Charles Stuart Calverley
On The Brink
Poem by Charles Stuart Calverley
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
And, crooning still the strange, sweet lore
Which only mothers’ tongues can utter,
Snow’d with deft hand the sugar o’er
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
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.
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