by Robert Graves
To Nancy Nicholson
Note: Some of the poems included in this volume have appeared in "The New Statesman", "The Owl", "Reveille", "Land and Water", "Poetry", and other papers, English and American.
A Frosty Night Song for Two Children Dicky The Three Drinkers The Boy out of Church After the Play One Hard Look True Johnny The Voice of Beauty Drowned The God Called Poetry Rocky Acres Advice to Lovers Nebuchadnezzar's Fall Give us Rain Allie Loving Henry Brittle Bones Apples and Water Manticor in Arabia Outlaws Baloo Loo for Jenny Hawk and Buckle The "Alice Jean" The Cupboard The Beacon Pot and Kettle Ghost Raddled Neglectful Edward The Well-dressed Children Thunder at Night To E.M.—A Ballad of Nursery Rhyme Jane Vain and Careless Nine o'Clock The Picture Book The Promised Lullaby
Haunted Retrospect: The Jests of the Clock Here They Lie Tom Taylor Country at War Sospan Fach The Leveller Hate not, Fear not A Rhyme of Friends A First Review
A FROSTY NIGHT.
Alice, dear, what ails you, Dazed and white and shaken? Has the chill night numbed you? Is it fright you have taken?
Mother, I am very well, I felt never better, Mother, do not hold me so, Let me write my letter.
Sweet, my dear, what ails you?
No, but I am well; The night was cold and frosty, There's no more to tell.
Ay, the night was frosty, Coldly gaped the moon, Yet the birds seemed twittering Through green boughs of June.
Soft and thick the snow lay, Stars danced in the sky. Not all the lambs of May-day Skip so bold and high.
Your feet were dancing, Alice, Seemed to dance on air, You looked a ghost or angel In the starlight there.
Your eyes were frosted starlight, Your heart fire and snow. Who was it said, "I love you"?
Mother, let me go!
A SONG FOR TWO CHILDREN.
"Make a song, father, a new little song, All for Jenny and Nancy." Balow lalow or Hey derry down, Or else what might you fancy?
Is there any song sweet enough For Nancy and for Jenny? Said Simple Simon to the pieman, "Indeed I know not any."
"I've counted the miles to Babylon, I've flown the earth like a bird, I've ridden cock-horse to Banbury Cross, But no such song have I heard."
"Some speak of Alexander, And some of Hercules, But where are there any like Nancy and Jenny, Where are there any like these?"
Oh, what a heavy sigh! Dicky, are you ailing?
Even by this fireside, mother, My heart is failing.
To-night across the down, Whistling and jolly, I sauntered out from town With my stick of holly.
Bounteous and cool from sea The wind was blowing, Cloud shadows under the moon Coming and going.
I sang old roaring songs, Ran and leaped quick, And turned home by St. Swithin's Twirling my stick.
And there as I was passing The churchyard gate An old man stopped me, "Dicky, You're walking late."
I did not know the man, I grew afeared At his lean lolling jaw, His spreading beard.
His garments old and musty, Of antique cut, His body very lean and bony, His eyes tight shut.
Oh, even to tell it now My courage ebbs... His face was clay, mother, His beard, cobwebs.
In that long horrid pause "Good-night," he said, Entered and clicked the gate, "Each to his bed."
Do not sigh or fear, Dicky, How is it right To grudge the dead their ghostly dark And wan moonlight?
We have the glorious sun, Lamp and fireside. Grudge not the dead their moonshine When abroad they ride.
THE THREE DRINKERS.
Blacksmith Green had three strong sons, With bread and beef did fill 'em, Now John and Ned are perished and dead, But plenty remains of William.
John Green was a whiskey drinker, The Land of Cakes supplied him, Till at last his soul flew out by the hole That the fierce drink burned inside him.
Ned Green was a water drinker, And, Lord, how Ned would fuddle! He rotted away his mortal clay Like an old boot thrown in a puddle.
Will Green was a wise young drinker, Shrank from whiskey or water, But he made good cheer with headstrong beer, And married an alderman's daughter.
THE BOY OUT OF CHURCH.
As Jesus and his followers Upon a Sabbath morn Were walking by a wheat field They plucked the ears of corn.
They plucked it, they rubbed it, They blew the husks away, Which grieved the pious pharisees Upon the Sabbath day.
And Jesus said, "A riddle Answer if you can, Was man made for the Sabbath Or Sabbath made for man?"
I do not love the Sabbath, The soapsuds and the starch, The troops of solemn people Who to Salvation march.
I take my book, I take my stick On the Sabbath day, In woody nooks and valleys I hide myself away.
To ponder there in quiet God's Universal Plan, Resolved that church and Sabbath Were never made for man.
AFTER THE PLAY.
Have you spent the money I gave you to-day?
Ay, father I have. A fourpence on cakes, two pennies that away To a beggar I gave.
The lake of yellow brimstone boil for you in Hell, Such lies that you spin. Tell the truth now, John, ere the falsehood swell, Say, where have you been?
I'll lie no more to you, father, what is the need? To the Play I went, With sixpence for a near seat, money's worth indeed, The best ever spent.
Grief to you, shame or grief, here is the story— My splendid night! It was colour, scents, music, a tragic glory, Fear with delight.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, title of the tale: He of that name, A tall, glum fellow, velvet cloaked, with a shirt of mail, Two eyes like flame.
