Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, TO A CHILD, by GEORGE BARLOW (1847-1913)

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

TO A CHILD, by                
First Line: O bright-eyed child whose laughter
Last Line: The intense immense soft dense sweet mist that round her strays.—
Subject(s): Children; Courts & Courtiers; Life; Love; Childhood; Royal Court Life; Royalty; Kings; Queens


O bright-eyed child whose laughter
Rings down the lanes of May,
Thou hast the whole hereafter
Spread out for toil and play:
The hours and flowers and bowers of the long summer day.


All life is yet before thee:
The dawn is in the sky:
The earliest gold hangs o'er thee
And the first breezes fly;
Not yet regret with jet strange threatening locks is nigh.


What blossoms wilt thou gather?
For all are here to choose:
Pale lilies, blue-bells, heather,—
All kinds and varied hues,—
For thee we see the lea its banks with bloom suffuse!


Wilt thou be prince or poet?
All paths are open now.
Fate, though thou dost not know it,
Will crown thy white broad brow
With bays for lays, or sprays of love from myrtle bough:—


Just as thou wilt: the morning
Gives thee the choice of each.
Swift yet sufficient warning
Thou hast:—thine arms may reach
Delight of white and bright soft blossoms beyond speech.


About thee still the beauty
Of fresh-robed April clings.
All May's and June's glad booty
May added be to spring's,
O child enisled in wild strange dreams of many things.


The greatest of all glories
Thou hast within thine hand.
Thou knowest not where Love's store is,
Nor yet dost understand
How beams and gleams through dreams passion's enchanted land.


As thou advancest slowly
Along the brightening way,
Fair love, white-winged and holy,
Will meet thee, on a day,
And thou shalt bow and vow thine utmost heart away!


The very flowers adore thee:
They know so well indeed
What flowery paths before thee
To fragrant paths succeed,
By hill and rill and mill and yellow-spotted mead.


When manhood comes, and passion
Comes with it, all will be
Spread out in splendid fashion,
Untouched, in front of thee:
Bright blue of hue and new will gleam the boundless sea.


As if God just now, solely
For thee, had made the world,
Its grandeur will be wholly
In front of thee unfurled.
For thee each tree will be with Eden's dews impearled.


The road thou art beginning
This radiant dawn of May
Hath treasures worth the winning,
Though Death with quiver grey
Hath power o'er flower and bower, when closes the long day.


Yet, ere the long day closes,
What rapture may be won!
What fragrance of soft roses
Gathered as yet by none!
What light of bright and white imperishable sun!


Ere the moon rises slowly
Above the purple hill
What pure delights and holy
May all thy strong heart fill,
If thou from now wilt vow to Love thine utmost will!


Ere the night's gold stars greet thee
And the deep-blue dim night,
What joys may throng and meet thee
With hands and bosoms white,—
Thee found and bound and crowned of infinite delight!


What deeds of priceless daring
Thy young heart may achieve!
Forth on the long road faring
From crimson morn till eve,
High fame, no tame poor name, behind thee thou mayest leave!


By far-off lakes and rivers,—
Through burning wastes of sand
Where the hot mirage quivers,—
In many a wild weird land,—
At head of red outspread fierce warriors thou mayest stand!


The furthest East may know thee
And watch thy gleaming sword:
The gladdened West may owe thee
High thanks and proud reward:
As leader thee the sea may honour, and as lord.


Or else the god Apollo
May crown thine head with bays.
Him thou mayest alway follow
Through sweet and rosehung ways,
And fill and thrill and still the world with sovereign lays.


While others in their fashion
Are seeking lesser things,
With great imperious passion
And strong unhindered wings
The sun alone and throne of earth's high bay-crowned kings


Thou shalt seek. This it may be
Lies, child, in front of thee.
Eternal may thy day be;
Thy voice as is the sea,
Or tone and moan of blown green-grey wind-smitten tree.


