L. S. (Leonard Southerden) Wood.

A book of English verse on infancy and childhood online

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The customers at night-time usually
While he made up the ledger after tea,
Was busy, when I ... Well, to tell the truth,
They were in trouble, for their little son
Had come in ill from school . . the doctor said
Pneumonia . . . they'd been putting him to bed :
Perhaps I'd heard them, moving overhead,
For boards would creak, and creak, for all your

They hoped the best ; for he was young ; and

Could come through much ; and all that could

be done
Would be ... then he stood, listening, quite

As though he heard a footstep on the stair,


Though I heard nothing : but at my remark

About the fog and sleet, he turned,

And answered quickly, as there burned

In his brown eyes an eager flame :

The raw and damp were much to blame :

If but his son might breathe West-country air !

A certain Cornish village he could name

Was just the place ; if they could send him


And only for a week, he'd come back stronger . . .
And then, again, he listened : and I took
My paper, and went, afraid to keep him longer ;
And left him standing with that haggard look.

Next night, as I pushed in, there was no tinkle :

And, glancing up, I saw the bell was gone ;

Although, in either window, the gas shone ;

And I was greeted by a cheery twinkle

Of burnished tins and bottles from the shelves :

And now, I saw the father busy there

Behind the counter, cutting with a string

A bar of soap up for a customer,

With weary eyes, and jerky, harassed air,

As if his mind were hardly on the task' :

And when 'twas done, and parcelled up for


And she had gone, he turned to me, and said :
He thought that folks might cut their soap them-
selves . . .

'Twas nothing much . . . but any little thing,
At such a time . . . And, having little doubt
The boy was worse, I did not like to ask ;
So picked my paper up, and hurried out.

And, all next day, amid the glare and clang
And clatter of the workshop, his words rang ;
And kept on ringing, in my head a-ring ;
But any little thing ... at such a time . . .
And kept on chiming to the anvils' chime :
But any little thing ... at such a time . . .
And they were hissed and sputtered in the sizzle
Of water on hot iron : little thing ...


At such a time : and, when I left, at last,

The smoke and steam ; and walked through

the cold drizzle,

The lumbering of the 'buses as they passed
Seemed full of it ; and to the passing feet,
The words kept patter, patter, with dull beat.

I almost feared to turn into their street,

Lest I should find the blinds down in the shop :

And, more than once, I'd half-a-mind to stop,

And buy my paper from the yelling boys,

Who darted all about with such a noise

That I half -wondered, in a foolish way,

How they could shriek so, knowing that the


Must worry children, lying ill in bed . . .
Then, thinking even they must earn their bread,
As I earned mine, and scarce as noisily !
I wandered on ; and very soon I found
I'd followed where my thoughts had been all day,
And stood before the shop, relieved to see
The gases burning, and no window-blind
Of blank foreboding. With an easier mind,
I entered slowly ; and was glad to find
The father by the counter, 'waiting me,
With paper ready and a cheery face.
Yes ! yes ! the boy was better . . . took the turn,
Last night, just after I had left the place.
He feared that he'd been short and cross last

night . . .

But, when a little child was suffering,
It worried you . . . and any little thing,
At such a moment made you cut up rough :
Though, now that he was going on all right .
Well, he'd have patience, now, to be polite !
And, soon as ever he was well enough,
The boy should go to Cornwall for a change
Should go to his own home ; for he, himself,
Was Cornish, born and bred, his wife as well :
And still his parents lived in the old place
A little place, as snug as snug could be ...


Where apple-blossom dipped into the sea . . .
Perhaps, to strangers' ears, that sounded


But not to any Cornishman who knew
How sea and land ran up into each other ;
And how, all round each wide, blue estuary,
The flowers were blooming to the waters' edge :
You'd come on blue-bells like a sea of blue . . .
But they would not be out for some while yet . .
'Twould be primroses, blowing everywhere,
Primroses, and primroses, and primroses . . .
You'd never half-know what primroses were,
Unless you'd seen them growing in the West ,
But, having seen, would never more forget.
Why, every bank and every lane and hedge
Was just one blaze of yellow ; and the smell,
When the sun shone upon them, after wet . .
And his eyes sparkled, as he turned to sell
A penny loaf and half-an-ounce of tea
To a poor child, who waited patiently,
With hacking cough that tore her hollow chest :
And, as she went out, clutching tight the change,
He muttered to himself : It's strange, it's


That little ones should suffer so. ... The light
Had left his eyes : but when he turned to me,
I saw a flame leap in them, hot and bright.
I'd like to take them all, he said, to-night !

