Christopher Morley.

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SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE

by

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY

_"He that high growth on cedars did bestow,
Gave also lowly mushrumps leave to grow."_
- R. Southwell, 1562-95







New York
George H. Doran Company

Copyright, 1917,
by George H. Doran Company

Printed in the United States of America




TO THE LITTLE HOUSE


Dear little house, dear shabby street,
Dear books and beds and food to eat!
How feeble words are to express
The facets of your tenderness.

How white the sun comes through the pane!
In tinkling music drips the rain!
How burning bright the furnace glows!
What paths to shovel when it snows!

O dearly loved Long Island trains!
O well remembered joys and pains....
How near the housetops Beauty leans
Along that little street in Queens!

Let these poor rhymes abide for proof
Joy dwells beneath a humble roof;
Heaven is not built of country seats
But little queer suburban streets!

Albany Avenue, Queens, Long Island,
March, 1917




ONE MOMENT, PLEASE


At fifty cents per agate line
Kind editors will buy your verse;
They'll make you swear that you resign
All claims, for better or for worse.
The book, dramatic, photoplay,
And interplanetary rights
They seize; but do not feel dismay -
Their barks are fiercer than their bites!

I thank, for leave to print these rhymes,
And for unfailing courtesy,
_Everybody's_, _New York Times_,
The _Outlook_ and the _Century_;
The _Boston Transcript_, _L. H. J._,
The _Tribune_, _Mail_, and _Evening Post_,
The _Book News Monthly_, chastely gay -
But _Life_ and _Collier's_ I thank most.

The _Independent_ and _McClure's_
And _Argosy_ have borne my flights:
Dear scribblers, how this reassures -
Their barks are fiercer than their bites!




CONTENTS


SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE
PAGE
BAYBERRY CANDLES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
SECRET LAUGHTER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
A CHARM FOR OUR NEW FIREPLACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
SIX WEEKS OLD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
THE YOUNG MOTHER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
PETER PAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
THE 5:42 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
READING ALOUD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
THE MOON-SHEEP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
MAR QUONG, CHINESE LAUNDRYMAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
THE MILKMAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
IN HONOUR OF TAFFY TOPAZ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
THE CEDAR CHEST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
O PRAISE ME NOT THE COUNTRY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
ANIMAL CRACKERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
THE WAKEFUL HUSBAND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
LIGHT VERSE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
FULL MOON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
MY WIFE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
WASHING THE DISHES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
THE FURNACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
THE CHURCH OF UNBENT KNEES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
THE NEW ALTMAN BUILDING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
THE MADONNA OF THE CURB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
MY PIPE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
TO A GRANDMOTHER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45


A HANDFUL OF SONNETS

I . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
II . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
PEDOMETER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
ARS DURA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52
O. HENRY - APOTHECARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
FOR THE CENTENARY OF KEATS'S SONNET (1816) . . . . . . . 54
TWO O'CLOCK . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
THE COMMERCIAL TRAVELLER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
THE WEDDED LOVER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
TO YOU, REMEMBERING THE PAST . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
THE LAST SONNET . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59


THE WAR

IRONY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
TO A FRENCH BABY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
AFTER HEARING GERMAN MUSIC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
IN MEMORY OF THE AMERICAN AVIATORS KILLED IN FRANCE . . 66
THE FLAGS ON FIFTH AVENUE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
"THEY" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68
BALLAD OF FRENCH RIVERS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
PEASANT AND KING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
TILL TWISTON WENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74
TO RUDYARD KIPLING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
TO A U-BOAT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
KITCHENER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
MARCH 1915 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
DEAD SHIPS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
ENGLAND, JULY 1913 (TO RUPERT BROOKE) . . . . . . . . . 81
TO THE OXFORD MEN IN THE WAR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
FOR THE PRESENT TIME . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
AMERICA, 1917 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
ON VIMY RIDGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90