The winds that round our meadows
And iron cliff-sides beat;
The evening's lengthening shadows;
The hush of noon-tide heat;
The song of throng of strong bright gold-haired ears of wheat;


The glory of the morning;
The mystic calm of night;
The tides the loud shore scorning;
The tender snow-drop white;
The speech of beech, and each glad summer's blossoms bright;


The beauty of all women;
The beauty of soft skies;
The blue-backed swallow skimming
The pond; the dragon-flies;
The green dim sheen half-seen that on the far hill lies;


The pulse of blood that quickens
At the dense driving spray
Of battle when it thickens
And the blue sword-blades play
And flash and crash and dash the hot shells every way;


The pulse of love that trembles
At a young girl's soft tone;
Passion that ne'er dissembles
But claims her for its own;
The height and might and light of Love's imperial throne;


The glory of life advancing
With strength that knows no bound,
From height to far height glancing,
From green to rocky mound,
Till where the air is fair and free God's rest is found;—


All this thou mayest succeed to,
And fairer things than these,
If thou wilt but give heed to
Fate's whispers in the trees
And be as free as the far fetterless grey seas.


Thou hast thy country's glory
Behind thee and before:
Past ages grand and hoary;
A new untraversed shore;
Thou mayest the waste untraced inherit and explore.


Shall it be bright with flowers
And fervent with the sun
And full of love-sweet bowers
Whereo'er green creepers run?
Shall it be lit by fit high starry proud deeds done?


The whole on thee dependeth:
The future in thine hand
Lies: ere the long road endeth
Thine heart will understand
Each place, and trace all ways and windings of the land.


And at the far end waiteth
For thee, child,—yes, for thee,—
When strenuous toil abateth,
The Bride thou canst not see:
Her breast gives rest from quest and joy and agony.


Her hands are soft and tender;
Her eyes are calm and deep;
If thou wilt quite surrender,
She'll soothe thee into sleep:
No voice of joys, nor noise of men who wail and weep


Shall pierce thy perfect slumber:—
As now thine eyelids close
While visions without number
Flit o'er thee, living rose,
Most pure, secure, and sure shall be thy then repose.


See that thy life be fairer
Than most poor frail lives be:
So shall that kiss be rarer
That in the end for thee
Waits,—when all men pass then,—and Death stays; only she.


Yes! thou shalt feel the pleasure,
When over thee there close
Death's arms, of one whose treasure
Of joy with darkness grows:—
For she can be a sea of infinite repose.


Just as a woman tender
When, robed with night and flowers,
She may unfold her splendour
That tarried through long hours
With sheen unseen; the queen of love loves starlit bowers.


But now that man forsakes thee,—
Yea, the male garish sun,—
Her soft bloom clasps and takes thee;
By her at last thou art won;
Besought, and caught and brought towards beauty known of none.


The daylight crowd hath vanished:
Thou art alone indeed:
Men's voices all are banished,
And woman's doth succeed;
No word of bird is heard when nightingales' notes plead.


So Death one day shall take thee
From all the vulgar throng:
From life's dream shall awake thee
With loving bride-like song:—
Her kiss is bliss, but this supreme kiss tarries long.


O'er many women-flowers
Thine hand shall linger here
Ere through Death's sombre bowers
Death's ghost-like foot glides near:
And she shall be to thee a flowerless form austere


At first, till in the gleaming
Of her deep wondrous eyes
Thou seest a girl's heart dreaming
And softest light of skies
And hearest, clear of fear, her wedding-chant arise.


Then all the loves impassioned
Who down the green hills went,
So delicately fashioned,
And gave some hours' content,
Shall seem a dream, a theme worn threadbare now and spent.


For when the utmost blossom
Of Death's heart opens quite,
And blossom of her bosom
So sovereign-sweet and white,
The past shall fast on blast most swift be swept from sight.


All things else are uncertain,
But this one thing is sure,—
That Death's arms shall encurtain
With loving cloud and pure
One day thy way, and stay when nought else doth endure.


Friend after friend shall find thee,
And love shall follow love;
As thou the road assigned thee
Dost traverse, dove on dove
Shall plain amain, with strain most sweet, in many a grove.


Day after day with colour
Divine shall dawn and break:
Then sink to slow death duller
Than leaden-hued still lake:
The flowers wild hours of showers shall follow and overtake.


The rose that shone so splendid
Within the garden gay
Shall only be befriended
By the warm dawn of day:
Not by the sky where fly thick clouds now moist and grey.


Friend after friend shall leave thee
To tread the road alone:—
Untruth shall pierce and grieve thee;
Yea, Love's own silver tone
Shall flee, and be to thee like far-off waters' moan.


