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Celia Thaxter.

Stories and poems for children online

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And in the summer sunshine

Went dancing down the dell.
For whoso treads on fern-seed —

So fairy stories tell —
Becomes invisible at once,

So potent is its spell.
A frog mused by the brook-side:

"Can you see me? " she cried;
He leaped across the water,

A flying leap and wide.
^*0h, that 's because I asked him!

I must not speak," she thought,
And skipping o'er the meadow

The shady wood she sought.



140 FERN-SEED

The squirrel chattered on the bough,

Nor noticed her at all,
The birds sang high, the birds sang low,

With many a cry and call.
The rabbit nibbled in the grass,

The snake basked in the sun.
The butterflies, like floating flowers,

Wavered and gleamed and shone.
The spider in his hammock swung.

The gay grasshoppers danced;
And now and then a cricket sung

And shining beetles glanced.
'T was all because the pretty child

So softly, softly trod, —
You could not hear a footfall

Upon the yielding sod.
But she was filled with such delight —

This foolish little Nell !
And with her fern-seed laden shoes,

Danced back across the dell.
"I '11 find my mother now," she thought,

"What fun 't will be to call
* Mamma ! Mamma ! ' while she can seo

No little girl at all!"
She peeped in through the window.

Mamma sat in a dream:
About the quiet sun-steeped house

All things asleep did seem.



TERN-SEED 141

She stept across the threshold;

So lightly had she crept,
The dog upon the mat lay still,

And still the kitty slept.
Patient beside her mother's knee

To try her wondrous spell
Waiting she stood, till all at once,

Waking, mamma cried "Nell!
Where have you been 1 why do you gaze

At me with such strange eyes ? "
But can you see me, mother dear ? "

Poor Nelly faltering cries.
See you? why not, my little girl?

Why should mamma be blind 1 "
And pretty Nell unties her shoes,

With fairy fern-seed lined;
She tosses up into the air

A little powdery cloud,
. And frowns upon it as it falls,

And murmurs half aloud,
"It was n't true, a word of it,

About the magic spell!
I never will believe again

What fairy stories tell I *'



it



S(



142 THE GREAT WHITE OWL



THE GEEAT WHITE OWL

He sat aloft on the rocky height,

Snow-white above the snow,
In the winter morning calm and bright,

And I gazed at him, below.

He faced the east, where the sunshine streamed

On the singing, sparkling sea,
And he blinked with his yellow eyes, that seemed

All sightless and blank to be.

The snowbirds swept in a whirling crowd

About him gleefully.
And piped and whistled sweet and loud,

But never a plume stirred he.

Singing they passed, and away they flew

Through the brilliant atmosphere;
Cloud-like he sat, with the living blue

Of the sky behind him, clear.

"Give you good-morrow, friend," I cried.
He wheeled his large round head,
Solemn and stately, from side to side,
But never a word he said.



THE GREAT WHITE OWL 143

"0 lonely creature, weird and white,
Why are you sitting there.
Like a glimmering ghost from the still midnight,
In the beautiful morning air ? ''

He spurned the rock with his talons strong,

No human speech brooked he;
Like a snowflake huge he sped along

Swiftly and noiselessly.

His wide, slow-waving wings so white,

Heavy and soft did seem;
Yet rapid as a dream his flight,

And silent as a dream.

And when a distant crag he gained,

Bright-twinkling like a star,
He shook his shining plumes, and deigned

To watch me from afar.

And once again, when the evening- red

Burned dimly in the west,
I saw him motionless, his head

Bent forward on his breast.

Dark and still, 'gainst the sunset sky

Stood out his figure lone;
Crowning the bleak rock far and high,

By sad winds overblown.



144 THE BLIND LAMB

Did he dream of the ice-fields, stark and drear?

Of his haunts on the Arctic shore ?
Or the downy brood in his nest last year

On the coast of Labrador?

Had he fluttered the Esquimaux huts among?