HAY FEVER, AND OTHER LITERARY POLLEN

HAY FEVER, IF RUDYARD KIPLING HAD IT . . . . . . . . . . 93
HAY FEVER, IF AMY LOWELL HAD IT . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
HAY FEVER, IF HILAIRE BELLOC HAD IT . . . . . . . . . . 96
HAY FEVER, IF EDGAR LEE MASTERS HAD IT . . . . . . . . . 97
HYMN TO THE DAIRYMAIDS ON BEACON STREET . . . . . . . . 98
ON FIRST LOOKING INTO A SUBWAY EXCAVATION . . . . . . . 100
BALLAD OF NEW AMSTERDAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101
CASUALTY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
AT THE WOMEN'S CLUBS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY COAL-BIN . . . . . . . . . . 105
MOONS WE SAW AT SEVENTEEN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
AT THE DOG SHOW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108
THE OLD SWIMMER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
TO ALL MY FRIENDS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
A GRUB STREET RECESSIONAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113




SONGS FOR A LITTLE HOUSE




BAYBERRY CANDLES


Dear sweet, when dusk comes up the hill,
The fire leaps high with golden prongs;
I place along the chimneysill
The tiny candles of my songs.

And though unsteadily they burn,
As evening shades from grey to blue
Like candles they will surely learn
To shine more clear, for love of you.




SECRET LAUGHTER

"I had a secret laughter."
- Walter de la Mare.


There is a secret laughter
That often comes to me,
And though I go about my work
As humble as can be,
There is no prince or prelate
I envy - no, not one.
No evil can befall me -
By God, I have a son!




A CHARM

For Our New Fireplace,
To Stop Its Smoking


O wood, burn bright; O flame, be quick;
O smoke, draw cleanly up the flue -
My lady chose your every brick
And sets her dearest hopes on you!

Logs cannot burn, nor tea be sweet,
Nor white bread turn to crispy toast,
Until the charm be made complete
By love, to lay the sooty ghost.

And then, dear books, dear waiting chairs,
Dear china and mahogany,
Draw close, for on the happy stairs
My brown-eyed girl comes down for tea!




SIX WEEKS OLD


He is so small, he does not know
The summer sun, the winter snow;
The spring that ebbs and comes again,
All this is far beyond his ken.

A little world he feels and sees:
His mother's arms, his mother's knees;
He hides his face against her breast,
And does not care to learn the rest.




THE YOUNG MOTHER


Of what concern are wars to her,
Or treaties broken on the seas?
Or all the cruelties of men?
She has her baby on her knees.

In blessed singleness of heart,
What heed has she for nations' wrath?
She sings a little peaceful hymn
As she prepares the baby's bath.

As in a dream, she hears the talk
Of mine, torpedo, bomb and gun -
She shudders, but her thoughts are all
Encradled with her little son.




PETER PAN

"The boy for whom Barrie wrote Peter Pan - the original of Peter
Pan - has died in battle."
- New York Times.


And Peter Pan is dead? not so!
When mothers turn the lights down low
And tuck their little sons in bed,
They know that Peter is not dead....

That little rounded blanket-hill;
Those prayer-time eyes, so deep and still -
However wise and great a man
He grows, he still is Peter Pan.

And mothers' ways are often queer:
They pause in doorways, just to hear
A tiny breathing; think a prayer;
And then go tiptoe down the stair.




THE 5:42


Lilac, violet, and rose
Ardently the city glows;
Sunset glory, purely sweet,
Gilds the dreaming byway-street,
And, above the Avenue,
Winter dusk is deepening blue.

(Then, across Long Island meadows,
Darker, darker, grow the shadows:
Patience, little waiting lass!
Laggard minutes slowly pass;
Patience, laughs the yellow fire:
Homeward bound is heart's desire!)

Hark, adown the canyon street
Flows the merry tide of feet;
High the golden buildings loom
Blazing in the purple gloom;
All the town is set with stars,
_Homeward_ chant the Broadway cars!

All down Thirty-second Street
_Homeward_, _Homeward_, say the feet!
Tramping men, uncouth to view,
Footsore, weary, thrill anew;
Gone the ringing telephones,
Blessed nightfall now atones.
Casting brightness on the snow
Golden the train windows go.

