Henry Timrod

(8 December 1828 - 7 October 1867 / Charleston, South Carolina)

A Mother's Wail


My babe! my tiny babe! my only babe!
My single rose-bud in a crown of thorns!
My lamp that in that narrow hut of life,
Whence I looked forth upon a night of storm!
Burned with the lustre of the moon and stars!

My babe! my tiny babe! my only babe!
Behold the bud is gone! the thorns remain!
My lamp hath fallen from its niche -- ah, me!
Earth drinks the fragrant flame, and I am left
Forever and forever in the dark!

My babe! my babe! my own and only babe!
Where art thou now? If somewhere in the sky
An angel hold thee in his radiant arms,
I challenge him to clasp thy tender form
With half the fervor of a mother's love!

Forgive me, Lord! forgive my reckless grief!
Forgive me that this rebel, selfish heart
Would almost make me jealous for my child,
Though thy own lap enthroned him. Lord, thou hast
So many such! I have -- ah! had but one!

O yet once more, my babe, to hear thy cry!
O yet once more, my babe, to see thy smile!
O yet once more to feel against my breast
Those cool, soft hands, that warm, wet, eager mouth,
With the sweet sharpness of its budding pearls!

But it must never, never more be mine
To mark the growing meaning in thine eyes,
To watch thy soul unfolding leaf by leaf,
Or catch, with ever fresh surprise and joy,
Thy dawning recognitions of the world.

Three different shadows of thyself, my babe,
Change with each other while I weep. The first,
The sweetest, yet the not least fraught with pain,
Clings like my living boy around my neck,
Or purrs and murmurs softly at my feet!

Another is a little mound of earth;
That comes the oftenest, darling! In my dreams,
I see it beaten by the midnight rain,
Or chilled beneath the moon. Ah! what a couch
For that which I have shielded from a breath
That would not stir the violets on thy grave!

The third, my precious babe! the third, O Lord!
Is a fair cherub face beyond the stars,
Wearing the roses of a mystic bliss,
Yet sometimes not unsaddened by a glance
Turned earthward on a mother in her woe!

This is the vision, Lord, that I would keep
Before me always. But, alas! as yet,
It is the dimmest and the rarest, too!
O touch my sight, or break the cloudy bars
That hide it, lest I madden where I kneel!

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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