‘Threads’ by Sarah Doyle
Embroidery is the first thing I learned… I sat beside my mother at her embroidery frame and watched the needle come down and begged to be allowed to fasten the thread.
– May Morris, 1910
I’m the life picked out in needlework, embroidered,
a chain-stitch away from parents whose artistry was
remarkable. I am the satin-stitch of trailing grapes, a
woman with fingers that spun silvery vines, wrought
always in a green that winter cannot wither. This I
was, and am, and more. I am a tangle of strawberries,
though this seed did not fall far from its trees. I am
none and all of these. I am fastened, coiled in skeins
of inheritance, soft as heather, the trellis of violets
you could almost smell. I am speckling feathers that
seemed to take flight, birds fledged of frame, calling
to my herringbone soul, a fly-stitch song. I am all that I
think and sew, all that I made and did not make. And
so the silk is cut, and I am where the threads break.
Sarah Doyle, Pre-Raphaelite Society Poet-in-Residence
POET’S NOTE: ‘Threads’ celebrates May Morris’s achievements as a designer and creator of exquisite embroideries, and weaves images present in her needlework. A gifted artist in her own right, May was dedicated to ensuring the enduring legacy of William Morris’s work, but this poem explores her own aesthetic and personal legacy. The poem is an acrostic of sorts, where the first word of each line can be read downwards, to reveal a quotation from a letter of May’s; I’ve used another of her quotations as an epigraph. The poem was published originally in the Pre-Raphaelite Society’s Review, and reprinted in The Presence and the Dream, a 2022 anthology celebrating a decade of the PRS Poetry Prize.