And, in the workshop^ all through the next


The anvils had another tune to play . . .
Primroses, and primroses, and primroses :
The bellows puffing out : It's strange, it's


That little ones should suffer so ...
And now, my hammer, at a blow :
I'd like to take them all, to-night !
And in the clouds of steam and white-hot glow
I seemed to see primroses everywhere,
Primroses, and primroses, and primroses.


And each night after that I heard the boy
Was mending quickly ; and would soon be well
Till one night 1 was startled by the bell-
Tin-tinkle-tinkle-tinkle, loud and clear ;
And tried to hush it, lest the lad should hear.
But, when the father saw me clutch the thing,
He said the boy had missed it yesterday ;
And wondered why he could not hear it ring ;
And wanted it ; and had to have his way.
And then, with brown eyes burning with deep joy,
Told me his son was going to the West
Was going home . . . the doctor thought, next week,
He'd be quite well enough : the way was long ;
But trains were quick ; and he would soon be

there :

And on the journey he'd have every care,
His mother being with him ... it was best,
That she should go : for he would find it strange,
The little chap, at first . . . she needed change . . .
And, when they'd had a whiff of Western air !
'Twould cost a deal ; and there was naught to

spare :

But, what was money, if you hadn't health :
And, what more could you buy, if you'd the

wealth . . .

Yes ! 'twould be lonely for himself, and rough ;
Though, on the whole, he'd manage well enough :
He'd have a lot to do : and there was naught
Like work to keep folk cheerful : when the hand
Was busy, you had little time for thought ;
And thinking was the mischief . . . and 'twas grand
To know that they'd be happy. Then the bell
Went tinkle-tinkle ; and he turned to sell.

One night he greeted me with face that shone,
Although the eyes were wistful ; they were gone-
Had gone this morning, he was glad to say :
And, though 'twas sore work, setting them away,
Still, 'twas the best for them . . . and they

would be
Already in the cottage by the sea . . .


He spoke no more of them ; but turned his head ;
And said he wondered if the price of bread . . .
And, as I went again into the night,
I saw his eyes were glistening in the light.

And, two nights after that, he'd got a letter :
And all was well : the boy was keeping better ;
And was as happy as a child could be,
All day with the primroses and the sea,
And pigs ! Of all the wonders of the West,
His mother wrote, he liked the pigs the best.
And now the father laughed until the tears
Were in his eyes, and chuckled : Ay ! he knew !
Had he not been a boy there once, himself ?
He'd liked pigs, too, when he was his son's years.
And then, he reached a half-loaf from the shelf ;
And twisted up a farthing's worth of tea,
And farthing's worth of sugar, for the child,
The same poor child who waited patiently,
Still shaken by a hacking, racking cough.

And all next day the anvils rang with jigs :
The bellows roared and rumbled with loud


Until it seemed the workshop had gone wild,
And it would echo, echo, ever after
The tune the hammers tinkled on and off,
A silly tune of primroses and pigs . . .
Of all the wonders of the West
He liked the pigs, he liked the pigs the best !

Next night, as I went in, I caught

A strange, fresh smell. The postman had just


A precious box from Cornwall, and the shop
Was lit with primroses, that lay atop
A Cornish pasty, and a pot of cream :
And as, with gentle hands, the father lifted
The flowers his little son had plucked for him,
He stood a moment in a far-off dream,
As though in glad remembrances he drifted
On Western seas : and, as his eyes grew dim,


He stooped, and buried them in deep, sweet

bloom :

Till, hearing once again the poor child's cough,
He served her hurriedly and sent her off,
Quite happily, with thin hands filled with


And as I followed to the street, the gloom
Was starred with primroses ; and many hours
The strange, shy flickering surprise
Of that child's keen, enchanted eyes
Lit up my heart, and brightened my dull room.

Then, many nights the foundry kept me late

With overtime ; and I was much too tired

To go round by the shop ; but made for bed

As straight as I could go : until one night

We'd left off earlier, though 'twas after eight,

I thought I'd like some news about the boy.

I found the shop untended ; and the bell

Tin-tinkle-tinkle-tinkled all in vain.

