George MacDonald.

The poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 online

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I'll present you with another!
Tell me why, you question-asker,
Cruel, heartless mother-tasker -
Why, of all the trees before her,
Gathered round, or spreading o'er her,
Jenny Wren should choose the apple
For her nursery and chapel!
Or Jack Daw build in the steeple
High above the praying people!
Tell me why the limping plover
O'er moist meadow likes to hover;
Why the partridge with such trouble
Builds her nest where soon the stubble
Will betray her hop-thumb-cheepers
To the eyes of all the reapers! -
Tell me, Charley; tell me, Janey;
Answer all, or answer any,
And I'll tell you, with much pleasure,
Why this little bird of treasure
Nestles only in the mistletoe,
Never, never goes the thistle to.

Not an answer? Tell without it?
Yes - all that I know about it: -
Mistletoe, then, cannot flourish,
Cannot find the food to nourish
But on other plant when planted -
And for kissing two are wanted.
That is why the kissy-birdie
Looks about for oak-tree sturdy
And the plant that grows upon it
Like a wax-flower on a bonnet.

But, my blessed little mannie,
All the birdies are not cannie
That the kissy-birdie hatches!
Some are worthless little patches,
Which indeed if they don't smutch you,
'Tis they're dead before they touch you!
While for kisses vain and greedy,
Kisses flattering, kisses needy,
They are birds that never waddled
Out of eggs that only addled!
Some there are leave spots behind them,
On your cheek for years you'd find them:
Little ones, I do beseech you,
Never let such birdies reach you.

It depends what net you venture
What the sort of bird will enter!
I will tell you in a minute
What net takes kiss - lark or linnet -
Any bird indeed worth hatching
And just therefore worth the catching:
The one net that never misses
Catching at least some true kisses,
Is the heart that, loving truly,
Always loves the old love newly;
But to spread out would undo it -
Let the birdies fly into it.


Nobody knows the world but me.
The rest go to bed; I sit up and see.
I'm a better observer than any of you all,
For I never look out till the twilight fall,
And never then without green glasses,
And that is how my wisdom passes.

I never think, for that is not fit:
_I observe._ I have seen the white moon sit
On her nest, the sea, like a fluffy owl,
Hatching the boats and the long-legged fowl!
When the oysters gape - you may make a note -
She drops a pearl into every throat.

I can see the wind: can you do that?
I see the dreams he has in his hat,
I see him shaking them out as he goes,
I see them rush in at man's snoring nose.
Ten thousand things you could not think,
I can write down plain with pen and ink!

You know that I know; therefore pull off your hat,
Whether round and tall, or square and flat:
You cannot do better than trust in me;
You may shut your eyes in fact - _I_ see!
Lifelong I will lead you, and then, like the owl,
I will bury you nicely with my spade and showl.


I will sing a song,
Said the owl.
You sing a song, sing-song
Ugly fowl!
What will you sing about,
Night in and day out?

All about the night,
When the gray
With her cloak smothers bright,
Hard, sharp day.
Oh, the moon! the cool dew!
And the shadows! - tu-whoo!

I will sing a song,
Said the nightingale.
Sing a song, long, long,
Little Neverfail!
What will you sing about,
Day in or day out?

All about the light
Gone away,
Down, away, and out of sight:
Wake up, day!
For the master is not dead,
Only gone to bed.

I will sing a song,
Said the lark.
Sing, sing, Throat-strong,
Little Kill-the-dark!
What will you sing about,
Day in and night out?

I can only call!
I can't think!
Let me up, that's all!
I see a chink!
I've been thirsting all night
For the glorious light!



I have only one foot, but thousands of toes;
My one foot stands well, but never goes;
I've a good many arms, if you count them all,
But hundreds of fingers, large and small;
From the ends of my fingers my beauty grows;
I breathe with my hair, and I drink with my toes;
I grow bigger and bigger about the waist
Although I am always very tight laced;
None e'er saw me eat - I've no mouth to bite!
Yet I eat all day, and digest all night.
In the summer, with song I shake and quiver,
But in winter I fast and groan and shiver.


There is a plough that hath no share,
Only a coulter that parteth fair;
But the ridges they rise
To a terrible size
Or ever the coulter comes near to tear:
The horses and ridges fierce battle make;
The horses are safe, but the plough may break.