How I wished he could speak to me !
Had he sailed on the icebergs, rainbow-hung,

In the open Polar Sea 1

Oh, many a tale he might have told

Of marvelous sounds and sights,
Where the world lies hopeless and dumb with cold,

Through desolate days and nights.

But with folded wings, while the darkness fell,

He sat, nor spake, nor stirred;
And charmed as if by a subtile spell,

I mused on the wondrous Bird.

THE BLIND LAMB

'T WAS summer, and softly the ocean
Sang, sparkling in light and heat,

And over the water and over the land
The warm south wind blew sweet.

And the children played in the sunshine,
And shouted and scampered in glee



THE BLIND LAMB 145

O'er the grassy slopes, or the weed-strewn beach,
Or rocked on the dreaming sea.

They had roamed the whole bright morning,

The troop of merry boys.
And in they flocked at noontide,

With a clamor of joyful noise.

And they bore among them gently

A wee lamb, white as snow;
And, "0 mamma, mamma, he 's blind!

He can't tell where to go.

"And we found him lost and lonely.
And we brought him home to you,
And we 're going to feed him and care for him! "
Cried the eager little crew.



<(



Look, how he falls over everything ! "
And they set him on his feet,

And aimlessly he wandered,

With a low and mournful bleat.

Some sign of pity he seemed to ask, .

And he strove to draw more near,
When he felt the touch of a human hand,

Or a kind voice reached his ear.



146 THE BLIND LAMB

They tethered him in a grassy space

Hard by the garden gate,
And with sweet fresh milk they fed him,

And cared for him early and late.

But as the golden days went on,

Forgetful the children grew,
They wearied of tending the poor blind lamb:

No longer a plaything new.

And so each day I changed his place

Within the garden fence,
And fed him morn and noon and eve.

And was his Providence.

And he knew the rustle of my gown.

And every lightest tone.
And when he heard me pass, straightway

He followed o'er stock and stone.

One dark and balmy evening,

"When the south wind breathed of rain,

I went to lead my pet within.
And found but a broken chain.

And a terror fell upon me,

For round on every side
The circling sea was sending in

The strength of the full flood-tide.



THE BLIND LAMB 147

I called aloud and listened,

I knew not where to seek;
Out of the dark the warm wet wind

Blew soft against my cheek,

And naught was heard but the sound of waves

Crowding against the shore.
Over the dewy grass I ran,

And called aloud once more.

What reached me out of the distance ?

Surely, a piteous bleat!
I threw my long dress over my arm,

And followed with flying feet.

Down to the edge of the water,

Calling again and again,
Answered so clearly, near and more near.

By that tremulous cry of pain !

I crept to the end of the rocky ledge,

Black lay the water wide;
Up from among the rippling waves

Came the shivering voice that criedo

I could not see, but I answered him;

And, stretching a rescuing hand,
I felt in the darkness his sea-soaked wool,

And drftw him in to the land.



148 THE BLIND LAMB

And the poor little creature pressed so close,

Distracted with delight,
While I dried the brine from his dripping fleece

With my apron soft and white.

Close in my arms I gathered him.

More glad than tongue can tell,
And he laid on my shoulder his pretty head;

He knew that all was well.

And I thought as I bore him swiftly back,

Content, close folded thus,
Of the Heavenly Father compassionate.

Whose pity shall succor us.

I thought of the arms of mercy

That clasp the world about,
And that not one of His children

Shall perish in dread and doubt:

For He hears the voices that cry to Him,

And near his love shall draw:
With help and comfort He waits for us.

The Light, and the Life, and the Law!



DUST 149



DUST



Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see.

Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand !

This is a magic surprising, a mystery-
Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.

What is it ? Only a handful of earth : to your touch
A dry rough powder you trample beneath your feet,

Dark and lifeless; but think for a moment, how much
It hides and holds that is beautiful, bitter, or sweet.

Think of the glory of color! The red of the rose.
Green of the myriad leaves and the fields of grass.

