“Portrait of a Southern Lady”
by Stephen Vincent Benet
Mary Lou Wingate, as slightly made
And as hard to break as a rapier blade.
Bristol’s daughter and Wingate’s bride,
Never well since the last child died
But staring at pain with courteous eyes.
When the pain outwits it, the body dies,
Meanwhile the body bears the pain.
She loved her hands and they made her vain.
Her manner was gracious but hardly fervent
And she seldom raised her voice to a servant,
She was often mistaken, not often blind,
And she knew the whole duty of womankind,
To take the burden and have the power
And seem like the well-protected flower,
To manage a dozen industries
With a casual gesture in scraps of ease,
To hate the sin and to love the sinner
And to see that the gentlemen got their dinner
Ready and plenty and piping hot
Whether you wanted to eat it or not.
And always, always, to have the charm
That makes the gentlemen take your arm
But never the bright, unseemly spell
That makes strange gentlemen love too well,
Once you were married and settled down
With a suitable gentleman of your own.
The gentlemen killed and the gentlemen died,
But she was the South’s incarnate pride
That mended the broken gentlemen
And sent them out to the war again,
That kept the house with the man away
And baked the bricks where there was no clay,
Made courage from terror and bread from bran
And propped the South on a swansdown fan…..
I grew up Southern, and I assure you that the South is place where people take pride in their heritage. We probably identify with our region more than any other place in the country. Our history is important to us, and to understand us, you have to understand our history.
Okay. Enough with the heavy.
Deep-Fried Wisdom will be a regularly featured column explaining to the rest of the country what Southern phrases and actions mean. If you’ve heard a Southerner say something, and you don’t know what it means, just leave it in the comments. I’ll translate for you.