink china dogs and gilded vases

Of dried Everlasting flowers dyed scarlet.

On the walls are the family portraits:

Large tintypes that look out from oval frames,

Daguerreotypes in velvet cases,

Edged with their faded crinkling gold.

The woman sits here knitting — knitting

Is never lonely, she tells me, for neighbors

Of yesterday come and keep her company.

It does not trouble her delight in them

That to me they are but shifting shadows,

Projected into the world of reality

By her love for them.

They are called to her

By that longing for perpetuation

That lived once timidly in their bodies,

And now, shorn of the fleshy vehicles,

Gathers in cloistral dwellings, in old things,

Loving stone most of all, and gripping close fingers

Upon wood well seasoned with usage.

There is passion in their mute returning

To this eddy of cast-off mortality;

There is passion in the woman who calls them —

In her wilful* insistence that nothing

Can escape the self-centered mind moving

Backward steadfastly, as it is pushed forward

By the onrushing force of time and change,

Until it joins the opposite arc of the circle

And is immortal in its own fullfillment*.

* Spelled as printed in the 1916 and 2002 editions

Redwork portrait of Jeanne Robert Foster based on a sketch by John Butler Yates <Tisha Dolton, 2016- Private Collection>



Foster, Jeanne Robert. Neighbors of Yesterday. Schenectady, NY: Riedinger & Riedinger, 1963.


Tisha Dolton is Historian/Librarian at The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY and can be reached at Her areas of research are suffrage music, suffragists of Warren and Washington Counties, local minority populations, and hand embroidery/needlework.

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