Yellow as bright as the sun where the daffodil blows,
Purple where violets nod as the breezes pass.

Think of the manifold form, of the oak and the vine.
Nut, and fruit, and cluster, and ears of corn;

Of the anchored water-lily, a thing divine.

Unfolding its dazzling snow to the kiss of morn.

Think of the delicate perfumes borne on the gale,
Of the golden willow catkin's odor of spring.

Of the breath of the rich narcissus waxen-pale.

Of the sweet pea's flight of flowers, of the nettle's
sting.



150 DUST

Strange that this lifeless thing gives vine, flower, tree

Color and shape and character, fragrance too;
That the timber that builds the house, the ship for the
sea.
Out of this powder its strength and its toughness
drew !

That the cocoa among the palms should suck its milk
From this dry dust, while dates from the self-same
soil
Summon their sweet rich fruit: that our shining silk
The mulberry leaves should yield to the worm's
slow toil.

How should the poppy steal sleep from the very source
That grants to the grapevine juice that can madden

or cheer?
How does the weed find food for its fabric coarse
Where the lilies proud their blossoms pure uprear?

Who shall compass or fathom God's thought profound?

We can but praise, for we may not understand;
But there 's no more beautiful riddle the whole world
round
Than is hid in this heap of dust I hold in my
hand.



THE SCARECROW 151



THE SCAEECKOW



The farmer looked at his cherry-tree,

With thick buds clustered on every bough;
" I wish I could cheat the robins, " said he ;
"If somebody only would show me how!

"I '11 make a terrible scarecrow grim,

With threatening arms and with bristling head,
And up in the tree I '11 fasten him

To frighten them half to death, " he said.

He fashioned a scarecrow tattered and torn —

Oh, 'twas a horrible thing to see!
And very early, one summer morn,

He set it up in his cherry-tree.

The blossoms were white as the light sea-foam,
The beautiful tree was a lovely sight.

But the scarecrow stood there so much at home
All the birds flew screaming away in fright.

The robins, who watched him every day,
Heads held aslant, keen eyes so bright!

Surveying the monster, began to say,

" Why should this monster our prospects blight ?



152 THE SCARECROW

"He never moves round for the roughest weather,
He 's a harmless, comical, tough old fellow;
Let 's all go into the tree together,

For he won't budge till the fruit is mellow! "

So up they flew; and the sauciest pair

Mid the shady branches peered and perked,

Selected a spot with the utmost care,
And all day merrily sang and worked.

And where do you think they built their nest?

In the scarecrow's pocket, if you please,
That, half- concealed on his ragged breast,

Made a charming covert of safety and ease !

By the time the cherries were ruby-red,
A thriving family, hungry and brisk,

The whole long day on the ripe fruit fed;
'T was so convenient ! They ran no risk !

Until the children were ready to fly,
All undisturbed they lived in the tree;

For nobody thought to look at the Guy
For a robin's flourishing family I



THE CRADLE 153



THE CEADLE

The barn was low and dim and old,
Broad on the floor the sunshine slept,

And through the windows and the doors
Swift in and out the swallows swept.

And breezes from the summer sea

Drew through, and stirred the fragrant hay
Down-dropping from the loft, wherein

A gray old idle fish-net lay

Heaped in a corner, and one loop

Hung loose the dry, sweet grass among,

And hammock- wise to all the winds
It floated to and fro, and swung.

And there one day the children brought
The pet of all the house to play;

A baby boy of three years old.

And sweeter than the dawn of day.

They laid him in the dropping loop.
And softly swung him, till at last

Over his beauty balmy Sleep
Its delicate enchantment cast.



154 THE CRADLE

And then they ran to call us all:

"Come, see where little Rob is! Guess!"

And brought us where the darling lay,
A heap of rosy loveliness

Curled in the net: the dim old place
He brightened; like a star he shone

Cradled in air; we stood as once
The shepherds of Judea had done.

