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Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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Do you ask me, little children sweet?

They are tree-toads, brown and green and gray,
Small and slender, dusky, light, and fleet.

All the winter long they hide and sleep
In the dark earth's bosom, safe and fast;

When the sunshine finds them, up they leap,
Glad to feel that spring is come at last.

Glad and grateful, up the trees they climb.
Pour their cheerful music on the air.

Crying, "Here 's an end of snow and rime!
Beauty is beginning everywhere ! ''

Listen, children, for so sweet a cry!

Listen till you hear the hylas sing.
Ere the. first star glitters in the sky.

In the crimson sunsets of the spring.



THE SPARKOWS 199

THE SPAEEOWS
[die spurver]

In the far-off land of Norway,

Where the winter lingers late,
And long for the singing-birds and flowers

The little children wait;

When at last the summer ripens

And the harvest is gathered in,
And food for the bleak, drear days to come

The toiling people win;

Through all the land the children

In the golden fields remain
Till their busy little hands have gleaned

A generous sheaf of grain;

All the stalks by the reapers forgotten

They glean to the very least.
To save till the cold December,

For the sparrows' Christmas feast.

And then through the frost-locked country

There happens a wonderful thing:
The sparrows flock north, south, east, west,

For the children's offering.



200 THE SPAEROWS

Of a sudden, the day before Christmas,

The twittering crowds arrive,
And the bitter, wintry air at once

With their chirping is all alive.

They perch upon roof and gable,

On porch and fence and tree,
They flutter about the windows

And peer in curiously.

And meet the eyes of the children,

Who eagerly look out
With cheeks that bloom like roses red,

And greet them with welcoming shout.

On the joyous Christmas morning.

In front of every door
A tall pole, crowned with clustering grain,

Is set the birds before.

And which are the happiest, truly

It would be hard to tell;
The sparrows who share in the Christmas cheer,

Or the children who love them well!

How sweet that they should remember,

With faith so full and sure.
That the children's bounty awaited them

The whole wide country o'er!



THE NIGHTINGALE 201

When this pretty story was told me
By one who had helped to rear

The rustling grain for the merry birds
In Norway, many a year,

I thought that our little children

Would like to know it too.
It seems to me so beautiful.

So blessed a thing to do,

To make God's innocent creatures see

In every child a friend,
And on our faithful kindness

So fearlessly depend.

THE NIGHTINGALE

There is a bird, a plain, brown bird,

That dwells in lands afar.
Whose wild, delicious song is heard

With evening's first white star.

When, dewy-fresh and still, the night

Steals to the waiting world,
And the new moon glitters silver bright,

And the fluttering winds are furled;

When the balm of summer is in the air,
And the deep rose breathes of musk,



202 THE NIGHTIXGALE

And there comes a waft of blossoms fair
Through the enchanted dusk;

Then breaks the silence a heavenly strain,

And thrills the quiet night
With a rich and wonderful refrain,

A rapture of delight.

All listeners that rare music hail,

All whisper softly: "Hark!
It is the matchless nightingale

Sweet singing in the dark."

He has no pride of feathers fine;

Unconscious, too, is he,
That welcomed as a thing divine

Is his clear minstrelsy.

But from the fullness of his heart

His happy carol pours;
Beyond all praise, above all art,

His song to heaven soars.

And through the whole wide world his fame

Is sounded far and near;
Men love to speak his very name

That brown bird is so dear.



GOLD LOCKS AND SILVER. LOCKS 203



GOLD LOCKS AND SIL\^R LOCKS

Pupil and master together,
The wise man and the child,
Merrily talking and laughing
Under the lamplight mild.

Pupil and master together,

A fair sight to behold,

With his thronging locks of silver

And her tresses of ruddy gold.

"Well, little girl, did you practice
On the violin to-day 1
What is the air I gave you?
Have you forgotten, pray ? "

And he sings a few notes and pauses,
Half frowning to see her stand
Perplexed, with her white brows knitted,
And her chin upon her hand.