And then I saw, through the half-curtained pane,

The back-room was a very blaze of joy :

And knew the mother and son had come safe


And as I slipped away, now all was well,
I heard the boy shriek out, in shrill delight :
' And, father, all the little pigs were black ! '




Dante saw the great white Rose

Half unclose ;
Dante saw the golden bees

Gathering from its heart of gold

Sweets untold,
Love's most honeved harmonies.


Dante saw the threefold bow

Strangely glow,
Saw the Rainbow Vision rise,

And the Flame that wore the crown

Bending down
O'er the flowers of Paradise.

Something yet remained, it seems ;

In his dreams
Dante missed as angels may

In their white and burning bliss

Some small kiss
Mortals meet with every day.

Italy in splendour faints

'Neath her saints !
O, her great Madonnas, too,
Faces calm as any moon

Glows in June,
Hooded with the night's deep blue !

What remains ? I pass and hear

Ay, or see in silent eyes

Just the song she still would sing

Thus a-swing
O'er the cradle where He lies.

Sleep, little baby, I love thee ;

Sleep, little king, I am bending above thee !

How should I know what to sing
Here in my arms as I swing thee to sleep ?
Hushaby low,
Rockaby so,

Kings may have wonderful jewels to bring,
Mother has only a kiss for her king !
Why should my singing so make me to weep ?
Only I know that I love thee, I love thee,

Love thee, my little one, sleep.


Is it a dream ? Ah yet, it seems

Not the same as other dreams !
I can but think that angels sang,

When thou wast born, in the starry sky,
And that their golden harps out-rang

While the silver clouds went by !

The morning sun shuts out the stars,

Which are much loftier than the sun ;
But, could we burst our prison-bars

And find the Light whence light begun,
The dreams that heralded thy birth
Were truer than the truths of earth ;
And, by that far immortal Gleam
Soul of my soul, I still would dream !

A ring of light was round thy head,

The great-eyed oxen nigh thy bed

Their cold and innocent noses bowed !

Their sweet breath rose like an incense cloud

In the blurred and mystic lanthorn light.

About the middle of the night

The black door blazed like some great star

With a glory from afar,

Or like some mighty chrysolite

Wherein an angel stood with white

Blinding arrowy bladed wings

Before the throne of the King of kings ;

And, through it, I could dimly see

A great steed tethered to a tree.

Then, with crimson gems aflame
Through the door the three kings came,
And the black Ethiop unrolled
The richly broidered cloth of gold,
And poured forth before thee there
Gold and frankincense and myrrh !


See, what a wonderful smile ! Does it mean

That my little one knows of my love ?
Was it meant for an angel that passed unseen,

And smiled at us both from above ?
Does it mean hat he knows of the birds and

the flowers
That are waiting to sweeten his childhood's

And the tales I shall tell and the games he will


And the songs we shall sing and the prayers we
shall pray

In his boyhood's May,
He and I, one day ?

For in the warm blue summer weather
We shall laugh and love together :

I shall watch my baby growing,
I shall guide his feet,

When the orange trees are blowing
And the winds are heavy and sweet !

When the orange orchards whiten

I shall see his great eyes brighten
To watch the long-legged camels going

Up the twisted street,
When the orange trees are blowing

And the winds are sweet.
What does it mean ? Indeed, it seems
A dream ! Yet not like other dreams !

We shall walk in pleasant vales,
Listening to the shepherd's song :

I shall tell him lovely tales
All day long :

He shall laugh while mother sings

Tales of fishermen and kings.

He shall see them come and go
O'er the wistful sea,


Where rosy oleanders blow
Round blue Lake Galilee,
Kings with fishers' ragged coats
And silver nets across their boats.
Dipping through the starry glow,
With crowns for him and me !

Ah, no ;
Crowns for him, not me !

Rockaby so ! Indeed, it seems

A dream ! Yet not like other dreams !

Ah, see what a wonderful smile again !

Shall I hide it away in my heart,
To remember one day in a world of pain

When the years have torn us apart,

Little babe,
When the years have torn us apart ?

Sleep, my little one, sleep,

Child with the wonderful eyes,
Wild miraculous eyes,
Deep as the skies are deep !
What star-bright glory of tears
Waits in you now for the years
That shall bid you waken and weep ?
Ah, in that day, could I kiss you to sleep
Then, little lips, little eyes,
Little lips that are lovely and wise,
Little lips that are dreadful and wise !


