Charles Stuart Calverley

(22 December 1831 – 17 February 1884 / Martley, Worchestershire)

On The Brink


I WATCH’D her as she stoop’d to pluck
A wild flower in her hair to twine;
And wish’d that it had been my luck
To call her mine;

Anon I heard her rate with mad,
Mad words her babe within its cot,
And felt particularly glad
That it had not.

I knew (such subtle brains have men!)
That she was uttering what she shouldn’t;
And thought that I would chide, and then
I thought I would n’t.

Few could have gaz’d upon that face,
Those pouting coral lips, and chided:
A Rhadamanthus, in my place,
Had done as I did.

For wrath with which our bosoms glow
Is chain’d there oft by Beauty’s spell;
And, more than that, I did not know
The widow well.

So the harsh phrase pass’d unreprov’d:
Still mute—(O brothers, was it sin?)—
I drank, unutterably mov’d,
Her beauty in.

And to myself I murmur’d low,
As on her upturn’d face and dress
The moonlight fell, “Would she say No,—
By chance, or Yes?”

She stood so calm, so like a ghost,
Betwixt me and that magic moon,
That I already was almost
A finish’d coon.

But when she caught adroitly up
And sooth’d with smiles her little daughter;
And gave it, if I ’m right, a sup
Of barley-water;

And, crooning still the strange, sweet lore
Which only mothers’ tongues can utter,
Snow’d with deft hand the sugar o’er
Its bread-and-butter;

And kiss’d it clingingly (ah, why
Don’t women do these things in private?)—
I felt that if I lost her, I
Should not survive it.

And from my mouth the words nigh flew,—
The past, the future, I forgat ’em,—
“Oh, if you ’d kiss me as you do
That thankless atom!”

But this thought came ere yet I spake,
And froze the sentence on my lips:
“They err who marry wives that make
Those little slips.”

It came like some familiar rhyme,
Some copy to my boyhood set;
And that ’s perhaps the reason I’m
Unmarried yet.

Would she have own’d how pleas’d she was,
And told her love with widow’s pride?
I never found out that, because
I never tried.

Be kind to babes and beasts and birds,
Hearts may be hard though lips are coral;
And angry words are angry words:
And that ’s the moral.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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