Seed cast in its furrows, or green or sear,
Will lift to the sun neither blade nor ear:
Down it drops plumb
Where no spring-times come,
Nor needeth it any harrowing gear;
Wheat nor poppy nor blade has been found
Able to grow on the naked ground.



Who is it that sleeps like a top all night,
And wakes in the morning so fresh and bright
That he breaks his bed as he gets up,
And leaves it smashed like a china cup?


I've a very long nose, but what of that?
It is not too long to lie on a mat!

I have very big jaws, but never get fat:
I don't go to church, and I'm not a church rat!

I've a mouth in my middle my food goes in at,
Just like a skate's - that's a fish that's a flat.

In summer I'm seldom able to breathe,
But when winter his blades in ice doth sheathe

I swell my one lung, I look big and I puff,
And I sometimes hiss. - There, that's enough!


Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry twinkles left in.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand stroked it as I went by.

What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than any one knows.

Whence that three-cornered smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.

Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.

Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.

Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs' wings.

How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.

But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.


The sun is gone down
And the moon's in the sky
But the sun will come up
And the moon be laid by.

The flower is asleep.
But it is not dead,
When the morning shines
It will lift its head.

When winter comes
It will die! No, no,
It will only hide
From the frost and snow.

Sure is the summer,
Sure is the sun;
The night and the winter
Away they run.


What would you see, if I took you up
My little aerie-stair?
You would see the sky like a clear blue cup
Turned upside down in the air.

What would you do, up my aerie-stair
In my little nest on the tree?
With cry upon cry you would ripple the air
To get at what you would see.

And what would you reach in the top of the tree
To still your grasping grief?
Not a star would you clutch of all you would see,
You would gather just one green leaf.

But when you had lost your greedy grief,
Content to see from afar,
Your hand it would hold a withering leaf,
But your heart a shining star.


The lightning and thunder
They go and they come:
But the stars and the stillness
Are always at home.


Little Bo-Peep, she has lost her sheep,
And will not know where to find them;
They are over the height and out of sight,
Trailing their tails behind them!

Little Bo-Peep woke out of her sleep,
Jump'd up and set out to find them:
"The silly things! they've got no wings,
And they've left their trails behind them!

"They've taken their tails, but they've left their trails,
And so I shall follow and find them!"
For wherever a tail had dragged a trail
The grass lay bent behind them.

She washed in the brook, and caught up her crook.
And after her sheep did run
Along the trail that went up the dale
Across the grass in the sun.

She ran with a will, and she came to a hill
That went up steep like a spire;
On its very top the sun seemed to stop,
And burned like a flame of fire.

But now she went slow, for the hill did go
Up steeper as she went higher;
When she reached its crown, the sun was down,
Leaving a trail of fire.

And her sheep were gone, and hope she had none.
For now was no trail behind them.
Yes, there they were! long-tailed and fair!
But to see was not to find them!

Golden in hue, and rosy and blue,
And white as blossom of pears,
Her sheep they did run in the trail of the sun,
As she had been running in theirs!

After the sun like clouds they did run,
But she knew they were her sheep:
She sat down to cry and look up at the sky,
But she cried herself to sleep.

And as she slept the dew down wept,
And the wind did blow from the sky;
And doings strange brought a lovely change:
She woke with a different cry!

Nibble, nibble, crop, without a stop!
A hundred little lambs
Did pluck and eat the grass so sweet
That grew in the trail of their dams!

She gave one look, she caught up her crook,
Wiped away the sleep that did blind her;
And nibble-nibble-crop, without a stop
The lambs came nibbling behind her.

Home, home she came, both tired and lame,
With three times as large a stock;
In a month or more, they'll be sheep as before,
A lovely, long-wooled flock!

But what will she say, if, one fine day,
When they've got their bushiest tails,
Their grown-up game should be just the same,
And again she must follow mere trails?

Never weep, Bo-Peep, though you lose your sheep,
Tears will turn rainbow-laughter!
In the trail of the sun if the mothers did run,
The lambs are sure to run after;

But a day is coming when little feet drumming
Will wake you up to find them -
All the old sheep - how your heart will leap! -
With their big little lambs behind them!