Far off in the street of a sudden
Comes the sound of a wandering band,
And the blare of brass rings faintly,
Too distant to understand.



204 GOLD LOCKS AND SILVER LOCKS

" Hark ! " says the master, smiling,

Bending his head to hear,
"In what key are they playing?

Can you tell me that, my dear ?

"Is it D minor? Try it!
To the piano and try ! "
She strikes it, the sweet sound answers
Her touch so light and shy.

And swift as steel to magnet,
The far tones and the near
Unite and are hlended together
Smoothly upon the ear.

I thought, if one had the power,
"What a beautiful thing 'twould be,
Hearing Life's manifold music.
To strike in one's self the key;

"Whether joyful or sorry, to answer,
As wind-harps answer the air.
And solve by simple submission
Its riddles of trouble and care.

But the little maid knew nothing
Of thoughts so grave and wise,
As she stole again to her teacher,
And lifted her merry eyes.



THE KITTIWAKES 205

And neither dreamed what a picture
They made, the young and the old, —
With his thronging locks of silver,
And her tresses of ruddy gold.



THE KITTIWAKES

Like white feathers blown about the rocks,
Like soft snowfiakes wavering in the air.

Wheel the Kittiwakes in scattered flocks,
Crying, floating, fluttering everywhere.

Shapes of snow and cloud, they soar and whirl:
Downy breasts that shine like lilies white;

Delicate vaporous tints of gray and pearl
Laid upon their arching wings so light.

Eyes of jet, and beaks and feet of gold, —
Lovelier creatures never sailed in air;

Innocent, inquisitive, and bold,

Knowing not the dangers that they dare.

Stooping now above a beckoning hand,

Eollowing gleams of waving kerchiefs white,

What should they of evil understand.

Though the gun awaits them full in sight?



206 LOST

Though their blood the quiet wave makes red,
Though their broken plumes float far and wide,

Still they linger, hovering overhead.
Still the gun deals death on every side.

Oh, begone, sweet birds, or higher soar!

See you not your comrades low are laid?
But they only flit and call the more, —

Ignorant, unconscious, undismayed.

Nay, then, boatman, spare them ! Must they bear
Pangs like these for human vanity 1

That their lovely plumage we may wear
Must these fair, pathetic creatures die?

Let the tawny squaws themselves admire.
Decked with feathers, — we can wiser be.

I beseech you, boatman, do not fire!

Stain no more with blood the tranquil sea.



LOST

"Lock the dairy door ! " Oh, hark, the cock is crow-
ing proudly !

^^ Loch the dairy door ! " and all the hens are cackling
loudly :



LOST 207

" Chickle, chacklej chee,^^ they cry; "we haven^t got

the key,^^ they cry;
" ChickUy chackle, chee ! Oh deai\ wherever can

it be ! " they cry.

Up and down the garden walks where all the flowers

are blowing,
Out about the golden fields where tall the wheat is

growing,
Through the barn and up the road they cackle and

they chatter:
Cry the children, "Hear the hens! Why, what can

be the matter % "

What scraping and what scratching, what bristling and

what hustling;
The cock stands on the fence, the wind his ruddy

plumage rustling;
Like a soldier grand he stands, and like a trumpet

glorious
Sounds his shout both far and near, imperious and

victorious.

But to Partlets down below, who cannot find the key,

they hear,
'''Lock the dairy door ! ^^ That's all his challenge

says to them, my dear.



208 THE KINGFISHER

Why they had it, how they lost it, must remain a
mystery ;

I that tell you never heard the first part of the his-
tory.

But if you will listen, dear, next time the cock crows

proudly,
^* Lock the dairy door ! ^^ you'll hear him tell the

biddies loudly:
" Chickle, chackle, cheCf^^ they cry; "we havenH

got the key ! " they cry ;
" Chickle, chackle^ chee ! Oh dear^ wherever can it

he ! " they cry.