Clenched little hands like crumpled roses

Dimpled and dear,
Feet like flowers that the dawn uncloses,

What do I fear ?
Little hands, will you ever be clenched in

anguish ?

White little limbs, will you droop and languish ?
Nay, what do I hear ?


I hear a shouting far away,
You shall ride on a kingly palm-strewn way
Some day !

But when you are crowned with a golden crown

And throned on a golden throne,
You'll forget the manger of Bethlehem town

And your mother that sits alone
Wondering whether the mighty king
Remembers a song she used to sing,
Long ago,
' Rockaby so,

Kings may have wonderful jewels to bring,
Mother has only a kiss for her king ! ' . . .

Ah, see what a wonderful smile, once more !

He opens his great dark eyes !
Little child, little king, nay, hush, it is o'er

My fear of those deep twin skies,
Little child,

You are all too dreamful and wise ! '

But now you are mine, all mine,

And your feet can lie in my hand so small,
And your tiny hands in my heart can twine,

And you cannot walk, so you never shall fall,
Or be pierced by the thorns beside the door,
Or the nails that lie upon Joseph's floor ;
Through sun and rain, through shadow and shine

You are mine, all mine !



Once upon a time ! Ah, now the light is burning


Peterkin is here again : he wants another tale !'
Don't you hear him whispering The wind is in

the chimley,
The ottoman's a treasure-ship, we'll all set sail ?


All set sail ? No, the wind is very loud to-night :
The darkness on the waters is much deeper

than of yore,
Yet I wonder hark, he whispers if the little

streets are still as bright

In old Japan, in old Japan, that happy
haunted shore.

I wonder hush, he whispers if perhaps the

world will wake again
When Christmas brings the stories back from

where the skies are blue,
Where clouds are scattering diamonds down on

every cottage window-pane,
And every boy's a fairy prince, and every tale
is true.

There the sword Excalibur is thrust into the

dragon's throat,
Evil there is evil, black is black, and white is

white :
There the child triumphant hurls the villain

spluttering into the moat ;
There the captured princess only waits the
peerless knight.

Fairyland is gleaming there beyond the Sherwood

Forest trees,
There the City of the Clouds has anchored on

the plain

All her misty vistas and slumber-rosy palaces
(Shall we not, ah, shall we not, wander there
again ?)

' Happy ever after ' there, the lights of home a

welcome fling
Softly thro" the darkness as the star that

shone of old,
Softly over Bethlehem and o'er the little cradled

. King

Whom the sages worshipped with their frank-
incense and gold.


Once upon a time perhaps a hundred thousand

years ago
Whisper to me, Peterkin, I have forgotten

when !
Once upon a time there was a way, a way we

used to know

For stealing off at twilight from the weary ways
of men.

Whisper it, O whisper it the way, the way is

all I need !
All the heart and will are here and all the

deep desire !
Once upon a time ah, now the light is drawing

near indeed,

I see the fairy faces flush to roses round the

Once upon a time the little lips are on my cheek

Little fairy fingers clasped and clinging draw

me nigh,
Dreams, no more than dreams, but they unloose

the weary prisoner's chain
And lead him from his dungeon ! ' What's
a thousand years ? ' they cry.

A thousand years, a thousand years, a little

drifting dream ago,
All of us were hunting with a band of merry

The skies were blue, the boughs were green, the

clouds were crisping isles of snow . . .
... So Robin blew his bugle, and the Now

became the Then,




I never see the newsboys run

Amid the whirling street,

With swift untiring feet,
To cry the latest venture done,
But I expect one day to hear

Them cry the crack of doom

And risings from the tomb,
With great Archangel Michael near ;
And see them running from the Fleet

As messengers of God,

With Heaven's tidings shod
About their brave unwearied feet.



Man proposes, God in His time disposes,
And so I wander'd up to where you lay,

A little rose among the little roses,
And no more dead than they.

It seem'd your childish feet were tired of straying,
You did not greet me from your flower-
strewn bed,

Yet still I knew that you were only playing-
Playing at being dead.

I might have thought that you were really

So quiet lay your eyelids to the sky,
So still your hair, but surely you were peeping ;

And so I did not cry.


God knows, and in His proper time disposes,
And so I smiled and gently called your name,

Added my rose to your sweet heap of roses,
And left you to your game.




