In this vanitas poem a mother's brushing of her pubescent daughter's "dark silken hair" becomes an occasion for meditation on the "story of replacement": the child's impending womanhood and her own mortality.

As the speaker's own skin begins to dry, the daughter's "purse" fills with "eggs, round and firm as hard-boiled yolks." The purse, the speaker knows, is about to snap its reproductive clasp. In her child's handheld mirror the biological differences are noted when the narrator observes her graying hair and folds in her neck that are clearly visible.


In discussions, the poem works very nicely when coupled with Suzanne Valadon's painting, Valadon: The Abandoned Doll, with which it has strong correspondences (see annotation).

Primary Source

The Living and the Dead


Alfred A. Knopf

Place Published

New York