THE KINGFISHER

Could you have heard the kingfisher scream and scold

at me
When I went this morning early down to the smiling

sea!
He clamored so loud and harshly, I laughed at him for

his pains.
And o£f he flew with a shattered note, like the sound

of falling chains.

He perched on the rock above me, and kept up such
a din,



THE KINGFISHER 209

He looked so fine with his collar snow-white beneath

his chin,
And his cap of velvet, black and bright, and his jacket

of lovely blue,
I looked, admired, and called to him, "Good-morning!

How do you do? "

But his kingship was so offended! He hadn't a
pleasant word.

Only the crossest jargon ever screamed by a bird.

The gray sandpiper on one leg stood still in sheer sur-
prise.

And gazed at me, and gazed at him, with shining bead-
black eyes,

And pensively sent up so sweet and delicate a note,
Kinging so high and clear from out her dainty, mottled

throat,
That echo round the silent shore caught up the clear

refrain.
And sent the charming music back again, and yet

again.

Then the brown song sparrow on the wall made haste

with such a song.
To try and drown that jarring din! but it was all too

strong.



210 THE WOUNDED CURLEW

And the swallows, like a steel-blue flash, swept past

and cried aloud,
*'Be civil, my dear kingfisher, you're far too grand

and proud."

But it wasn't of any use at all, he was too much dis-
pleased,

For only by my absence could his anger be appeased.

So I wandered off, and as I went I saw him flutter
down.

And take his place once more upon the seaweed wet
and brown.

And there he watched for his breakfast, all undis-
turbed at last.

And many a little fish he caught as it was swimming
past.

And I forgot his harsK abuse, for, up in the tall elm-
tree,
purple finch sat high and sang a heavenly song for
me.



THE WOUNDED CUELEW

By yonder sandy cove where, every day.

The tide flows in and out,
A lonely bird in sober brown and gray

Limps patiently about;



THE WOUNDED CURLEW 211

And round the basin's edge, o'er stones and sand,

And many a fringing weed,
He steals, or on the rocky ledge doth stand,

Crying, with none to heed.

But sometimes from the distance he can hear

His comrades' swift reply;
Sometimes the air rings with their music clear,

Sounding from sea and sky.

And then, oh, then his tender voice, so sweet.

Is shaken with his pain,
For broken are his pinions strong and fleet,

Never to soar again.

Wounded and lame and languishing he lives,

Once glad and blithe and free,
And in his prison limits frets and strives

His ancient self to be.

The little sandpipers about him play,

The shining waves they skim.
Or round his feet they seek their food, and stay

As if to comfort him.

My pity cannot help him, though his plaint

Brings tears of wistfulness;
Still must he grieve and mourn, forlorn and faint,

None may his wrong redress.



212 LITTLE ASSUNTA

bright-eyed boy! was there no better way

A moment's joy to gain
Than to make sorrow that must mar the day

With such despairing pain?

children, drop the gun, the cruel stone !

Oh, listen to my words.
And hear with me the wounded curlew moan

Have mercy on the birds!



LITTLE ASSUNTA

Climbing the Pincian Hill's long slope,

When the west was bright with a crimson flame,

Her small face glowing with life and hope,
Little Assunta singing came.

From under ilex and olive-tree,

I gazed afar to St. Peter's dome;
Below, for a wondering world to see,

Lay the ruined glories of ancient Eome.

Sunset was sorrowing over the land,

O'er the splendid fountains that leaped in the air,
O'er crumbling tower and temple grand,

Palace, and column, and statue fair.



LITTLE ASSUNTA 213

Little Assunta climbed the steep;

She was a lovely sight to see !
A tint in her olive cheek as deep

As the wild red Roman anemone.

Dark as midnight her braided hair
Over her fathomless eyes of brown;

And over her tresses the graceful square
Of snow-white linen was folded down.

Her quaint black bodice was laced behind;

Her apron was barred with dull rich hues;
Like the ripe pomegranate's tawny rind

Her little gown; and she wore no shoes.