And while adoring him we gazed,
With eyes that gathered tender dew,

Wrathful upon the gentle scene
His Celtic nurse indignant flew.

" Is this a fit place for the child ! "
And out of his delicious sleep
She clutched him, muttering as she went.
Her scorn and wonder, low and deep.

His father smiled, and drew aside;
A grave, sweet look was in his face,
"For One, who in a manger lay.

It was not found too poor a place ! ^^



MARCH 155



MAECH

I WONDER what spendthrift chose to spill
Such bright gold under my window-sill!
Is it fairy gold ? Does it glitter still 1
Bless me ! it is but a daffodil !

And look at the crocuses, keeping tryst
With the daffodil by the sunshine kissed!
Like beautiful bubbles of amethyst
They seem, blown out of the earth's snow-mist.

And snowdrops, delicate, fairy bells,
With a pale green tint like the ocean swells;
And the hyacinths weaving their perfumed spells !
The ground is a rainbow of asphodels!

Who said that March was a scold and a shrew 1
Who said she had nothing on earth to do
But tempests and furies and rages to brew 1
Why, look at the wealth she has lavished on you !

March that blusters and March that blows,
What color under your footsteps glows !
Beauty you summon from winter snows.
And you are the pathway that leads to the rose.



156 THE SHAG



THE SHAG



*'What is that great bird, sister, tell me,
Perched high on the top of the crag 1 "

"'T is the cormorant, dear little brother;
The fishermen call it the shag."

" But what does it there, sister, tell me,
Sitting lonely against the black sky 1 "

"It has settled to rest, little brother;
It hears the wild gale wailing high,"

"But I am afraid of it, sister.
For over the sea and the land
It gazes, so black and so silent ! "

"Little brother, hold fast to my hand."

"Oh, what was that, sister? The thunder?
Did the shag bring the storm and the cloud,
The wind and the rain and the lightning ? "
"Little brother, the thunder roars loud.

"Kun fast, for the rain sweeps the ocean;
Look ! over the light-house it streams ;
And the lightning leaps red, and above us
The gulls fill the air with their screams."



SIR WILLIAM NAPIER AND LITTLE JOAN 157

O'er the beach, o'er the rocks, running swiftly,
The little white cottage they gain;

And safely they watch from the window
The dance and the rush of the rain.

But the shag kept his place on the headland,
And when the brief storm had gone by,

He shook his loose plumes, and they saw him
Rise splendid and strong in the sky.

Clinging fast to the gown of his sister,
The little boy laughed as he flew;
"He is gone with the wind and the lightning!
And — I am not frightened, — are you ? "

SnC WILLIAM NAPIER AND LITTLE JOAN

Sir William Napier, one bright day.

Was walking down the glen,
A noble English soldier.

And the handsomest of men.

Among the fragrant hedgerows

He slowly wandered down.
Through blooming field and meadow,

By pleasant Ereshford town.



158 SIE WILLIAM NAPIER AND LITTLE JOAN

With look and mien magnificent
And step so grand moved he !

And from his stately front outshone
Beauty and majesty.

About his strong white forehead
The rich locks tlironged and curled

Above the splendor of his eyes
That might command the world !

A sound of bitter weeping

Came up to his quick ear,
He paused that instant, bending

His kingly head to hear.

Among the grass and daisies

Sat wretched little Joan,
And near her lay a bowl of delf

Broken upon a stone.

Her cheeks were red with crying,
And her blue eyes dull and dim,

And she turned her pretty woeful face
All tear-stained up to him.

Scarce six years old and sobbing
In misery so drear!
**Why, what 's the matter, Posy? "
He said, "Come, tell me, dear."



SIR WILLIAM NAPIER AND LITTLE JOAN 159

"It 's father's bowl I 'se broken,
'T was for his dinner kept:
I took it safe, but coming home
It fell, " — again she wept.

"But you can mend it, can't you? "
Cried the despairing child
With sudden hope, as down on her
Like some kind god he smiled.