Little Boy Blue lost his way in a wood -
_Sing apples and cherries, roses and honey:_
He said, "I would not go back if I could,
_It's all so jolly and funny!"_

He sang, "This wood is all my own -
_Apples and cherries, roses and honey!_
Here I will sit, a king on my throne,
_All so jolly and funny!"_

A little snake crept out of a tree -
_Apples and cherries, roses and honey:_
"Lie down at my feet, little snake," said he -
_All so jolly and funny!_

A little bird sang in the tree overhead -
_"Apples and cherries, roses and honey:"_
"Come and sing your song on my finger," he said,
_All so jolly and funny._

Up coiled the snake; the bird came down,
And sang him the song of Birdie Brown.

But little Boy Blue found it tiresome to sit
Though it was on a throne: he would walk a bit!

He took up his horn, and he blew a blast:
"Snake, you go first, and, birdie, come last."

Waves of green snake o'er the yellow leaves went;
The snake led the way, and he knew what he meant:

But by Boy Blue's head, with flutter and dart,
Flew Birdie Brown, her song in her heart.

Boy Blue came where apples grew fair and sweet:
"Tree, drop me an apple down at my feet."

He came where cherries hung plump and red:
"Come to my mouth, sweet kisses," he said.

And the boughs bow down, and the apples they dapple
The grass, too many for him to grapple;

And the cheeriest cherries, with never a miss,
Fall to his mouth, each a full-grown kiss.

He met a little brook singing a song:
"Little brook," he said, "you are going wrong,

"You must follow me, follow me, follow, I say,
Do as I tell you, and come this way."

And the song-singing, sing-songing forest brook
Leapt from its bed and after him took;

And the dead leaves rustled, yellow and wan,
As over their beds the water ran.

He called every bird that sat on a bough;
He called every creature with poop and prow -

I mean, with two ends, that is, nose and tail:
With legs or without, they followed full sail;

Squirrels that carried their tails like a sack,
Each his own on his little brown humpy back;

Snails that drew their own caravans,
Poking out their own eyes on the point of a lance,

And houseless slugs, white, black, and red -
Snails too lazy to build a shed;

And butterflies, flutterbys, weasels, and larks,
And owls, and shrew-mice, and harkydarks,

Cockchafers, henchafers, cockioli-birds,
Cockroaches, henroaches, cuckoos in herds;

The dappled fawns fawning, the fallow-deer following;
The swallows and flies, flying and swallowing -

All went flitting, and sailing, and flowing
After the merry boy running and blowing.

The spider forgot, and followed him spinning,
And lost all his thread from end to beginning;

The gay wasp forgot his rings and his waist -
He never had made such undignified haste!

The dragon-flies melted to mist with their hurrying;
The mole forsook his harrowing and burrowing;

The bees went buzzing, not busy but beesy,
And the midges in columns, upright and easy.

But Little Boy Blue was not content,
Calling for followers still as he went,

Blowing his horn, and beating his drum,
And crying aloud, "Come all of you, come!"

He said to the shadows, "Come after me;"
And the shadows began to flicker and flee,

And away through the wood went flattering and fluttering,
Shaking and quivering, quavering and muttering.

He said to the wind, "Come, follow; come, follow
With whistle and pipe, with rustle and hollo;"

And the wind wound round at his desire,
As if Boy had been the gold cock on the spire;

And the cock itself flew down from the church
And left the farmers all in the lurch.

Everything, everything, all and sum,
They run and they fly, they creep and they come;

The very trees they tugged at their roots,
Only their feet were too fast in their boots -

After him leaning and straining and bending,
As on through their boles the army kept wending,

Till out of the wood Boy burst on a lea,
Shouting and calling, "Come after me,"

And then they rose with a leafy hiss
And stood as if nothing had been amiss.

Little Boy Blue sat down on a stone,
And the creatures came round him every one.

He said to the clouds, "I want you there!"
And down they sank through the thin blue air.

He said to the sunset far in the west,
"Come here; I want you; 'tis my behest!"

And the sunset came and stood up on the wold,
And burned and glowed in purple and gold.

Then Little Boy Blue began to ponder:
"What's to be done with them all, I wonder!"

He thought a while, then he said, quite low,
"What to do with you all, I am sure I don't know!"