But round her dusk throat's slender grace,
Large, smooth, coral beads were wound;

Like a flower herself in that solemn place

She seemed, just blooming out of the ground.

Up she came, as she walked on air!

I wandered downward with footsteps slow,
Till we met in the midst of the pathway fair,

Bathed in the mournful sunset's glow.

" Buon giorno, Signora ! " ^ she said ;

Like a wild-bird's note was her greeting clear.

1 Good-morning, lady.



214 IXHOSPITALITY

"Salve! "^ I answered, "my little maid;

But 'tis evening, and not good-morning, dear!"

She stretched her hands with a smile like light,

As if she offered me, joyfully.
Some precious gift, with that aspect bright,

And "Buon giorno! " again sang she.

And so she passed me and upward pressed

Under ilex and olive-tree,
While the flush of sunset died in the west,

And the shadows of twilight folded me.

She carried the morn in her shining eyes!

Evening was mine, and the night to be;
But she stirred my heart with the dawn's surprise,

And left me a beautiful memory !



IXHOSPITALITY

Down on the north wind sweeping
Comes the storm with roaring din;

Sadly, with dreary tumult.
The twilight gathers in.

1 A term of salutation, pronounced " Salv^," and meaning " Hail ! "
or "Welcome!"



INHOSPITALITY 215

The snow- covered little island

Is white as a frosted cake;
And round and round it the billows

Bellow, and thunder, and break.

Within doors the blazing driftwood

Is glowing, ruddy and warm.
And happiness sits at the fireside,

Watching the raging storm.

What fluttered past the window.

All weary and wet and weak.
With the heavily drooping pinions,

And the wicked, crooked beak?

Cries the little sister, watching,

"Whither now can he flee?
Black through the whirling snowflakes

Glooms the awful face of the sea;

"And tossed and torn by the tempest.
He must sink in the bitter brine!
Why couldn't we pity and save him
Till the sun again should shine ? "



*t5^



They drew her back to the fireside.
And laughed at her cloudy eyes, —
"What, mourn for that robber- fellow.
The crudest bird that flies!



216 INHOSPITALITY



il\r



Your song sparrow hardly would thank you,
And which is the dearest, pray 1 "

But she heard at the doors and windows
The lashing of the spray;

And as ever the shock of the breakers

The heart of their quiet stirred,
She thought, "Oh, would we had sheltered him,

The poor, unhappy bird ! '*

Where the boats before the house-door

Are drawn up from the tide,
On the tallest prow he settles.

And furls his wings so wide.

Uprises the elder brother.
Uprises the sister too;
"Nay, brother, he comes for shelter!
Spare him ! What would you do ? ''

He laughs and is gone for his rifle.

And steadily takes his aim;
But the wild wind seizes his yellow beard.

And blows it about like flame.

Into his eyes the snow sifts,

Till he cannot see aright:
Ah, the cruel gun is baffled!

And the weary hawk takes flight;



UNDER THE LIGHT-HOUSE , 217

And slowly up he circles,

Higher and higher still;
The fierce wind catches and bears him away

O'er the bleak crest of the hill.



UNDER THE LIGHT-HOUSE

Beneath the tall, white light-house strayed the chil-
dren.

In the May morning sweet;
About the steep and rough gray rocks they wandered

With hesitating feet;
For scattered far and wide the birds were lying.

Quiet, and cold, and dead,
That met, while they were swiftly winging northward,

The fierce light overhead;
And as the frail moths in the summer evenings

Fly to the candle's blaze,
Eushed wildly at the splendor, finding only

Death in those blinding rays.
And here were bobolink, and wren, and sparrow,

Veery, and oriole.
And purple finch, and rosy grosbeak, swallows,

And kingbirds quaint and droll;
Gay soldier blackbirds, wearing on their shoulders

Eed, gold-edged epaulets.
And many a homely brown, red-breasted robin,

Whose voice no child forgets.