"Don't cry, poor little Posy!
I cannot make it whole,
But I can give you sixpence
To buy another bowl."

He sought in vain for silver

In purse and pockets too.
And found but golden guineas;

He pondered what to do.

**This time to-morrow, Posy,"
He said, "again come here,
And I will bring your sixpence,
I promise ! Never fear ! "

Away went Joan rejoicing,

A rescued child was she,
And home went good Sir William,

And to him presently



160 SIK WILLIAM NAPIER AND LITTLE JOAN

A footman brings a letter,
And low before him bends,
'^*Will not Sir "William come and dine
To-morrow with his friends 1 "

The letter read, "And we 've secured

«

The man among all men
You wish to meet! He will be here;
You will not fail us then ? "

To-morrow ! could he get to Bath
And dine with Dukes and Earls

And back in time? That hour was pledged'
It was the little girl's!

He could not disappoint her,

He must his friend refuse,
So " a previous engagement "

He pleaded as excuse.

iN'ext day when she, all eager.

Came o'er the fields so fair,
Kot surer of the sunrise

Than that she should find him there,

He met her, and the sixpence

Laid in her little hand.
Her woe was ended, and her heart

The lightest in the land.



BLUEBIRDS IN AUTUMN 161

How would the stately company

Who had so much desired
His presence at their splendid feast,

Have wondered and admired!

As soldier, scholar, gentleman,

His praises oft are heard —
'T was not the least of his great deeds

So to have kept his word.



BLUEBIEDS IN AUTUMN

The morning was gray and cloudy.

And over the fading land
Autumn was casting the withered leaves

Abroad with a lavish hand.

Sad lay the tawny pastures,

Where the grass was brown and dry;
And the far-off hills were blurred with mist,

Under the sombre sky.

The frost already had fallen,

No bird seemed left to sing;
And I sighed to think of the tempests

Between us and the spring.



162 BLUEBIKDS IN AUTUMN

But the woodbine yet was scarlet
Where it found a place to cling;

And the old dead weeping-willow
Was draped like a splendid king.

Suddenly out of the heavens,
Like sapphire sparks of light,

A flock of bluebirds SAvept and lit
In the woodbine garlands bright.

The tree was alive in a moment
With motion, color, and song;

How gorgeous the flash of their azure wings
The blood- red leaves among !

Beautiful, brilliant creatures!

What sudden delight they brought
Into the pallid morning,

Bebuking my dreary thought!

Only a few days longer,

And they would have flown, to find
The wonderful, vanished summer,

Leaving darkness and cold behind.



't3



Oh, to flee from the bitter weather,
The winter's bufl'ets and shocks, —

To borrow their strong, light pinions,
And follow their shining flocks!



TRAGEDY 163

Wliile they sought for the purple berries,

So eager and bright and glad,
I watched them, dreaming of April,

Ashamed to have been so sad.

And I thought, "Though I cannot follow them,

I can patiently endure,
And make the best of the snowstorms,

And that is something more.

"And when I see them returning.
All heaven to earth they '11 bring;
And my joy will be the deeper.

For I shall have earned the spring."



TRAGEDY

"You queer little wonderful owlet! you atom so fluffy

and small!
Half a handful of feathers and two great eyes — how

came you alive at all?
And why do you sit here blinking as blind as a bat in

the light,
With your pale eyes bigger than saucers 1 Now who

ever saw such a sight !

" And what ails chickadee, tell me ! what makes him
flutter and scream



164 TRAGEDY

Bound and over you where you sit like a tiny ghost in

a dream?
I thought him a sensible fellow, quite steady and calm

and wise,
But only see how he hops and flits, and hear how

wildly he cries!

"What is the matter, you owlet? You will not be
frightened away ! —

Do you mean on that twig of a lilac-bush the whole
night long to stay ?

Are you bewitching my chickadee-dee? I really be-
lieve that you are !

I wish you'd go off, you strange brown bird — oh,
ever and ever so far !