All the furies of fate circled round the man, Maddening his heart, There was old murder done before play began, Ay, the ghost took part.
There were grave-diggers delving, they brought up bones, And with rage and grief All the players shouted in full, kingly tones, Grand, passing belief.
Oh, there were ladies there radiant like day, And changing scenes: Great sounding words were tossed about like hay By kings and queens.
How the plot turned about I watched in vain, Though for grief I cried, As one and all they faded, poisoned or slain, In great agony died.
Father, you'll drive me forth never to return, Doubting me your son—
So I shall, John
—but that glory for which I burn Shall be soon begun.
I shall wear great boots, shall strut and shout, Keep my locks curled. The fame of my name shall go ringing about Over half the world.
Horror that your Prince found, John may you find, Ever and again Dying before the house in such torture of mind As you need not feign.
While they clap and stamp at your nightly fate, They shall never know The curse that drags at you, until Hell's gate. You have heard me. Go!
SONG: ONE HARD LOOK.
Small gnats that fly In hot July And lodge in sleeping ears, Can rouse therein A trumpet's din With Day-of-Judgement fears.
Small mice at night Can wake more fright Than lions at midday. An urchin small Torments us all Who tread his prickly way.
A straw will crack The camel's back, To die we need but sip, So little sand As fills the hand Can stop a steaming ship.
One smile relieves A heart that grieves Though deadly sad it be, And one hard look Can close the book That lovers love to see—
Johnny, sweetheart, can you be true To all those famous vows you've made, Will you love me as I love you Until we both in earth are laid? Or shall the old wives nod and say His love was only for a day: The mood goes by, His fancies fly, And Mary's left to sigh.
Mary, alas, you've hit the truth, And I with grief can but admit Hot-blooded haste controls my youth, My idle fancies veer and flit From flower to flower, from tree to tree, And when the moment catches me, Oh, love goes by Away I fly And leave my girl to sigh.
Could you but now foretell the day, Johnny, when this sad thing must be, When light and gay you'll turn away And laugh and break the heart in me? For like a nut for true love's sake My empty heart shall crack and break, When fancies fly And love goes by And Mary's left to die.
When the sun turns against the clock, When Avon waters upward flow, When eggs are laid by barn-door cock, When dusty hens do strut and crow, When up is down, when left is right, Oh, then I'll break the troth I plight, With careless eye Away I'll fly And Mary here shall die.
THE VOICE OF BEAUTY DROWNED.
Cry from the thicket my heart's bird! The other birds woke all around, Rising with toot and howl they stirred Their plumage, broke the trembling sound, They craned their necks, they fluttered wings, "While we are silent no one sings, And while we sing you hush your throat, Or tune your melody to our note."
Cry from the thicket my heart's bird! The screams and hootings rose again: They gaped with raucous beaks, they whirred Their noisy plumage; small but plain The lonely hidden singer made A well of grief within the glade. "Whist, silly fool, be off," they shout, "Or we'll come pluck your feathers out."
Cry from the thicket my heart's bird! Slight and small the lovely cry Came trickling down, but no one heard. Parrot and cuckoo, crow, magpie Jarred horrid notes and the jangling jay Ripped the fine threads of song away, For why should peeping chick aspire To challenge their loud woodland choir?
Cried it so sweet that unseen bird? Lovelier could no music be, Clearer than water, soft as curd, Fresh as the blossomed cherry tree. How sang the others all around? Piercing and harsh, a maddening sound, With Pretty Poll, tuwit-tu-woo, Peewit, caw caw, cuckoo-cuckoo.
THE GOD CALLED POETRY.
Now I begin to know at last, These nights when I sit down to rhyme, The form and measure of that vast God we call Poetry, he who stoops And leaps me through his paper hoops A little higher every time.
Tempts me to think I'll grow a proper Singing cricket or grass-hopper Making prodigious jumps in air While shaken crowds about me stare Aghast, and I sing, growing bolder To fly up on my master's shoulder Rustling the thick strands of his hair.
He is older than the seas, Older than the plains and hills, And older than the light that spills From the sun's hot wheel on these. He wakes the gale that tears your trees, He sings to you from window sills.
At you he roars, or he will coo, He shouts and screams when hell is hot, Riding on the shell and shot. He smites you down, he succours you, And where you seek him, he is not.
To-day I see he has two heads Like Janus—calm, benignant, this; That, grim and scowling: his beard spreads From chin to chin" this god has power Immeasurable at every hour: He first taught lovers how to kiss, He brings down sunshine after shower, Thunder and hate are his also, He is YES and he is NO.
The black beard spoke and said to me, "Human frailty though you be, Yet shout and crack your whip, be harsh! They'll obey you in the end: Hill and field, river and marsh Shall obey you, hop and skip At the terrour of your whip, To your gales of anger bend."
The pale beard spoke and said in turn "True: a prize goes to the stern, But sing and laugh and easily run Through the wide airs of my plain, Bathe in my waters, drink my sun, And draw my creatures with soft song; They shall follow you along Graciously with no doubt or pain."
Then speaking from his double head The glorious fearful monster said "I am YES and I am NO, Black as pitch and white as snow, Love me, hate me, reconcile Hate with love, perfect with vile, So equal justice shall be done And life shared between moon and sun. Nature for you shall curse or smile: A poet you shall be, my son."
