Effective communication happens when speakers and listeners both understand the context in which their words should be understood. Communication will happen when words are written or spoken, but a joke or chance remark, offered in jest, can be disastrous if the other party does not know it is intended to be humor and not an insult.
A poem by Ray Harding, my oldest brother, is published below. As a poem, it speaks for itself. I’m adding some of the context here as I feel it makes the message all the more personal.
Ray wrote this in his later years, having retired from teaching English in several Massachusetts high schools and then taking up a second career with the United States Park Service, guiding tours of the Lowell,MA, Suffolk Mills Turbine Exhibit [http://www.nps.gov/lowe/planyourvisit/upload/suffolk.pdf]. Lowell being a major player in the cotton textile industry in the US for most of the 19th century and early 20th century. Take a moment to follow the link to the Lowell National Historical Park site listed above.
The mills were a prime source of steady jobs for many an immigrant worker during that period; men, children and women alike. Park Ranger Ray’s job included writing scenarios describing mill life in the 1800’s and giving tours through the one remaining building where the history of the power source for operating hundreds of looms is recalled, showing the transition from water-driven fly-wheel arrangements to the final introduction of turbines for greater efficiency and speed.
He commemorates, here in the poem, the poor working girls who came to this country from around the world to start a new life.
Suffolk Mill Exhibit
Lowell, 1830 —
Raymond J. Harding
It is dark here
And there are ghosts
their groans lost in the relentless grinding
Of the aged turbine.
A child cries, and I hear the thin, crystal sound
From beyond the limits of time
As though some long-dead sorcerer
Sweeps the long dried tears through the spinning gears
And spills them out like fragile, golden threads
Drifting at my feet.
It is dark
And the canal, burnished by a dying sun
Sets the sky ablaze
And the shadows creep slowly
Across the oil-soaked boards.
There is music here:
Faint, sad music
Beyond the hum and beat of the whirling turbine
Wooden gears mesh with iron to grind a blood-pulse rhythm
Down the light stripe etched into the floor from
Generations of weary feet
But now –
I see the weary mill girls as delicate and ethereal
As faded water-color portraits
Twirling deftly between
The oil-soaked rows of phantom looms, clacking in syncopation
With much too old a sound for the human ear to catch…
The dour, stern-faced men would have frowned at this!
Are they frowning now?
I feel rather than hear the music.
And yet I hear the other music, set to falling tears.
Out in the streets
The long parade of girls, white-gowned, with colored sash
Parade for the host of guests.
Men who have come to gaze on the spectacle of women
At their work.
But, come –
Back to the mill and dance!
Shy Yankee farm girl.
Spin, mill girl! Bare-footed golden girls of Greece –
Dance, now where once you toiled.
Bienvenue, my dark-eyed Canadian
Welcome to the dance!
Welcome, Colleen –
Twist and weave between the rows
Of laughing looms.
Higher and higher the pitch –
Can the wheels turn faster than the human heart pump blood?
Dance, mill girl, dance –
Dance away the night,
The centuries –
And the tears –
And when all the dancing ghosts of long-lost girls
Have tapped their lives away among the looms
And gone dancing
To the grave…
Then, perhaps, the sharp-eyed men of dour disposition
Who brought them to the dance
And taught them all to sing –
May find no meaning in the song.
We will continue to publish the extant works of Raymond J. Harding as we restore them from family sources.
Ray Harding – 1928-1997