"I fear you are weaving and winding some kind of a

dreadful charm;
If I leave poor chickadee-dee with you, I 'm sure he

will come to harm.
But what can I do? "We can't stay here forever

together, we three —
One anxious child, and an owlet weird, and a fright-

ened chickadee- dee ! "

I could not frighten the owl away, and chickadee

would not come,
So I just ran off with a heavy heart, and told my

mother at home;



JACK FROST 165

But when my brothers and sisters went the curious

sight to see,
The owl was gone, and there lay on the ground two

feathers of chickadee-dee!



JACK FEOST

EusTiLY creak the crickets: Jack Prost came down

last night,
He slid to the earth on a starbeam, keen and sparkling

and bright;
He sought in the grass for the crickets with delicate

icy spear,
So sharp and fine and fatal, and he stabbed them far

and near.
Only a few stout fellows, thawed by the morning sun,
Chirrup a mournful echo of by-gone frolic and fun.
But yesterday such a rippling chorus ran all over the

land.
Over the hills and the valleys, down to the gray sea-
sand,
Millions of merry harlequins, skipping and dancing in

glee,
Cricket and locust and grasshopper, happy as happy

could be:
Scooping rich caves in ripe apples, and feeding on

honey and spice.
Drunk with the mellow sunshine, nor dreaming of

spears of ice!



166 JACK FROST

Was it not enough that the crickets your weapon of
power should pierce?

Pray what have yon done to the flowers 1 Jack Frost,
you are cruel and fierce.

With never a sign or a whisper, you kissed them, and
lo, they exhale

Their beautiful lives; they are drooping, their sweet
color ebbs, they are pale,

They fade and they die ! See the pansies, yet striving
so hard to unfold

Their garments of velvety splendor, all Tyrian purple
and gold.

But how weary they look, and how withered, like
handsome court dames, who all night

Have danced at the ball till the sunrise struck chill to
their hearts with its light.

Where hides the wood-aster? She vanished as snow-
wreaths dissolve in the sun

The moment you touched her. Look yonder, where,
sober and gray as a nun.

The maple-tree stands that at sunset was blushing as
red as the sky ;

At its foot, glowing scarlet as fire, its robes of magnifi-
cence lie.

Despoiler! stripping the world as you strip the shiv-
ering tree

Of color and sound and perfume, scaring the bird and
the bee,



A LULLABY 167

Turning beauty to ashes, — oh, to join the swift swal-
lows and fly

Far away out of sight of your mischief! I give you
no welcome, not I!



A LULLABY

Sleep, my darling, sleep!

Thunders the pitiless storm;
Fiercely at window and door
Wrestle the winds and roar:
Thy slumber is deep and warm.

Sleep, my darling, sleep!

Sleep, my baby, sleep!

Over thy beautiful head.
Lightly, softly, and close,
Sweeter than lily or rose,
Thy mother's kisses are shed.

Sleep, my baby, sleep!

Sleep, my darling, sleep!

Safe in these arms, my own,
Summer shall wrap thee round;
Never harsh touch or sound
Break through that charmed zone.

Sleep, then, darling, sleep!



168 APRIL AND MAY

Sleep, my angel, sleep!

Nestle against my heart,
Sunk in a golden calm, —
Delicate, breathing of balm,
All my heaven thou art.

Sleep, my angel, sleep!



APEIL AND IVIAY

I. APRIL

Birds on the boughs before the buds

Begin to burst in the Spring,
Bending their heads to the April floods.

Too much out of breath to sing!

They chirp, "Hey-day! How the rain comes down!

Comrades, cuddle together!
Cling to the bark so rough and brown,

For this is April weather.

Oh, the warm, beautiful, drenching rain!

I don't mind it, do you?
Soon will the skj be clear again,

Smiling, and fresh, and blue.

" Sweet and sparkling is every drop

That slides from the soft, gray clouds;



APRIL AND MAY 169

Blossoms will blush to the very top
Of the bare old tree in crowds.


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