One Girl of Many
One Girl of Many
The Later Poetry of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, ed. Denise D. Knight (Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1996): 115-17.
##.1One girl of many. Hungry from her birth
2Half-fed. Half-clothed. Untaught of woman’s worth.
3In joyless girlhood working for her bread.
4At each small sorrow wishing she were dead,
5Yet gay at little pleasures. Sunlight seems
6Most bright & warm where it most seldom gleams.
##.7One girl of many. Tawdry dress and old;
8And not enough beneath to bar the cold.
9The little that she had misspent because
10She had no knowledge of our nature’s laws.
11Thinking in ignorance that it was best
12To wear a stylish look, and -– bear the rest.
##.13One girl of many. With a human heart.
14A woman’s too; with nerves that feel the smart
15Of each new pain as keenly as your own.
16The old ones, through long use, have softer grown.
17And yet in spite of use she holds the thought
18Of might-be joys more than, perhaps, she ought.
##.19One girl of many. But the fault is here;
20Though she to all the others was so near;
21One difference there was, which made a change.
22No wrong thing, surely. Consequence most strange!
23Alike in birth. Alike in life’s rough way.
24She, through no evil, was more fair than they.
##.25So came the offer, “Leave this story cold
26Where you may drudge and starve till you are old.
27Come! I will give you rest. And food. And fire.
28And fair apparel to your heart’s desire;
29Shelter. Protection. Kindness. Peace & Love.
30Has your life anything you hold above?”
##.31And she had not. In all her daily sight
32There shone no vestige of the color White.
33She had seen nothing in her narrow life
34To make her venerate the title “Wife.”
35She knew no reason why the thing was wrong;
36And instinct grows debased in ages long.
##.37All things that she had ever yet desired
38All dreams that her starved girlhood’s heart had fired
39All that life held of yet unknown delight
40Shone, to her ignorance, in colors bright.
41Shone near at hand and sure. If she had known!
42But she was ignorant. She was alone.
##.43And so she – sinned. I think we call it sin.
44And found that every step she took therein
45Made sinning easier and conscience weak.
46And there was never one who cared to speak
47A word to guide and warn her. If there were
48I fear such help were thrown away on her.
##.49Only one girl of many. Of the street.
50In lowest depths. The story grows unmeet
51For wellbred ears. Sorrow and sin and shame
52Over and over till the blackened name
53Sank out of sight without a hand to save.
54Sin, shame, and sorrow. Sickness, & the grave.
##.55Only one girl of many. Tis a need
56Of man’s existence to repeat the deed.
57Social necessity. Men cannot live
58Without what these disgraceful creatures give.
59Black shame. Dishonor. Misery & Sin.
60And men find needed health & life therein.
Alpha 1 (February 1884): 15.
RPO poem Editors