This is a wild land, country of my choice, With harsh craggy mountain, moor ample and bare. Seldom in these acres is heard any voice But voice of cold water that runs here and there Through rocks and lank heather growing without care. No mice in the heath run nor no birds cry For fear of the dark speck that floats in the sky.
He soars and he hovers rocking on his wings, He scans his wide parish with a sharp eye, He catches the trembling of small hidden things, He tears them in pieces, dropping from the sky: Tenderness and pity the land will deny, Where life is but nourished from water and rock A hardy adventure, full of fear and shock.
Time has never journeyed to this lost land, Crakeberries and heather bloom out of date, The rocks jut, the streams flow singing on either hand, Careless if the season be early or late. The skies wander overhead, now blue, now slate: Winter would be known by his cold cutting snow If June did not borrow his armour also.
Yet this is my country be loved by me best, The first land that rose from Chaos and the Flood, Nursing no fat valleys for comfort and rest, Trampled by no hard hooves, stained with no blood. Bold immortal country whose hill tops have stood Strongholds for the proud gods when on earth they go, Terror for fat burghers in far plains below.
ADVICE TO LOVERS.
I knew an old man at a Fair Who made it his twice-yearly task To clamber on a cider cask And cry to all the yokels there:—
"Lovers to-day and for all time Preserve the meaning of my rhyme: Love is not kindly nor yet grim But does to you as you to him.
"Whistle, and Love will come to you, Hiss, and he fades without a word, Do wrong, and he great wrong will do, Speak, he retells what he has heard.
"Then all you lovers have good heed Vex not young Love in word or deed: Love never leaves an unpaid debt, He will not pardon nor forget."
The old man's voice was sweet yet loud And this shows what a man was he, He'd scatter apples to the crowd And give great draughts of cider, free.
Frowning over the riddle that Daniel told, Down through the mist hung garden, below a feeble sun, The King of Persia walked: oh, the chilling cold! His mind was webbed with a grey shroud vapour-spun.
Here for the pride of his soaring eagle heart, Here for his great hand searching the skies for food, Here for his courtship of Heaven's high stars he shall smart, Nebuchadnezzar shall fall, crawl, be subdued.
Hot sun struck through the vapour, leaf strewn mould Breathed sweet decay: old Earth called for her child. Mist drew off from his mind, Sun scattered gold, Warmth came and earthy motives fresh and wild.
Down on his knees he sinks, the stiff-necked King, Stoops and kneels and grovels, chin to the mud. Out from his changed heart flutter on startled wing The fancy birds of his Pride, Honour, Kinglihood.
He crawls, he grunts, he is beast-like, frogs and snails His diet, and grass, and water with hand for cup. He herds with brutes that have hooves and horns and tails, He roars in his anger, he scratches, he looks not up.
GIVE US RAIN.
"Give us Rain, Rain," said the bean and the pea, "Not so much Sun, Not so much Sun." But the Sun smiles bravely and encouragingly, And no rain falls and no waters run.
"Give us Peace, Peace," said the peoples oppressed, "Not so many Flags, Not so many Flags." But the Flags fly and the Drums beat, denying rest, And the children starve, they shiver in rags.
Allie, call the birds in, The birds from the sky. Allie calls, Allie sings, Down they all fly. First there came Two white doves Then a sparrow from his nest, Then a clucking bantam hen, Then a robin red-breast.
Allie, call the beasts in, The beasts, every one. Allie calls, Allie sings, In they all run. First there came Two black lambs, Then a grunting Berkshire sow, Then a dog without a tail, Then a red and white cow.
Allie, call the fish up, The fish from the stream. Allie calls, Allie sings, Up they all swim. First there came Two gold fish, A minnow and a miller's thumb, Then a pair of loving trout, Then the twisted eels come.
Allie, call the children, Children from the green. Allie calls, Allie sings, Soon they run in. First there came Tom and Madge, Kate and I who'll not forget How we played by the water's edge Till the April sun set.
Henry, Henry, do you love me? Do I love you, Mary? Oh, can you mean to liken me To the aspen tree. Whose leaves do shake and vary, From white to green And back again, Shifting and contrary?
Henry, Henry, do you love me, Do you love me truly? Oh, Mary, must I say again My love's a pain, A torment most unruly? It tosses me Like a ship at sea When the storm rages fully.
Henry, Henry, why do you love me? Mary, dear, have pity! I swear, of all the girls there are Both near and far, In country or in city, There's none like you, So kind, so true, So wise, so brave, so pretty.
Though I am an old man With my bones very brittle, Though I am a poor old man Worth very little, Yet I suck at my long pipe At peace in the sun, I do not fret nor much regret That my work is done.
If I were a young man With my bones full of marrow, Oh, if I were a bold young man Straight as an arrow, And if I had the same years To live once again, I would not change their simple range Of laughter and pain.
If I were a young man And young was my Lily, A smart girl, a bold young man, Both of us silly. And though from time before I knew She'd stab me with pain, Though well I knew she'd not be true, I'd love her again.
If I were a young man With a brisk, healthy body, Oh, if I were a bold young man With love of rum toddy, Though I knew that I was spiting My old age with pain, My happy lip would touch and sip Again and again.