Then (how long it seems) at last
All the way is overpast.
Heart that beats your muffled drum,
Lo, your venturer is come!
Wide the door! Leap high, O fire!
Home at length is heart's desire!
Gone is weariness and fret,
At the sill warm lips are met.
Once again may be renewed
The conjoined beatitude.




READING ALOUD


Once we read Tennyson aloud
In our great fireside chair;
Between the lines, my lips could touch
Her April-scented hair.

How very fond I was, to think
The printed poems fair,
When close within my arms I held
A living lyric there!




THE MOON-SHEEP


The moon seems like a docile sheep,
She pastures while all people sleep;
But sometimes, when she goes astray,
She wanders all alone by day.

Up in the clear blue morning air
We are surprised to see her there,
Grazing in her woolly white,
Waiting the return of night.

When dusk lets down the meadow bars
She greets again her lambs, the stars!




MAR QUONG, CHINESE LAUNDRYMAN


I like the Chinese laundryman:
He smokes a pipe that bubbles,
And seems, as far as I can tell,
A man with but few troubles.
He has much to do, no doubt,
But also, much to think about.

Most men (for instance I myself)
Are spending, at all times,
All our hard-earned quarters,
Our nickels and our dimes:
With Mar Quong it's the other way -
He takes in small change every day.

Next time you call for collars
In his steamy little shop,
Observe how tight his pigtail
Is coiled and piled on top.
But late at night he lets it hang
And thinks of the Yang-tse-kiang.




THE MILKMAN


Early in the morning, when the dawn is on the roofs,
You hear his wheels come rolling, you hear his horse's hoofs;
You hear the bottles clinking, and then he drives away:
You yawn in bed, turn over, and begin another day!

The old-time dairy maids are dear to every poet's heart -
I'd rather be the dairy _man_ and drive a little cart,
And bustle round the village in the early morning blue,
And hang my reins upon a hook, as I've seen Casey do.




IN HONOUR OF TAFFY TOPAZ


Taffy, the topaz-coloured cat,
Thinks now of this and now of that,
But chiefly of his meals.
Asparagus, and cream, and fish,
Are objects of his Freudian wish;
What you don't give, he steals.

His gallant heart is strongly stirred
By clink of plate or flight of bird,
He has a plumy tail;
At night he treads on stealthy pad
As merry as Sir Galahad
A-seeking of the Grail.

His amiable amber eyes
Are very friendly, very wise;
Like Buddha, grave and fat,
He sits, regardless of applause,
And thinking, as he kneads his paws,
What fun to be a cat!




THE CEDAR CHEST


Her mind is like her cedar chest
Wherein in quietness do rest
The wistful dreamings of her heart
In fragrant folds all laid apart.

There, put away in sprigs of rhyme
Until her life's full blossom-time,
Flutter (like tremulous little birds)
Her small and sweet maternal words.




O PRAISE ME NOT THE COUNTRY


O praise me not the country -
The meadows green and cool,
The solemn glow of sunsets, the hidden silver pool!
The city for my craving,
Her lordship and her slaving,
The hot stones of her paving
For me, a city fool!

O praise me not the leisure
Of gardened country seats,
The fountains on the terrace against the summer heats -
The city for my yearning,
My spending and my earning.
Her winding ways for learning,
Sing hey! the city streets!

O praise me not the country,
Her sycamores and bees,
I had my youthful plenty of sour apple trees!
The city for my wooing,
My dreaming and my doing;
Her beauty for pursuing,
Her deathless mysteries.

O praise me not the country,
Her evenings full of stars,
Her yachts upon the water with the wind among their spars -
The city for my wonder,
Her glory and her blunder,
And O the haunting thunder
Of the Elevated cars!




ANIMAL CRACKERS


Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink,
That is the finest of suppers, I think;
When I'm grown up and can have what I please
I think I shall always insist upon these.

What do _you_ choose when you're offered a treat?
When Mother says, "What would you like best to eat?"
Is it waffles and syrup, or cinnamon toast?
It's cocoa and animals that _I_ love most!

