WHAT can I write in thee, O dainty book,
About whose daintiness faint perfume lingers—
Into whose pages dainty ladies look,
And turn thy dainty leaves with daintier fingers?
Fitter my ruder muse for ruder song,
My scrawling quill to coarser paper matches;
My voice, in laughter raised too loud and long,
Is hoarse and cracked with singing tavern catches.
No melodies have I for ladies’ ear,
No roundelays for jocund lads and lasses—
But only brawlings born of bitter beer,
And chorussed with the clink and clash of glasses!
So, tell thy mistress, pretty friend, for me,
I cannot do her hest, for all her frowning,
While dust and ink are but polluting thee,
And vile tobacco-smoke thy leaves embrowning.
Thou breathest purity and humble worth—
The simple jest, the light laugh following after.
I will not jar upon thy modest mirth
With harsher jest, or with less gentle laughter.
So, some poor tavern-haunter, steeped in wine,
With staggering footsteps thro’ the streets returning,
Seeing, through gathering glooms, a sweet light shine
From household lamp in happy window burning,
May pause an instant in the wind and rain
To gaze on that sweet scene of love and duty,
But turns into the wild wet night again,
Lest his sad presence mar its holy beauty.