If I were a young man With my bones full of marrow, Oh, if I were a bold young man Straight as an arrow, I'd store up no virtue For Heaven's distant plain, I'd live at ease as I did please And sin once again.
APPLES AND WATER.
Dust in a cloud, blinding weather, Drums that rattle and roar! A mother and daughter stood together Beside their cottage door.
"Mother, the heavens are bright like brass, The dust is shaken high, With labouring breath the soldiers pass, Their lips are cracked and dry."
"Mother, I'll throw them apples down, I'll bring them pails of water." The mother turned with an angry frown Holding back her daughter.
"But mother, see, they faint with thirst, They march away to die," "Ah, sweet, had I but known at first Their throats are always dry."
"There is no water can supply them In western streams that flow, There is no fruit can satisfy them On orchard trees that grow."
"Once in my youth I gave, poor fool, A soldier apples and water, So may I die before you cool Your father's drouth, my daughter."
MANTICOR IN ARABIA.
(The manticors of the montaines Mighte feed them on thy braines.—Skelton.)
Thick and scented daisies spread Where with surface dull like lead Arabian pools of slime invite Manticors down from neighbouring height To dip heads, to cool fiery blood In oozy depths of sucking mud. Sing then of ringstraked manticor, Man-visaged tiger who of yore Held whole Arabian waste in fee With raging pride from sea to sea, That every lesser tribe would fly Those armed feet, that hooded eye; Till preying on himself at last Manticor dwindled, sank, was passed By gryphon flocks he did disdain. Ay, wyverns and rude dragons reign In ancient keep of manticor Agreed old foe can rise no more. Only here from lakes of slime Drinks manticor and bides due time: Six times Fowl Phoenix in yon tree Must mount his pyre and burn and be Renewed again, till in such hour As seventh Phoenix flames to power And lifts young feathers, overnice From scented pool of steamy spice Shall manticor his sway restore And rule Arabian plains once more.
Owls: they whinney down the night, Bats go zigzag by. Ambushed in shadow out of sight The outlaws lie.
Old gods, shrunk to shadows, there In the wet woods they lurk, Greedy of human stuff to snare In webs of murk.
Look up, else your eye must drown In a moving sea of black Between the tree-tops, upside down Goes the sky-track.
Look up, else your feet will stray Towards that dim ambuscade, Where spider-like they catch their prey In nets of shade.
For though creeds whirl away in dust, Faith fails and men forget, These aged gods of fright and lust Cling to life yet.
Old gods almost dead, malign, Starved of their ancient dues, Incense and fruit, fire, blood and wine And an unclean muse.
Banished to woods and a sickly moon, Shrunk to mere bogey things, Who spoke with thunder once at noon To prostrate kings.
With thunder from an open sky To peasant, tyrant, priest, Bowing in fear with a dazzled eye Towards the East.
Proud gods, humbled, sunk so low, Living with ghosts and ghouls, And ghosts of ghosts and last year's snow And dead toadstools.
BALOO LOO FOR JENNY.
Sing baloo loo for Jenny And where is she gone? Away to spy her mother's land, Riding all alone.
To the rich towns of Scotland, The woods and the streams, High upon a Spanish horse Saddled for her dreams.
By Oxford and by Chester, To Berwick-on-the-Tweed, Then once across the borderland She shall find no need.
A loaf for her at Stirling, A scone at Carlisle, Honeyed cakes at Edinbro'— That shall make her smile.
At Aberdeen clear cider, Mead for her at Nairn, A cup of wine at John o' Groats— That shall please my bairn.
Sing baloo loo for Jenny, Mother will be fain To see her little truant child Riding home again.
HAWK AND BUCKLE.
Where is the landlord of old Hawk and Buckle, And what of Master Straddler this hot summer weather? He's along in the tap-room with broad cheeks a-chuckle, And ten bold companions all drinking together.
Where is the daughter of old Hawk and Buckle, And what of Mistress Jenny this hot summer weather? She sits in the parlour with smell of honeysuckle, Trimming her bonnet with red ostrich feather.
Where is the ostler of old Hawk and Buckle, And what of Willy Jakeman this hot summer weather? He is rubbing his eyes with a slow and lazy knuckle As he wakes from his nap on a bank of fresh heather.
Where is the page boy of old Hawk and Buckle, And what of our young Charlie this hot summer weather? He is bobbing for tiddlers in a little trickle-truckle, With his line and his hook and his breeches of leather.
Where is the grey goat of old Hawk and Buckle, And what of pretty Nanny this hot summer weather? She stays not contented with little or with muckle, Straining for daisies at the end of her tether.
For this is our motto at old Hawk and Buckle, We cling to it close and we sing all together, "Every man for himself at our old Hawk and Buckle, And devil take the hindmost this hot summer weather."
THE "ALICE JEAN".
One moonlit night a ship drove in, A ghost ship from the west, Drifting with bare mast and lone tiller, Like a mermaid drest In long green weed and barnacles: She beached and came to rest.
All the watchers of the coast Flocked to view the sight, Men and women streaming down Through the summer night, Found her standing tall and ragged Beached in the moonlight.