218 UNDER THE LIGHT-HOUSE

And yellow-birds — what shapes of perfect beauty !

What silence after song!
And mingled with them, unfamiliar warblers

That to far woods belong.
Clothing the gray rocks with a mournful beauty

By scores the dead forms lay,
That, dashed against the tall tower's cruel windows,

Dropped like the spent sea spray.
How many an old and sun-steeped barn, far inland,

Should miss about its eaves
The twitter and the gleam of these swift swallows!

And, swinging 'mid the leaves,
The oriole's nest, all empty in the elm- tree,

Would cold and silent be.
And nevermore these robins make the meadows

Ring with their ecstasy.
Would not the gay swamp-border miss the blackbirds.

Whistling so loud and clear?
Would not the bobolinks' delicious music

Lose something of its cheer?
"Yet," thought the wistful children, gazing landwar(\

"The birds will not be missed;
Others will take their place in field and forest,

Others will keep their tryst :
And we, we only, know how death has met them;

We wonder and we mourn
That from their innocent and bright existence

Thus roughly they are torn."



(JNDER THE LIGHT-HOUSE 219

And so they laid the sweet, dead shapes together,

Smoothmg each ruffled wing,
Perplexed and sorrowful, and pondering deeply

The meaning of this thing.
(Too hard to fathom for the wisest nature

Crowned with the snows of age !)
And all the beauty of the fair May morning

Seemed like a blotted page.
They bore them down from the rough cliffs of granite

To where the grass grew green,
And laid them 'neath the soft turf, all together.

With many a flower between;
And, looking up with wet eyes, saw how brightly

Upon the summer sea
Lay the clear sunlight, how white sails were shining.

And small waves laughed in glee:
And somehow, comfort grew to check their grieving,

A sense of brooding care,
As if, in spite of death, a loving presence

rilled all the viewless air.
" What should we fear ? '^ whispered the little childreiii

''There is no thing so small
But God will care for it in earth or heaven:

He sees the sparrows fall ! ''



220 PICCOLA



PICCOLA



PooK, sweet Piccola! Did you hear
What happened to Piccola, children dear?
*T is seldom Fortune such favor grants
As fell to this little maid of France.

'T was Christmas-time, and her parents poor
Could hardly drive the wolf from the door,
Striving with poverty's patient pain
Only to live till summer again.

No gifts for Piccola ! Sad were they
When dawned the morning of Christmas-day
Their little darling no joy might stir,
St. Nicholas nothing would bring to her!

But Piccola never doubted at all
That something beautiful must befall
Every child upon Christmas-day,
And so she slept till the dawn was gray.

And full of faith, when at last she woke,
She stole to her shoe as the morning broke;
Such sounds of gladness filled all the air,
'Twas plain St. Nicholas had been there!



MOZART AT THE FIRESIDE 221

In rushed Piccola sweet, half wild:
Never was seen such a joyful child.
" See what the good saint brought ! '' she cried,
And mother and father must peep inside,

Kow such a story who ever heard 1
There was a little shivering bird!
A sparrow, that in at the window flew,
Had crept into Piccola 's tiny shoe !

" How good poor Piccola must have been ! "
She cried, as happy as any queen.
While the starving sparrow she fed and warmed,
And danced with rapture, she was so charmed.

Children, this story I tell to you,
Of Piccola sweet and her bird, is true.
In the far-off land of France, they say,
Still do they live to this very day.



MOZAET AT THE FIEESIDE

Autumn nights grow chilly:

See how faces bloom
By the cheerful firelight.

In the quiet room !



222 MOZART AT THE FIKESIDE

Mother's amber necklace,

Father's beard of gold,
Rosy cheeks of little boys

All glowing from the cold,

Basket heaped with barberries,

Coral red and bright,
Little Silver's shaggy fur

All shining in the light!

Barberries bright they 're picking,
And smile and do not speak;

Happy little youngest boy
Kisses mother's cheek, —

First mother's and then father's,
And nestles his pretty head

In the shining fur of Silver,

While they pick the barberries red.