He who gives a child a treat
Makes joy-bells ring in Heaven's street,
And he who gives a child a home
Builds palaces in Kingdom Come,
And she who gives a baby birth
Brings Saviour Christ again to earth ;
For life is joy, and mind is fruit,
And body's precious earth and root.




Against the oaken pew he leant,
A child of summers three or four,

And smiled to see each stained-glass saint
Cast by the sunshine on the floor.

He wondered why the folk should look
So sad and stern on either hand.

His thoughts were wandering from the book,
The prayers he could not understand.

Yet, when the organ's thunder filled
The dim-lit aisles in praise and prayer,

Sweetly his baby treble trilled

Happiest of all who worshipped there.

The sunshine made his heart rejoice ;

And who shall chide him ? Who declare
God did not hear the childish voice

That sang because His world was fair ?




Where were the pathways that your childhood
knew ?

In mountain glens ? or by the ocean strands ?

Or where, beyond the ripening harvest lands,
The distant hills were blue ?

Where evening sunlight threw a golden haze
Over a mellow city's walls and towers ?
Or where the fields and lanes were bright
with flowers,

In quiet woodland ways ?

And whether here or there, or east or west,
That place you dwelt in first was holy ground ;
Its shelter was the kindest you have found,

Its pathways were the best.

And even in the city's smoke and mire
I doubt not that a golden light was shed
On those first paths, and that they also led

To lands of heart's desire.

And where the children in dark alleys penn'd
Heard the caged lark sing of the April hills,
Or where they damm'd the jnuddy gutter rills,

Or made a dog their friend ;

Or where they gathered, dancing hand in hand.
About the organ man, for them, too, lay
Beyond the dismal alley's entrance way

The gates of wonderland.

For 'tis my faith that Earth's first words are

To all her children, never a rebuff ;

And that we only saw, where ways were rough
The flowers about our feet.





O happy days of childhood, when

We taught shy Echo in the glen

Words she had never used before

Ere age lost heart to summon her.

Life's river, with its early rush,

Falls into a mysterious hush

When nearing the eternal sea :

Yet we would not forgetful be,

In these deep silent days so wise,

Of shallows making mighty noise,

When we were young, when we were gay,

And never thought Death lived that day.



Sweet are thy dreams, thou happy, careless boy
Thou know'st the taste of immortality ;
No weary limbs can rest upon thy heart ;
Sleep has no care to ease thee of at night ;
The same move shuts together eye and mind,
And in the morning one move opens both.
Life lies before thee, hardly stepped on yet,
Like a green prairie, fresh, and full of flowers.
Life lies before thee for experiment,
Until old age comes, whose sad eyes can trace
A better path he missed, with fairer flowers,
Which other men have walked in misery.
Thou hast no knowledge of a life of toil,
How hard Necessity destroys our dreams,
And castles in the air must pay him tithes
So heavy that no tenant keeps them long.
To thee the world is still unknown and strange
Still full of wild romance, as in those days
Ere England launched her forests on the sea.


Thou wilt discover in far mountain caves

Deserted, lamps left burning for thy feet,

And comfort in them more than kings are worth.

Aye, many a gate will open at thy call,

And wise men will come forth to welcome thee,

And bells will ring for pleasure in thy ear.

Great monsters in dark woods, with mighty


That swallow their own faces when they yawn,
And mountain bears that carry on their backs
Rough, shaggy coats whose price compares with


Will fall by thy strong, right, all-conquering arm.
And who can stop thee ; who can turn thee back ?
Not giants, though they stand full twenty feet,
And sit too tall for common men to stand.
Oh, that sweet magic in thee, happy boy !
It makes a golden world for all things young.
Thou with an iron ring, a piece of bone,
A rusty blade, or half a yard of rope,
Art richer than a man with mines and ships.
The child's fresh mind makes honey out of soot,
Sweeter than Age can make on banks of flowers ;
He needs but cross a bridge, that happy boy,
And he can breathe the air of a new world.
Sweet children, with your trust in this hard life
Like little birds that ope their mouths for food
From hands that come to cage them till they die.


I saw this day sweet flowers grow thick-
But not one like the child did pick.

I heard the packhounds in green park
But no dog like the child heard bark.

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Online LibraryL. S. (Leonard Southerden) WoodA book of English verse on infancy and childhood → online text (page 16 of 20)