Then one old woman looked and wept "The 'Alice Jean'? But no! The ship that took my Dick from me Sixty years ago Drifted back from the utmost west With the ocean's flow?
"Caught and caged in the weedy pool Beyond the western brink, Where crewless vessels lie and rot in waters black as ink. Torn out again by a sudden storm Is it the 'Jean', you think?"
A hundred women stared agape, The menfolk nudged and laughed, But none could find a likelier story For the strange craft. With fear and death and desolation Rigged fore and aft.
The blind ship came forgotten home To all but one of these Of whom none dared to climb aboard her: And by and by the breeze Sprang to a storm and the "Alice Jean" Foundered in frothy seas.
What's in that cupboard, Mary?
Which cupboard, mother dear?
The cupboard of red mahogany With handles shining clear.
That cupboard, dearest mother, With shining crystal handles? There's nought inside but rags and jags And yellow tallow candles.
What's in that cupboard, Mary?
Which cupboard, mother mine?
That cupboard stands in your sunny chamber, The silver corners shine.
There's nothing there inside, mother, But wool and thread and flax, And bits of faded silk and velvet, And candles of white wax.
What's in that cupboard, Mary? And this time tell me true.
White clothes for an unborn baby, mother, But what's the truth to you?
The silent shepherdess, She of my vows, Here with me exchanging love Under dim boughs.
Shines on our mysteries A sudden spark— "Dout the candle, glow-worm, Let all be dark.
"The birds have sung their last notes, The Sun's to bed, Glow-worm, dout your candle." The glow-worm said:
"I also am a lover; The lamp I display Is beacon for my true love Wandering astray.
"Through the thick bushes And the grass comes she With a heartload of longing And love for me.
"Sir, enjoy your fancy, But spare me harm, A lover is a lover, Though but a worm."
POT AND KETTLE.
Come close to me, dear Annie, while I bind a lover's knot. A tale of burning love between a kettle and a pot. The pot was stalwart iron and the kettle trusty tin, And though their sides were black with smoke they bubbled love within.
Forget that kettle, Jamie, and that pot of boiling broth, I know a dismal story of a candle and a moth. For while your pot is boiling and while your kettle sings My moth makes love to candle flame and burns away his wings.
Your moth, I envy, Annie, that died by candle flame, But here are two more lovers, unto no damage came. There was a cuckoo loved a clock and found her always true. For every hour they told their hearts, "Ring! ting! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"
As the pot boiled for the kettle, as the kettle for the pot, So boils my love within me till my breast is glowing hot. As the moth died for the candle, so could I die for you. And my fond heart beats time with yours and cries, "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"
"Come, surly fellow, come! A song!" What, madmen? Sing to you? Choose from the clouded tales of wrong And terror I bring to you.
Of a night so torn with cries, Honest men sleeping Start awake with glaring eyes, Bone-chilled, flesh creeping.
Of spirits in the web hung room Up above the stable, Groans, knockings in the gloom, The dancing table.
Of demons in the dry well That cheep and mutter, Clanging of an unseen bell, Blood choking the gutter.
Of lust frightful, past belief, Lurking unforgotten, Unrestrainable endless grief From breasts long rotten.
A song? What laughter or what song Can this house remember? Do flowers and butterflies belong To a blind December?
"Edward back from the Indian Sea, What have you brought for Nancy?"
"A rope of pearls and a gold earring, And a bird of the East that will not sing. A carven tooth, a box with a key—"
"God be praised you are back," says she, "Have you nothing more for your Nancy?"
"Long as I sailed the Indian Sea I gathered all for your fancy: Toys and silk and jewels I bring, And a bird of the East that will not sing: What more can you want, dear girl, from me?"
"God be praised you are back," said she, "Have you nothing better for Nancy?"
"Safe and home from the Indian Sea, And nothing to take your fancy?"
"You can keep your pearls and your gold earring, And your bird of the East that will not sing, But, Ned, have you nothing more for me Than heathenish gew-gaw toys?" says she, "Have you nothing better for Nancy?"
THE WELL-DRESSED CHILDREN.
Here's flowery taffeta for Mary's new gown: Here's black velvet, all the rage, for Dick's birthday coat. Pearly buttons for you, Mary, all the way down, Lace ruffles, Dick, for you; you'll be a man of note.
Mary, here I've bought you a green gingham shade And a silk purse brocaded with roses gold and blue, You'll learn to hold them proudly like colours on parade. No banker's wife in all the town half so grand as you.
I've bought for young Diccon a long walking-stick, Yellow gloves, well tanned, at Woodstock village made. I'll teach you to flourish 'em and show your name is DICK, Strutting by your sister's side with the same parade.
On Sunday to church you go, each with a book of prayer: Then up the street and down the aisles, everywhere you'll see Of all the honours paid around, how small is Virtue's share. How large the share of Vulgar Pride in peacock finery.
THUNDER AT NIGHT.
Restless and hot two children lay Plagued with uneasy dreams, Each wandered lonely through false day A twilight torn with screams.
True to the bed-time story, Ben Pursued his wounded bear, Ann dreamed of chattering monkey men, Of snakes twined in her hair...
Now high aloft above the town The thick clouds gather and break, A flash, a roar, and rain drives down: Aghast the young things wake.
Trembling for what their terror was, Surprised by instant doom, With lightning in the looking glass, Thunder that rocks the room.