New friendships thou shalt gather,
As thou dost gather new
Pink-ripe autumnal heather
Where last year's heather grew:
And these the breeze that flees the rocking tree-tops through


Shall scatter,—as it scattered
The friendships formed of old
And hurled on all sides, shattered
And rent, the corn-fields' gold,
And tore with roar swift o'er the glades the green woods fold.


But faithful to thee ever
Shall one fair spirit be:
Death shall forsake thee never;
No storm on hill or sea,
No strife, shall drive that wife, mortal, away from thee!


She, waiting in the gloaming,
Can bide thy coming long:
Oh, thou afar art roaming
Gay, with thy glance and song!
Thy light loves, slight and bright, shake not her passion strong.


Choose thine own path for seasons
As many as she wills:
She can put up with treasons
And hearts that dance like rills
Away with gay love-spray adown the laughing hills.


She hath the power to claim thee
From banquet or love-bed:
To startle and ashame thee
By reins of roses led:
A man she can with wan lips ravish from the red!


Right at the very altar
Of Love's own sacrament
Her message would not falter
But would the more be sent:
The ear would hear its clear implacable intent.


What are the shades so tender
Of mortal maidens' eyes
Beside the sombre splendour
That in her strange glance lies?
Oh, she can see thy glee without one moment's sighs!


Full little doth it matter
To the great heart of Death
Where thou dost firstly scatter
Thy kisses and love-breath!
Thou must to dust thy lust return, just as she saith.


The only woman zealous
And passionate and pure
And eager,—yet not jealous,—
Is Death: who can endure
To watch thee snatch and catch life's passing joys, secure.


Secure in her own patience,
And holding each man fast,—
Through joys and tribulations
Hers to the very last;
Waiting to bring her ring when all vows else are past.


For perfect pure allegiance
Claims the great wife-heart Death
And ultimate obedience,
Though like a wanton's breath
And worse still, hers confers light boons she scattereth.


She has embraced all dying
Forms, through the ages long,
Yet never ceased her sighing
For some new dead man's song;
No harlots are, by far, so deadly-sweet and strong


As Death, whose pale lips linger
Upon the lips of kings,—
Upon the mouth of singer,—
And to the slave she clings,
And laps and wraps perhaps round murderers fiery wings.


Nought comes amiss. The coward
Upon the brave man's heels
Steps; that embrace untoward
Is ready, and he feels
The fold of cold loose gold long hair that round him steals!


Napoleon came, and, dying,
Into her arms he leapt:
With Wellington the lying
Strange woman laughed and slept:
Yet girl's gold curls she twirls, a virginal adept.


Her lips are still as tender
And full of gracious bloom
And girlish velvet splendour
As when at the first tomb
Their thirst, unversed, the first kiss changed into perfume.


Thus is she wife and maiden
And harlot, all in one:
Her lips with kisses laden
Are pure as is the sun;
The pride of bride soft-eyed, embraced as yet of none,


Is hers: and yet she held them,
Poet alike and priest;
She drew them and impelled them,
The greatest as the least;
She led the dead towards red lips whereon they might feast.


The swarthy kings who followed
Her form in the ancient days
When burning sand-wreaths swallowed
The old Egyptian ways,—
These were once fair for her, and brought their love and lays.


She kissed the lips of Jesus
And found them warm and bright;
She spilt the gold of Crœsus
Upon their wedding-night;
And Nero's sneer was dear, and Judas brought delight.


And Danton pale and bloody
And ravening Robespierre
Kissed her with wild lips ruddy
With blood and white with fear;
She felt them melt, then dealt another stroke and sheer.


With Byron she coquetted,
Then kissed his fiery brow;
For love of Keats she fretted,—
And Shelley holds her now;
Dim hosts of ghosts she boasts, who follow her beck and bow.


Dim legions without number,—
Yea, all the mighty dead,—
Have sunk in honeyed slumber
With giant limbs outspread
Upon her wan and swan-white fathomless fair bed.


Lucretius found her ready,
And Virgil found her fair,
And Horace loved the eddy
Of fragrant amorous air
That floated to and fro around her wind-waved hair.


But still, thou pale last-comer,
She waits, a wife for thee,—
Sweet in her sixteenth summer—
So it might surely be:
Slim, slight, soft, white, flower-bright,—demure and maidenly.


