Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith answers a letter from John Adams in which he sends her a list
of her imperfections, defects and faults.

There are frogs mating in the pond tonight.

I hear their love songs and I think of you.

All day I have been trying to write

an answer to your letter. Just a few

words to thank you for your kind list; your true

and detailed catalogue of all my

defects and faults. You wait for my reply.


This morning I woke early to sit by

my window. There were crows flying low

over the spring meadows. Dearest friend, I

had such a joyful heart and such a flow

of spirits. I thought both would break and flow

into my pen. But such was not to be.

I could not concentrate or think of me.


Instead I tarried in my chamber all

day. I made up my brass bed with the sun-

flower quilt. I put on my cashmere shawl

with palm-leaf border and hoped someone

would call. No one did, so I folded some

clover and lavender with their sweet scent

into my bureau drawers. Now this day is spent.


The twilight deepens from the nearby

pond, the wild cry of a loon disturbs the night.

Forthright, I take my pen in hand and greet

you. “My friend, I read your letter with quite

a bit of pleasure. Intact, as one might

read of his perfections, I read of my

imperfections. Please excuse me if I


still persist in some of them. I agree-

neglect of singing is a fault but I

have a voice as harsh as the screech of a peacock.

You should not complain again of my

not singing. Next thing, you tell me that I

hang my head like a bulrush-that I do

not sit erect-that this makes me seem too

short for my beauty. This fault will be rectified.

My ambition is in every way

to appear agreeable in your eyes.


Still another fault you find which you say

is inexcusable. You express dismay

that I read and think too much. You tell me

to repent-that these things ought not to be.


You say I ruin my-figure when 1

sit with my legs crossed. I will amend

this fault. Since you wish it, I will comply.

For my part, I do not apprehend

any bad effects, but this practice will end.

As for the legs of ladies-'' I find I

cannot concentrate. I don't know why.


I watch the fireflies drifting in the night.

In the meadow, a wingless female glows,

till a male, falling toward her pale light

finds her in the dark. The fire burns low

and the lamplight flickers. Parrot-toed,

you call me. I do not possess, you say,

a stately strut because of my way


of walking with my toes bent inward. I

know this fault of mine has only one cure

and that is dancing school. But before my

room grows cold, I must continue with your

list of by faults. Then I remember your

other letters. In this still room I hear

our words, “Miss Adorable'' and “My Dear.''


All this day I have been trying to write

my reply to your kind letter. My head

has been filled with my faults and defects, like

how I cross my legs, how I hang my head.

Now “Miss Adorable'' is going to bed.

Under my sunflower quilt, all night long

I’ll hear the mating frogs sing in the pond.