The clouds clodded down till dismal it grew;
The snake sneaked close; round Birdie Brown flew;

The brook, like a cobra, rose on its tail,
And the wind sank down with a _what-will-you_ wail,

And all the creatures sat and stared;
The mole opened the eyes that he hadn't, and glared;

And for rats and bats, and the world and his wife
Little Boy Blue was afraid of his life.

Then Birdie Brown began to sing,
And what he sang was the very thing:

"Little Boy Blue, you have brought us all hither:
Pray, are we to sit and grow old together?"

"Go away; go away," said Little Boy Blue;
"I'm sure I don't want you! get away - do."

"No, no; no, no; no, yes, and no, no,"
Sang Birdie Brown, "it mustn't be so!

"If we've come for no good, we can't go away.
Give us reason for going, or here we stay!"

They covered the earth, they darkened the air,
They hovered, they sat, with a countless stare.

"If I do not give them something to do,
They will stare me up!" said Little Boy Blue.

"Oh dear! oh dear!" he began to cry,
"They're an awful crew, and I feel so shy!"

All of a sudden he thought of a thing,
And up he stood, and spoke like a king:

"You're the plague of my life! have done with your bother!
Off with you all: take me back to my mother!"

The sunset went back to the gates of the west.
"Follow _me_" sang Birdie, "I know the way best!"

"I am going the same way as fast as I can!"
Said the brook, as it sank and turned and ran.

To the wood fled the shadows, like scared black ghosts:
"If we stay, we shall all be missed from our posts!"

Said the wind, with a voice that had changed its cheer,
"I was just going there when you brought me here!"

"That's where I live," said the sack-backed squirrel,
And he turned his sack with a swing and a swirl.

Said the gold weather-cock, "I'm the churchwarden!"
Said the mole, "I live in the parson's garden!"

Said they all, "If that's where you want us to steer for,
What on earth or in air did you bring us here for?"

"You are none the worse!" said Boy. "If you won't
Do as I tell you, why, then, don't;

"I'll leave you behind, and go home without you;
And it's time I did: I begin to doubt you!"

He jumped to his feet. The snake rose on his tail,
And hissed three times, a hiss full of bale,

And shot out his tongue at Boy Blue to scare him,
And stared at him, out of his courage to stare him.

"You ugly snake," Little Boy Blue said,
"Get out of my way, or I'll break your head!"

The snake would not move, but glared at him glum;
Boy Blue hit him hard with the stick of his drum.

The snake fell down as if he was dead.
Little Boy Blue set his foot on his head.

"Hurrah!" cried the creatures, "hurray! hurrah!
Little Boy Blue, your will is a law!"

And away they went, marching before him,
And marshalled him home with a high cockolorum.

And Birdie Brown sang, _"Twirrr twitter, twirrr twee!
In the rosiest rose-bush a rare nest!
Twirrr twitter, twirrr twitter, twirrr twitter, twirrrrr tweeeee!
In the fun he has found the earnest!"_



_Willie speaks._

Is it wrong, the wish to be great,
For I do wish it so?
I have asked already my sister Kate;
She says she does not know.

Yestereve at the gate I stood
Watching the sun in the west;
When I saw him look so grand and good
It swelled up in my breast.

Next from the rising moon
It stole like a silver dart;
In the night when the wind began his tune
It woke with a sudden start.

This morning a trumpet blast
Made all the cottage quake;
It came so sudden and shook so fast
It blew me wide awake.

It told me I must make haste,
And some great glory win,
For every day was running to waste,
And at once I must begin.

I want to be great and strong,
I want to begin to-day;
But if you think it very wrong
I will send the wish away.


_The Father answers._

Wrong to wish to be great?
No, Willie; it is not wrong:
The child who stands at the high closed gate
Must wish to be tall and strong!

If you did not wish to grow
I should be a sorry man;
I should think my boy was dull and slow,
Nor worthy of his clan.

You are bound to be great, my boy:
Wish, and get up, and do.
Were you content to be little, my joy
Would be little enough in you.

_Willie speaks._

Papa, papa! I'm so glad
That what I wish is right!
I will not lose a chance to be had;
I'll begin this very night.

I will work so hard at school!
I will waste no time in play;
At my fingers' ends I'll have every rule,
For knowledge is power, they say.

I _would_ be a king and reign,
But I can't be that, and so
Field-marshal I'll be, I think, and gain
Sharp battles and sieges slow.