The kitchen's the cosiest place that I know:
The kettle is singing, the stove is aglow,
And there in the twilight, how jolly to see
The cocoa and animals waiting for me.

Daddy and Mother dine later in state,
With Mary to cook for them, Susan to wait;
But they don't have nearly as much fun as I
Who eat in the kitchen with Nurse standing by;
And Daddy once said, he would like to be me
Having cocoa and animals once more for tea!




THE WAKEFUL HUSBAND


How blue the moonlight and how still the night.
Silent I ramble through the whole dear house
Setting aright in happy ownership
Whatever may lie out of its due place.
Books in the living room I rearrange,
Then in the dining room my pewter mugs,
And put her little brown nasturtium bowl
Where she can see it when she telephones.
Up in my den the papers are a-sprawl
And litter up my desk: these too I sort
Thinking, to-morrow I will rise betimes
And do my work neglected.... Tiptoe then
I pass into the Shrine. She is asleep,
Dark hair across the moon-blanched pillow slip.
Her eyes are sealed with peace, but as I touch
The girlish cheek, her lips are tremulous
With secret knowing smiles. In her boudoir
(Her "sulking room" I call it: did you know
It means that?) I wind up the tiny clock
And stand at her Prayer Window where the fields
Lie listening to the crickets and the stars....
Alas, I only hear the throb of pain
That echoes from the moonlit fields of France.

Into our kitchen, too, I love to go,
Straighten the spoons against our break of fast,
Share secrets with our dog, the drowsy-eyed,
Surprise the kitten with some midnight milk.
The pantry cupboard, full of pleasant things,
Attracts me: there I love to place in line
The packages of cereals, or fill up
The breakfast sugar bowl; and empty out
The icebox pan into the singing night.

Then, as I fixed the cushions on the porch,
I wondered whether God, while wandering
Through his big house, the World, householderwise,
Does also quietly set things aright,
Gives sleep to sleepless wives in Germany
And gently smooths the battlefields of France?
Dear Father God, the children in their play
Have tossed their toys in saddest disarray -
Wilt Thou not, like a kindly nurse at dusk,
Pass through the playroom, make it neat again?
_September_, 1914.




LIGHT VERSE


At night the gas lamps light our street,
Electric bulbs our homes;
The gas is billed in cubic feet,
Electric light in ohms.

But one illumination still
Is brighter far, and sweeter;
It is not figured in a bill,
Nor measured by a meter.

More bright than lights that money buys,
More pleasing to discerners,
The shining lamps of Helen's eyes,
Those lovely double burners!




FULL MOON


The moon is but a silver watch
To tell the time of night;
If you should wake, and wish to know
The hour, don't strike a light.

Just draw the blind, and closely scan
Her dial in the blue:
If it is round and bright, there is
A deal more sleep for you.

She runs without an error,
Not too slow nor too quick,
And better than alarum clocks -
She doesn't have to tick!




MY WIFE


Pure as the moonlight, sweet as midnight air,
Simple as the primrose, brave and just and fair,
Such is my wife. The more unworthy I
To kiss the little hand of her by whom I lie.

New words, true words, need I to make you see
The gallantry, the graciousness, that she has brought to me;
How humble and how haughty, how quick in thought and deed,
How loyally she comrades me in every time of need.

To-night she is not with me. I kiss her empty dress.
Here I kneel beside it, not ashamed to bless
Each dear bosom-fold of it that bears a breath of her,
Makes my heart a house of pain, and my eyes a blur.

Here I kneel beside it, humble now to pray
That God will send her back to me on the morrow day.

New words, true words, only such could praise
The blessed, blessed magic of her dear and dauntless ways.




WASHING THE DISHES


When we on simple rations sup
How easy is the washing up!
But heavy feeding complicates
The task by soiling many plates.

And though I grant that I have prayed
That we might find a serving-maid,
I'd scullion all my days, I think,
To see Her smile across the sink!

I wash, She wipes. In water hot
I souse each dish and pan and pot;
While Taffy mutters, purrs, and begs,
And rubs himself against my legs.