She stands with eyes that study
The clover at her feet
And tall sea-thistles ruddy
And yellow trefoil sweet;
She brooks thy looks: in nooks flower-fragrant ye shall meet.


She is as fresh as clover;
She is as sweet as may;
If thou wilt be her lover
She'll meet thee in the way,
Bend down and crown thy brown young locks with myrtle spray!


She'll give thee all thou needest
Of love and passion's joy:
She'll touch thee as thou pleadest
With touch that cannot cloy:
Sweet is the bliss of kiss of English lover-boy


To Death:—and soft the treading
Of her young girlish feet
Among our wild flowers speeding,
Our poppies and gold wheat—
(And yet she met white set dead lips 'mid Eastern heat!)


She'll pick the blossoms lurking
By English hedgerows green
And softly upward jerking
The grass-blades lithe and clean
Will weave at eve each leaf her golden locks atween.


Our golden woods autumnal
Can hear her quiet song:
Their bright leaves are her hymnal,
By soft winds blown along—
(Yet queen of sheen of green deep tropic growth and strong


She hath been:—and of valleys
Where giant rivers run
And whence the red spear sallies
Of a tyrannic sun;
But still blue rill can fill her heart with joys unwon!)—


Whoe'er thou art, her glances
Will not despise thee,—though
She revelled 'mid red lances
And red swords long ago,
And stood 'mid flood of blood, and heard wild bugles blow.


The old knights who met in battle
She caught as each one fell
With deadly iron rattle
Of harness, prone, pell-mell;
She waited, straight, elate, beside the doors of hell!—


She stood beside the fiery
Bright flame-lit brazen doors
And clasped the sinewy wiry
Dark knights who sought her shores,—
While round each mound the sound of hell-flames leaps and roars.


Is she afraid?—Nay, fearless
Her heart hath ever been,
And wonderful and peerless
And (in a fashion) clean:—
She dips her lips, and sips the tidal guillotine!


Yet when a hero passes
Through her calm fatal gates,
Brow-bound with flowering grasses,
Most sweet, a maid, she waits;
No lies her eyes devise: all treacherous thought abates.


Not wicked, neither moral
In human sense, is she;—
Red flame or quiet laurel,—
White foam or placid sea,—
The crew that slew the Jew who ruleth history,—


Jesus himself,—or Peter
Or labour-fronting Paul,—
With lips and bosom sweeter
Than flowers, she loves them all:
And towards her hoards and swards most soft the ages call.


She hath not spot nor blemish:
Her body still is white:
Slav loves, or Frank or Flemish,
Or English-eyed and bright,
The flower hath power to bower their forms the live-long night.


Then, like the plant that seeketh
Fresh victims day by day,
With wide arms she bespeaketh
New luscious amorous prey,—
And seeks with cheeks where reeks the last blood, river and bay.


Whole nations she hath swallowed:—
Wide sands and hills and plains;
With hot foot she hath followed
Their track till nought remains;
War wakes, and makes blood-lakes rush jostling through her veins!


She kisses the commander
Who gives her amplest food:
For ten days Alexander
Was husband to her mood:
Rome's Priest increased her feast, and her white breast imbrued.


Is she then wanton wholly?
In this the mystery lies.
Wait till thou hast her solely,
Alone 'neath starlit skies,—
Till clear thine ear doth hear her passionate pure sighs;—


Wait till thou hast the woman
Invincibly alone,
Far from aught else that's human,—
Then listen to her tone,—
A silver rill to thrill thine every nerve and bone!


Wait till thou hearest her laughter,
O dubious mindless man
Who doubtest whether, after,
Thou wilt her body span
And deck and fleck her neck with many a kiss, and fan


Her lips with ardent breathing:—
Wait till she cometh close,—
Till thou dost feel her wreathing
Around thee like a rose,—
Her warm white form doth storm thy passionless repose!


Thou hast no tower to shield thee;
Thou hast no force to fight;
No strength: nay, thou must yield thee
And sink into the white
Soft sea, to be to thee one limitless delight.


Sweeter than all life's labour,—
Sweeter than sheen of steel
And flash of brandished sabre
And tramp of hoofs that wheel,—
The bliss of this Death's kiss, and ultimate appeal!


Sweeter than first love's virgin
Soft-coloured tender ways
It is all dreams to merge in
Death's dim moon-coloured rays,—
The intense immense soft dense sweet mist that round her strays.—

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