The monkeys' paws patter again, Snakes hiss and flash their eyes: The bear roars out in hideous pain: Ann prays: her brother cries.
They cannot guess, could not be told How soon comes careless day, With birds and dandelion gold, Wet grass, cool scents of May.
TO E.M.—A BALLAD OF NURSERY RHYME.
Strawberries that in gardens grow Are plump and juicy fine, But sweeter far as wise men know Spring from the woodland vine.
No need for bowl or silver spoon, Sugar or spice or cream, Has the wild berry plucked in June Beside the trickling stream.
One such to melt at the tongue's root, Confounding taste with scent, Beats a full peck of garden fruit: Which points my argument.
May sudden justice overtake And snap the froward pen, That old and palsied poets shake Against the minds of men.
Blasphemers trusting to hold caught In far-flung webs of ink, The utmost ends of human thought Till nothing's left to think.
But may the gift of heavenly peace And glory for all time Keep the boy Tom who tending geese First made the nursery rhyme.
By the brookside one August day, Using the sun for clock, Tom whiled the languid hours away Beside his scattering flock.
Carving with a sharp pointed stone On a broad slab of slate The famous lives of Jumping Joan, Dan Fox and Greedy Kate.
Rhyming of wolves and bears and birds, Spain, Scotland, Babylon, That sister Kate might learn the words To tell to toddling John.
But Kate who could not stay content To learn her lesson pat New beauty to the rough lines lent By changing this or that.
And she herself set fresh things down In corners of her slate, Of lambs and lanes and London town. God's blessing fall on Kate!
The baby loved the simple sound, With jolly glee he shook, And soon the lines grew smooth and round Like pebbles in Tom's brook.
From mouth to mouth told and retold By children sprawled at ease, Before the fire in winter's cold, in June, beneath tall trees.
Till though long lost are stone and slate, Though the brook no more runs, And dead long time are Tom, John, Kate, Their sons and their sons' sons.
Yet as when Time with stealthy tread Lays the rich garden waste The woodland berry ripe and red Fails not in scent or taste,
So these same rhymes shall still be told To children yet unborn, While false philosophy growing old Fades and is killed by scorn.
As Jane walked out below the hill, She saw an old man standing still, His eyes in tranced sorrow bound On the broad stretch of barren ground.
His limbs were knarled like aged trees, His thin beard wrapt about his knees, His visage broad and parchment white, Aglint with pale reflected light.
He seemed a creature fall'n afar From some dim planet or faint star. Jane scanned him very close, and soon Cried, "'Tis the old man from the moon."
He raised his voice, a grating creak, But only to himself would speak. Groaning with tears in piteous pain, "O! O! would I were home again."
Then Jane ran off, quick as she could, To cheer his heart with drink and food. But ah, too late came ale and bread, She found the poor soul stretched stone-dead. And a new moon rode overhead.
VAIN AND CARELESS.
Lady, lovely lady, Careless and gay! Once when a beggar called She gave her child away.
The beggar took the baby, Wrapped it in a shawl, "Bring her back," the lady said, "Next time you call."
Hard by lived a vain man, So vain and so proud, He walked on stilts To be seen by the crowd.
Up above the chimney pots, Tall as a mast, And all the people ran about Shouting till he passed.
"A splendid match surely," Neighbours saw it plain, "Although she is so careless, Although he is so vain."
But the lady played bobcherry, Did not see or care, As the vain man went by her Aloft in the air.
This gentle-born couple Lived and died apart. Water will not mix with oil, Nor vain with careless heart.
Nine of the clock, oh! Wake my lazy head! Your shoes of red morocco, Your silk bed-gown: Rouse, rouse, speck-eyed Mary In your high bed! A yawn, a smile, sleepy-starey, Mary climbs down. "Good-morning to my brothers, Good-day to the Sun, Halloo, halloo to the lily-white sheep That up the mountain run."
Good-night to the meadow, farewell to the nine o'clock Sun, "He loves me not, loves me, he loves me not" (O jealous one!) "He loves me, he loves me not, loves me"—O soft nights of June, A bird sang for love on the cherry-bough: up swam the Moon.
THE PICTURE BOOK.
When I was not quite five years old I first saw the blue picture book, And Fraulein Spitzenburger told Stories that sent me hot and cold; I loathed it, yet I had to look: It was a German book.
I smiled at first, for she'd begun With a back-garden broad and green, And rabbits nibbling there: page one Turned; and the gardener fired his gun From the low hedge: he lay unseen Behind: oh, it was mean!
They're hurt, they can't escape, and so He stuffs them head-down in a sack, Not quite dead, wriggling in a row, And Fraulein laughed, "Ho, ho! Ho, ho!" And gave my middle a hard smack, I wish that I'd hit back.
Then when I cried she laughed again; On the next page was a dead boy Murdered by robbers in a lane; His clothes were red with a big stain Of blood, he held a broken toy, The poor, poor little boy!
I had to look: there was a town Burning where every one got caught, Then a fish pulled a nigger down Into the lake and made him drown, And a man killed his friend; they fought For money, Fraulein thought.
Old Fraulein laughed, a horrid noise. "Ho, ho!" Then she explained it all How robbers kill the little boys And torture them and break their toys. Robbers are always big and tall: I cried: I was so small.