At the piano sitting,

One touches the beautiful keys;
Silent they sit and listen

To magical melodies.

Heavenly, tender, and hopeful,
Balm for the saddest heart,

Rises the lovely music
Of the divine Mozart!



MOZART AT THE FIRESIDE 223

The children hear the birds sing,

And the voices of the May;
They feel the freshness of morning,

Before the toil of the day;

But father and mother listen

To a deeper undertone,
A strong arm, full of comfort, seems

About life's trouble thrown.

O children, when your summer

Passes, and winter is near,
Wlien the sky is dim that was so bright,

And the way seems long and drear,

Kemember the mighty master

Still touches the human heart,
Speaking afar from heaven.

The wonderful Mozart!

He can bring back your childhood

With his strains of airy grace,
Till life seems fresh and beautiful

Again for a little space.

With voices of lofty sweetness

He shall encourage you.
Till all good things seem possible.

And Heaven's best promise true;



224 THE FLOCK OF DOVES

Till health and strength and loveliness
Blossom from stone and clod,

And the sad old world grows bright again
With the cheerfulness of God.



THE FLOCK OF DOATES

The world was like a wilderness

Of soft and downy snow;
The trees were plumed with feathery flakes,

And the ground was white below.

Came the little mother out to the gate
To watch for her children three;

Her hood was red as a poppy-flower,
And rosy and young was she.

She took the snow in her cunning hands,

As waiting she stood alone,
And lo ! in a moment, beneath her touch,

A fair white dove had grown.

A flock she wrought, and on the fence

Set them in bright array,
With folded wings, or pinions spread,

E.eady to fly away.



THE KAISERBLUMEN 225

And then she hid by the pine-tree tall,
For the children's tones rang sweet,

As home from school, through the drifts so light,
They sped with merry feet.

" Nannie, Nannie ! See the fence

Alive with doves so white ! "
"Oh, hush! don't frighten them away!''

They whisper with delight.

They crept so soft, they crept so still,

The wondrous sight to see,
The little mother pushed the gate,

And laughed out joyfully.

She clasped them close, she kissed their cheeks,
And lips so sweet and red.
" The birds are only made of snow !
You are my doves,'' she said.



THE EAISEEBLUMEN

Have you heard of the Kaiserblume,

O little children sweet,
That grows in the fields of Germany,

Light waving among the wheat?



226 THE KAISERBLUMEN

'T is only a simple flower,
But were I to try all day,

Its grace and charm and beauty
I couldn't begin to say.

By field and wood and roadside,
Delicate, hardy, and bold,

It scatters in wild profusion
Its blossoms manifold.

The children love it dearly,

And with dancing feet they go

To seek it with song and laughter |
And all the people know

Stern Kaiser Wilhelm loves it:
He said, "It shall honored be.

Henceforth 'tis the Kaiserblume,
The flower of Germany."

Then he bade his soldiers wear it.

Tied in a gay cockade,
And the quaint and humble blossom

His royal token made.

Said little Hans to Gretchen,
One summer morning fair,

As they played in the fields together,
And sang in the fragrant air:



THE KAISERBLUMEN 227

"Oh, look at the Kaiserblumen
That grow in the grass so thick!
Let 's gather our arms full, Gretchen,
And take to the Emperor, quick!

"For never were any so beautiful,
Waving so blue and bright."
So all they could carry they gathered,
Dancing with their delight.

Then under the blazing sunshine

They trudged o'er the long, white road

That led to the Kaiser's palace,
With their gayly nodding load.

But long ere the streets of the city

They trod with their little feet,
As hot they grew and as tired

As their corn-flowers bright and sweet.

And Gretchen 's cheeks were rosy

With a weary travel stain.
And her tangled hair o'er her blue, blue eyes

Fell down in a golden rain.

And at last all the nodding blossoms

Their shining heads hung down;
But, "Cheer up, Gretchen!" cried little Hans,


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