Vachel Lindsay’s bizarre tale of the three fates

B. Nash at Vachel Lindsay house



Vachel Lindsay in the book The Litany of Washington Street tells a bizarre story of three women sitting by a fire in a home in Springfield, Illinois. They are visitors to the community. Actually, they are from the “Land of the Grave” They are “three young fates.” With them in the room are others-“western boys and men of old time” talking and sharing memories.

The three women by the hearth fire are known to all. One of them is a woman long dead from a dream of William Shakespeare. She is Juliet. Lindsay says she has become a “living word for all time; a young girl of thirteen, but womanhood forever.”  The second female fate is a woman who “dominated the greatest moment of France, in its grimmest chronicle. She is a woman who died for France.” Her name is Joan of Arc. Lindsay goes on to say that she is a “girl whom great men, majestic men, men who have towered above their ages, fall before and reverence.”  The two women died for their loves-Joan of Arc for France-and Juliet for the love of Romeo.

There is a third woman present in the room. Together the three fates are spinning on a wheel. They are spinning “the thread of the fate of a man who will die for the love of a land.” Who is the third fate? She is one with golden hair. “Singers and very great singers have already spoken her praise,” and her dust cries from the ground. She has come to Springfield from the nearby village of New Salem-from her father’s tavern. Joan of Arc and Juliet are her handmaidens. She is Ann Rutledge.

Ann Rutledge has purchased calico in Springfield. In fact, she will be returning to New Salem with various sundries and a new law book for her boy, Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, “it will be many a day before Abraham Lincoln comes to live in Springfield, old before his time from a broken heart, because of the death of this girl. Joan of Arc and Juliet understand– it’s about love.

Lindsay closes speaking about Anne Rutledge “in the dust” and of “her young man, now reading by a New Salem firelight,” who “will be trying to settle forever the exact meaning of that terrible phase, Mason and Dixon’s line.

The three girl fates spin on and on, by the fire, from which come flying books. Ann Rutledge has made a visit to Springfield.”

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