How a man often kills his wife, How every one dies in the end By fire, or water or a knife. If you're not careful in this life, Even if you can trust your friend, You won't have long to spend.
I hated it—old Fraulein picked Her teeth, slowly explaining it. I had to listen, Fraulein licked Her fingers several times and flicked The pages over; in a fit Of rage I spat at it...
And lying in my bed that night Hungry, tired out with sobs, I found A stretch of barren years in sight, Where right is wrong, but strength is right, Where weak things must creep underground, And I could not sleep sound.
THE PROMISED LULLABY.
Can I find True-Love a gift In this dark hour to restore her, When body's vessel breaks adrift, When hope and beauty fade before her? But in this plight I cannot think Of song or music, that would grieve her, Or toys or meat or snow-cooled drink; Not this way can her sadness leave her. She lies and frets in childish fever, All I can do is but to cry "Sleep, sleep, True-Love and lullaby!"
Lullaby, and sleep again. Two bright eyes through the window stare, A nose is flattened on the pane And infant fingers fumble there. "Not yet, not yet, you lovely thing, But count and come nine weeks from now, When winter's tail has lost the sting, When buds come striking through the bough, Then here's True-Love will show you how Her name she won, will hush your cry With "Sleep, my baby! Lullaby!"
Gulp down your wine, old friends of mine, Roar through the darkness, stamp and sing And lay ghost hands on everything, But leave the noonday's warm sunshine To living lads for mirth and wine.
I met you suddenly down the street, Strangers assume your phantom faces, You grin at me from daylight places, Dead, long dead, I'm ashamed to greet Dead men down the morning street.
RETROSPECT: THE JESTS OF THE CLOCK.
He had met hours of the clock he never guessed before— Dumb, dragging, mirthless hours confused with dreams and fear, Bone-chilling, hungry hours when the gods sleep and snore, Bequeathing earth and heaven to ghosts, and will not hear, And will not hear man groan chained to the sodden ground, Rotting alive; in feather beds they slumbered sound.
When noisome smells of day were sicklied by cold night, When sentries froze and muttered; when beyond the wire Blank shadows crawled and tumbled, shaking, tricking the sight, When impotent hatred of Life stifled desire, Then soared the sudden rocket, broke in blanching showers. O lagging watch! O dawn! O hope-forsaken hours!
How often with numbed heart, stale lips, venting his rage He swore he'd be a dolt, a traitor, a damned fool, If, when the guns stopped, ever again from youth to age He broke the early-rising, early-sleeping rule. No, though more bestial enemies roused a fouler war Never again would he bear this, no never more!
"Rise with the cheerful sun, go to bed with the same, Work in your field or kailyard all the shining day, But," he said, "never more in quest of wealth, honour, fame, Search the small hours of night before the East goes grey. A healthy mind, a honest heart, a wise man leaves Those ugly impious times to ghosts, devils, soldiers, thieves."
Poor fool, knowing too well deep in his heart That he'll be ready again if urgent orders come, To quit his rye and cabbages, kiss his wife and part At the first sullen rapping of the awakened drum, Ready once more to sweat with fear and brace for the shock, To greet beneath a falling flare the jests of the clock.
HERE THEY LIE.
Here they lie who once learned here All that is taught of hurt or fear; Dead, but by free will they died: They were true men, they had pride.
On pay-day nights, neck-full with beer, Old soldiers stumbling homeward here, Homeward (still dazzled by the spark Love kindled in some alley dark) Young soldiers mooning in slow thought, Start suddenly, turn about, are caught By a dancing sound, merry as a grig, Tom Taylor's piccolo playing jig. Never was blown from human cheeks Music like this, that calls and speaks Till sots and lovers from one string Dangle and dance in the same ring. Tom, of your piping I've heard said And seen—that you can rouse the dead, Dead-drunken men awash who lie In stinking gutters hear your cry, I've seen them twitch, draw breath, grope, sigh, Heave up, sway, stand; grotesquely then You set them dancing, these dead men. They stamp and prance with sobbing breath, Victims of wine or love or death, In ragged time they jump, they shake Their heads, sweating to overtake The impetuous tune flying ahead. They flounder after, with legs of lead. Now, suddenly as it started, play Stops, the short echo dies away, The corpses drop, a senseless heap, The drunk men gaze about like sheep. Grinning, the lovers sigh and stare Up at the broad moon hanging there, While Tom, five fingers to his nose, Skips off...And the last bugle blows.
COUNTRY AT WAR.
And what of home—how goes it, boys, While we die here in stench and noise? "The hill stands up and hedges wind Over the crest and drop behind; Here swallows dip and wild things go On peaceful errands to and fro Across the sloping meadow floor, And make no guess at blasting war. In woods that fledge the round hill-shoulder Leaves shoot and open, fall and moulder, And shoot again. Meadows yet show Alternate white of drifted snow And daisies. Children play at shop, Warm days, on the flat boulder-top, With wildflower coinage, and the wares Are bits of glass and unripe pears. Crows perch upon the backs of sheep, The wheat goes yellow: women reap, Autumn winds ruffle brook and pond, Flutter the hedge and fly beyond. So the first things of nature run, And stand not still for any one, Contemptuous of the distant cry Wherewith you harrow earth and sky. And high French clouds, praying to be Back, back in peace beyond the sea, Where nature with accustomed round Sweeps and garnishes the ground With kindly beauty, warm or cold— Alternate seasons never old: Heathen, how furiously you rage, Cursing this blood and brimstone age, How furiously against your will You kill and kill again, and kill: All thought of peace behind you cast, Till like small boys with fear aghast, Each cries for God to understand, 'I could not help it, it was my hand.'"
