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Title: Tale of a Shirt: A Very Pathetic Ballad

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: March 31, 1844

Publication information: Sunday Times & Noah's Weekly Messenger 31 March 1844: [unknown].

Source: Our transcription is based on Walt Whitman, The Journalism: Volume 1, 1834-1846, ed. Herbert Bergman, Douglas A. Noverr, and Edward J. Recchia (New York: Peter Lang, 1998), 189-90.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00049

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Susan Belasco, and Nicole Gray


Tale of a Shirt

A Very Pathetic Ballad


Catching clams down on Long Island, (where I was "reared,") up to my waist in water of a cool day, never did drops come into my eyes like those tears which filled them while I was writing the following verses. The sad decease of the hapless Miss Stitch, in the bloom of beauty, and the promise of her life, forms a thrilling theme for painter or poet. What can be more full of woe, than the idea of that interesting girl, sitting stiff and stark, holding the last shirt by the tail? Though I have read the "Song of the Shirt," I have endeavored not to "hook" any of the author's ideas at all.
W.
A love-ly maid named Sally Stitch
I once did sure-ly know,
Who made things for the tailor men
And made them "very low."
This love-ly maid had rosy cheeks,
Her waist was round and plump;
I used to love to look at her
A standing at the pump.
But O, the change! she who had been
As fat as any whale,
Soon dwindled down to be a thing
All waspy, wan, and pale.
I'll tell you how it happen-ed,
As all the people say;—
Some shirts this love-ly maid must make,
Before a certain day.
She sewed, and sewed, and sewed again,
Indeed 'twas all so-so;
But O! alas! and lack-a-day!
Horror, and death and woe!—
By Tuesday night, these shirts were due,
On Wednesday by day-light,
Within Miss Stitch's little room
Was Seen a horrid sight!—
There sat Miss Stitch, all cold and dead,
Upon her lowly chair
Fixed were her eyes—blue was her nose—
And clammy was her hair.
She held those fatal shirts which she
Had promised without fail:
The last of all was finish-ed—
She held it by the tail!—
Then lovely maids, where'er ye live—
In garret, street or alley,
I charge ye all, take warning by
Unfortunate Miss Sally.
Had that sweet girl worked less, and not
Got into such a pucker:
She might have lived this day, instead
Of being a gone sucker.

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