I shall gallop and shout and call,
Waving my shining sword:
Artillery, cavalry, infantry, all
Hear and obey my word.

Or admiral I will be,
Wherever the salt wave runs,
Sailing, fighting over the sea,
With flashing and roaring guns.

I will make myself hardy and strong;
I will never, never give in.
I _am_ so glad it is not wrong!
At once I will begin.

_The Father speaks._

Fighting and shining along,
All for the show of the thing!
Any puppet will mimic the grand and strong
If you pull the proper string!

_Willie speaks._

But indeed I want to _be_ great,
I should despise mere show;
The thing I want is the glory-state -
Above the rest, you know!

_The Father answers._

The harder you run that race,
The farther you tread that track,
The greatness you fancy before your face
Is the farther behind your back.

To be up in the heavens afar,
Miles above all the rest,
Would make a star not the greatest star,
Only the dreariest.

That book on the highest shelf
Is not the greatest book;
If you would be great, it must be in yourself,
Neither by place nor look.

The Highest is not high
By being higher than others;
To greatness you come not a step more nigh
By getting above your brothers.


_Willie speaks._

I meant the boys at school,
I did not mean my brother.
Somebody first, is there the rule -
It must be me or another.

_The Father answers._

Oh, Willie, it's all the same!
They are your brothers all;
For when you say, "Hallowed be thy name!"
Whose Father is it you call?

Could you pray for such rule to _him_?
Do you think that he would hear?
Must he favour one in a greedy whim
Where all are his children dear?

It is right to get up and do,
But why outstrip the rest?
Why should one of the many be one of the few?
Why should _you_ think to be best?

_Willie speaks._

Then how am I to be great?
I know no other way;
It would be folly to sit and wait,
I must up and do, you say!

_The Father answers._

I do not want you to wait,
For few before they die
Have got so far as begin to be great,
The lesson is so high.

I will tell you the only plan
To climb and not to fall:
He who would rise and be greater than
He is, must be servant of all.

Turn it each way in your mind,
Try every other plan,
You may think yourself great, but at length you'll find
You are not even a man.

Climb to the top of the trees,
Climb to the top of the hill,
Get up on the crown of the sky if you please,
You'll be a small creature still.

Be admiral, poet, or king,
Let praises fill both your ears,
Your soul will be but a windmill thing
Blown round by its hopes and fears.


_Willie speaks._

Then put me in the way,
For you, papa, are a man:
What thing shall I do this very day? -
Only be sure I _can_.

I want to know - I am willing,
Let me at least have a chance!
Shall I give the monkey-boy my shilling? -
I want to serve at once.

_The Father answers._

Give all your shillings you might
And hurt your brothers the more;
He only can serve his fellows aright
Who goes in at the little door.

We must do the thing we _must_
Before the thing we _may;_
We are unfit for any trust
Till we can and do obey.

_Willie speaks._

I will try more and more;
I have nothing now to ask;
_Obedience_ I know is the little door:
Now set me some hard task.

_The Father answers._

No, Willie; the father of all,
Teacher and master high,
Has set your task beyond recall,
Nothing can set it by.

_Willie speaks._

What is it, father dear,
That he would have me do?
I'd ask himself, but he's not near,
And so I must ask you!

_The Father answers._

Me 'tis no use to ask,
I too am one of his boys!
But he tells each boy his own plain task;
Listen, and hear his voice.

_Willie speaks._

Father, I'm listening _so_
To hear him if I may!
His voice must either be very low,
Or very far away!

_The Father answers._

It is neither hard to hear,
Nor hard to understand;
It is very low, but very near,
A still, small, strong command.

_Willie answers._

I do not hear it at all;
I am only hearing you!

_The Father speaks._

Think: is there nothing, great or small,
You ought to go and do?

_Willie answers._

Let me think: - I ought to feed
My rabbits. I went away
In such a hurry this morning! Indeed
They've not had enough to-day!

_The Father speaks._

That is his whisper low!
That is his very word!
You had only to stop and listen, and so
Very plainly you heard!

That duty's the little door:
You must open it and go in;
There is nothing else to do before,
There is nowhere else to begin.

_Willie speaks._

But that's so easily done!
It's such a trifling affair!
So nearly over as soon as begun.

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe poetical works of George MacDonald in two volumes — Volume 2 → online text (page 8 of 20)