SOSPAN FACH. (The Little Saucepan)
Four collier lads from Ebbw Vale Took shelter from a shower of hail, And there beneath a spreading tree Attuned their mouths to harmony.
With smiling joy on every face Two warbled tenor, two sang bass, And while the leaves above them hissed with Rough hail, they started "Aberystwyth."
Old Parry's hymn, triumphant, rich, They changed through with even pitch, Till at the end of their grand noise I called: "Give us the 'Sospan' boys!"
Who knows a tune so soft, so strong, So pitiful as that "Saucepan" song For exiled hope, despaired desire Of lost souls for their cottage fire?
Then low at first with gathering sound Rose their four voices, smooth and round, Till back went Time: once more I stood With Fusiliers in Mametz Wood.
Fierce burned the sun, yet cheeks were pale, For ice hail they had leaden hail; In that fine forest, green and big, There stayed unbroken not one twig.
They sang, they swore, they plunged in haste, Stumbling and shouting through the waste; The little "Saucepan" flamed on high, Emblem of hope and ease gone by.
Rough pit-boys from the coaly South, They sang, even in the cannon's mouth; Like Sunday's chapel, Monday's inn, The death-trap sounded with their din.
The storm blows over, Sun comes out, The choir breaks up with jest and shout, With what relief I watch them part— Another note would break my heart!
Near Martinpuisch that night of hell Two men were struck by the same shell, Together tumbling in one heap Senseless and limp like slaughtered sheep.
One was a pale eighteen-year-old, Girlish and thin and not too bold, Pressed for the war ten years too soon, The shame and pity of his platoon.
The other came from far-off lands With bristling chin and whiskered hands, He had known death and hell before In Mexico and Ecuador.
Yet in his death this cut-throat wild Groaned "Mother! Mother!" like a child, While that poor innocent in man's clothes Died cursing God with brutal oaths.
Old Sergeant Smith, kindest of men, Wrote out two copies there and then Of his accustomed funeral speech To cheer the womenfolk of each.
HATE NOT, FEAR NOT.
Kill if you must, but never hate: Man is but grass and hate is blight, The sun will scorch you soon or late, Die wholesome then, since you must fight.
Hate is a fear, and fear is rot That cankers root and fruit alike, Fight cleanly then, hate not, fear not, Strike with no madness when you strike.
Fever and fear distract the world, But calm be you though madmen shout, Through blazing fires of battle hurled, Hate not, strike, fear not, stare Death out!
A RHYME OF FRIENDS. (In a Style Skeltonical)
Listen now this time Shortly to my rhyme That herewith starts About certain kind hearts In those stricken parts That lie behind Calais, Old crones and aged men And young children. About the Picardais, Who earned my thousand thanks, Dwellers by the banks Of mournful Somme (God keep me therefrom Until War ends)— These, then, are my friends: Madame Averlant Lune, From the town of Bethune; Good Professeur la Brune From that town also. He played the piccolo, And left his locks to grow. Dear Madame Hojdes, Sempstress of Saint Fe. With Jules and Susette And Antoinette. Her children, my sweethearts, For whom I made darts Of paper to throw In their mimic show, "La guerre aux tranchees." That was a pretty play.
There was old Jacques Caron, Of the hamlet Mailleton. He let me look At his household book, "Comment vivre cent ans." What cares I took To obey this wise book, I, who feared each hour Lest Death's cruel power On the poppied plain Might make cares vain!
By Noeus-les-mines Lived old Adelphine, Withered and clean, She nodded and smiled, And used me like a child. How that old trot beguiled My leisure with her chatter, Gave me a china platter Painted with Cherubim And mottoes on the rim. But when instead of thanks I gave her francs How her pride was hurt! She counted francs as dirt, (God knows, she was not rich) She called the Kaiser bitch, She spat on the floor, Cursing this Prussian war, That she had known before Forty years past and more.
There was also "Tomi," With looks sweet and free, Who called me cher ami. This orphan's age was nine, His folk were in their graves, Else they were slaves Behind the German line To terror and rapine— O, little friends of mine How kind and brave you were, You smoothed away care When life was hard to bear. And you, old women and men, Who gave me billets then, How patient and great-hearted! Strangers though we started, Yet friends we ever parted. God bless you all: now ends This homage to my friends.
A FIRST REVIEW.
Love, Fear and Hate and Childish Toys Are here discreetly blent; Admire, you ladies, read, you boys, My Country Sentiment.
But Kate says, "Cut that anger and fear, True love's the stuff we need! With laughing children and the running deer That makes a book indeed."
Then Tom, a hard and bloody chap, Though much beloved by me, "Robert, have done with nursery pap, Write like a man," says he.
Hate and Fear are not wanted here, Nor Toys nor Country Lovers, Everything they took from my new poem book But the flyleaf and the covers.