The man who never in his life
Has washed the dishes with his wife
Or polished up the silver plate -
He still is largely celibate.

One warning: there is certain ware
That must be handled with all care:
The Lord Himself will give you up
If you should drop a willow cup!




THE FURNACE


At night I opened
The furnace door:
The warm glow brightened
The cellar floor.

The fire that sparkled
Blue and red,
Kept small toes cosy
In their bed.

As up the stair
So late I stole,
I said my prayer:
_Thank God for coal!_




THE CHURCH OF UNBENT KNEES


As I went by the church to-day
I heard the organ cry;
And goodly folk were on their knees,
But I went striding by.

My minster hath a roof more vast:
My aisles are oak trees high;
My altar-cloth is on the hills,
My organ is the sky.

I see my rood upon the clouds,
The winds, my chanted choir;
My crystal windows, heaven-glazed,
Are stained with sunset fire.

The stars, the thunder, and the rain,
White sands and purple seas -
These are His pulpit and His pew,
My God of Unbent Knees!




THE NEW ALTMAN BUILDING

Madison Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street
(January, 1914)


Fled is the glamour, fled the royal dream,
Fled is the joy. They work no more by night
Deep in that cave of dazzling amber light,
In pools of darkness, under plumes of steam.
Gone are the laughing drills that sting and hiss
Deep in the ribs of the metropolis.

Gone are the torches and the great red cranes
That swung their arms with such resistless might;
Gone are the flags and drums of that great fight,
No more they swink with rocks and autumn rains;
And only girders, rising tier on tier,
Give hint of all the struggle that was here.

We too, mad zealots of the hardest craft,
Striving to build a word-house fair and tall,
Have wept to see our dear erections fall;
Have wept - then flung away our tools, and laughed.
Fled is the dream, but working year by year
We see our buildings rising, tier on tier.




THE MADONNA OF THE CURB


On the curb of a city pavement,
By the ash and garbage cans,
In the stench and rolling thunder
Of motor trucks and vans,
There sits my little lady,
With brave but troubled eyes,
And in her arms a baby
That cries and cries and cries.

She cannot be more than seven;
But years go fast in the slums,
And hard on the pains of winter
The pitiless summer comes.
The wail of sickly children
She knows; she understands
The pangs of puny bodies,
The clutch of small hot hands.

In the deadly blaze of August,
That turns men faint and mad,
She quiets the peevish urchins
By telling a dream she had -
A heaven with marble counters,
And ice, and a singing fan;
And a God in white, so friendly,
Just like the drug-store man.

Her ragged dress is dearer
Than the perfect robe of a queen!
Poor little lass, who knows not
The blessing of being clean.
And when you are giving millions
To Belgian, Pole and Serb,
Remember my pitiful lady -
Madonna of the Curb!




MY PIPE


My pipe is old
And caked with soot;
My wife remarks:
"How can you put
That horrid relic,
So unclean,
Inside your mouth?
The nicotine
Is strong enough
To stupefy
A Swedish plumber."
I reply:

"This is the kind
Of pipe I like:
I fill it full
Of Happy Strike,
Or Barking Cat
Or Cabman's Puff,
Or Brooklyn Bridge
(That potent stuff)
Or Chaste Embraces,
Knacker's Twist,
Old Honeycomb
Or Niggerfist.

I clamp my teeth
Upon its stem -
It is my bliss,
My diadem.
Whatever Fate
May do to me,
This is my favourite
B
B B.
For this dear pipe
You feign to scorn
I smoked the night
The boy was born."




TO A GRANDMOTHER


At six o'clock in the evening,
The time for lullabies,
My son lay on my mother's lap
With sleepy, sleepy eyes!
(_O drowsy little manny boy,
With sleepy, sleepy eyes!_)

I heard her sing, and rock him,
And the creak of the swaying chair,
And the old dear cadence of the words
Came softly down the stair.

And all the years had vanished,
All folly, greed, and stain -
The old, old song, the creaking chair,
The dearest arms again!
(_O lucky little manny boy,
To feel those arms again!_)




A HANDFUL OF SONNETS


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