OF THREE CHILDREN CHOOSING
A CHAPLET OF VERSE
You and I and Burd so blithe—
Burd so blithe, and you, and I—
The Mower he would whet his scythe
Before the dew was dry.
And he woke soon, but we woke soon
And drew the nursery blind,
All wondering at the waning moon
With the small June roses twined:
Low in her cradle swung the moon
With an elfin dawn behind.
In whispers, while our elders slept,
We knelt and said our prayers,
And dress'd us and on tiptoe crept
Adown the creaking stairs.
The world's possessors lay abed,
And all the world was ours—
'Nay, nay, but hark! the Mower's tread!
And we must save the flowers!'
The Mower knew not rest nor haste—
That old unweary man:
But we were young. We paused and raced
And gather'd while we ran.
O youth is careless, youth is fleet,
With heart and wing of bird!
The lark flew up beneath our feet,
To his copse the pheasant whirr'd;
The cattle from their darkling lairs
Heaved up and stretch'd themselves;
Almost they trod at unawares
Upon the busy elves
That dropp'd their spools of gossamer,
To dangle and to dry,
And scurried home to the hollow fir
Where the white owl winks an eye.
Nor you, nor I, nor Burd so blithe
Had driven them in this haste;
But the old, old man, so lean and lithe,
That afar behind us paced;
So lean and lithe, with shoulder'd scythe,
And a whetstone at his waist.
Within the gate, in a grassy round
Whence they had earliest flown,
He upside-down'd his scythe, and ground
Its edge with careful hone.
But we heeded not, if we heard, the sound,
For the world was ours alone;
The world was ours!—and with a bound
The conquering Sun upshone!
And while as from his level ray
We stood our eyes to screen.
The world was not as yesterday
Our homelier world had been—
So grey and golden-green it lay
All in his quiet sheen,
That wove the gold into the grey,
The grey into the green.
Sure never hand of Puck, nor wand
Of Mab the fairies' queen,
Nor prince nor peer of fairyland
Had power to weave that wide riband
Of the grey, the gold, the green.
But the Gods of Greece had been before
And walked our meads along,
The great authentic Gods of yore
That haunt the earth from shore to shore
Trailing their robes of song.
And where a sandall'd foot had brush'd,
And where a scarfed hem,
The flowers awoke from sleep and rush'd
Like children after them.
Pell-mell they poured by vale and stream,
By lawn and steepy brae—
'O children, children! while you dream,
Your flowers run all away!'
But afar and abed and sleepily
The children heard us call;
And Burd so blithe and you and I
Must be gatherers for all.
The meadow-sweet beside the hedge,
The dog-rose and the vetch,
The sworded iris 'mid the sedge,
The mallow by the ditch—
With these, and by the wimpling burn,
Where the midges danced in reels,
With the watermint and the lady fern
We brimm'd out wicker creels:
Till, all so heavily they weigh'd,
On a bank we flung us down,
Shook out our treasures 'neath the shade
And wove this Triple Crown.
Flower after flower—for some there were
The noonday heats had dried,
And some were dear yet could not bear
A lovelier cheek beside,
And some were perfect past compare—
Ah, darlings! what a world of care
It cost us to decide!
Natheless we sang in sweet accord,
Each bending o'er her brede—
'O there be flowers in Oxenford,
And flowers be north of Tweed,
And flowers there be on earthly sward
That owe no mortal seed!'
And these, the brightest that we wove,
Were Innocence and Truth,
And holy Peace and angel Love,
Glad Hope and gentle Ruth.
Ah, bind them fast with triple twine
Of Memory, the wild woodbine
That still, being human, stays divine,
And alone is age's youth!...
But hark! but look! the warning rook
Wings home in level flight;
The children tired with play and book
Have kiss'd and call'd Good-night!
Ah, sisters, look! What fields be these
That lie so sad and shorn?
What hand has cut our coppices,
And thro' the trimm'd, the ruin'd, trees
Lets wail a wind forlorn?
'Tis Time, 'tis Time has done this crime
And laid our meadows waste—
The bent unwearied tyrant Time,
That knows nor rest nor haste.
Yet courage, children; homeward bring
Your hearts, your garlands high;
For we have dared to do a thing
That shall his worst defy.
We cannot nail the dial's hand;
We cannot bind the sun
By Gibeon to stay and stand,
Or the moon o'er Ajalon;
We cannot blunt th' abhorred shears,
Nor shift the skeins of Fate,
Nor say unto the posting years
'Ye shall not desolate.'
We cannot cage the lion's rage,
Nor teach the turtle-dove
Beside what well his moan to tell
Or to haunt one only grove;
But the lion's brood will range for food
As the fledged bird will rove.
And east and west we three may wend—
Yet we a wreath have wound
For us shall wind withouten end
The wide, wide world around:
Be it east or west, and ne'er so far,
In east or west shall peep no star,
No blossom break from ground,
But minds us of the wreath we wove
Of innocence and holy love
That in the meads we found,
And handsell'd from the Mower's scythe,
And bound with memory's living withe—
You and I and Burd so blithe—
Three maidens on a mound:
And all of happiness was ours
Shall find remembrance 'mid the flowers,
Shall take revival from the flowers
And by the flowers be crown'd.