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The Purple Thread

Katharine Lee Bates 1859 (Falmouth) – 1929 (Wellesley)



'The priests distributed various coloured silken threads to weave for the veil of the sanctuary; and it fell to Mary's lot to weave purple.'
—The Book of the Bee, ch. XXXIV.
I
THE chosen maidens, Weavers of the Veil,
Kneeling in crescent, from the High Priest took
Their wisps of silk in slender hands that shook
Lifting the colors to their lips rose-pale
With holy passion, —colors like the frail
Spring flowers of Carmel, blue as that glad look
Of dancing iris, scarlet as a nook
Of wild anemones, or gold as sail
Seen from its summit 'neath the Syrian moon.
But Mary caught her breath in one swift sob
Of pain uncomprehended ere it fled,
Leaving her heart with some strange fear a-throb,
For the wise priest, as one conferring boon,
Had meted out to her a purple thread.
II
O mothers of the race, ye blessèd ones
Who weave with cherubim the veil before
The Holy Place of God, the mystic door
Of life, proud mothers of belovèd sons,
To-day you send them forth to front the guns,
Waving your boys farewell with smiles that pour
Strength into their young souls. Your prayers implore
The Mercy Seat; your love, an angel, runs
Before them with wild, shielding arms outspread.
O Weavers of the Veil, however varies
The silk assigned, exceeding great reward
Is yours, for you —O you, most sacred Maries,
To whom is given grief's royal, purple thread —
Make beautiful the temple of the Lord.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Katharine Lee Bates

Katharine Lee Bates is remembered as the author of the words to the anthem America the Beautiful Bates was born in Falmouth Massachusetts and lived as an adult on Centre Street in Newton Massachusetts An historic plaque marks the site of her home The daughter of a Congregational pastor she graduated from Wellesley College in 1880 and for many years was a professor of English literature at Wellesley While teaching there she was elected a member of the newly formed Pi Gamma Mu honor society for the social sciences because of her interest in history and politics for which she also studied She lived at Wellesley with Katharine Coman who herself was a history and political economy teacher and founder of the Wellesley College Economics department The pair lived together for twenty-five years until Comans death in 1915 It is debated if this relationship was an intimate lesbian relationship as different sources maintain or a platonic relationship called sometimes Boston marriages as the local historical society of her birthplace maintain more…

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