Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, INFANCY - A FRAGMENT, by GEORGE CRABBE



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INFANCY - A FRAGMENT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Who on the new-born light can back return
Last Line: Nor gave a bliss uninjured by alloy.


WHO on the new-born light can back return,
And the first efforts of the soul discern --
Waked by some sweet maternal smile, no more
To sleep so long or fondly as before?
No! Memory cannot reach, with all her power,
To that new birth, that life-awakening hour.
No! all the traces of her first employ
Are keen perceptions of the senses' joy,
And their distaste -- what then could they impart? --
That figs were luscious, and that rods had smart.
But, though the Memory in that dubious way
Recalls the dawn and twilight of her day,
And thus encounters, in the doubtful view,
With imperfection and distortion too;
Can she not tell us, as she looks around,
Of good and evil, which the most abound?
Alas! and what is earthly good? 'tis lent
Evil to hide, to soften, to prevent,
By scenes and shows that cheat the wandering eye,
While the more pompous misery passes by;
Shifts and amusements that awhile succeed,
And heads are turn'd, that bosoms may not bleed:
For what is Pleasure, that we toil to gain?
'Tis but the slow or rapid flight of Pain.
Set Pleasure by, and there would yet remain,
For every nerve and sense the sting of Pain:
Set Pain aside, and fear no more the sting,
And whence your hopes and pleasures can ye bring?
No! there is not a joy beneath the skies,
That from no grief nor trouble shall arise.
Why does the Lover with such rapture fly
To his dear mistress? -- He shall show us why: --
Because her absence is such cause of grief
That her sweet smile alone can yield relief.
Why, then, that smile is Pleasure: -- True, yet still
'Tis but the absence of the former ill:
For, married, soon at will he comes and goes;
Then pleasures die, and pains become repose,
And he has none of these, and therefore none of those.
Yes! looking back as early as I can,
I see the griefs that seize their subject Man,
That in the weeping Child their early reign began:
Yes! though Pain softens, and is absent since,
He still controls me like my lawful prince.
Joys I remember, like phosphoric light
Or squibs and crackers on a gala night.
Joys are like oil; if thrown upon the tide
Of flowing life, they mix not, nor subside:
Griefs are like waters on the river thrown,
They mix entirely, and become its own.
Of all the good that grew of early date,
I can but parts and incidents relate:
A guest arriving, or a borrow'd day
From school, or schoolboy triumph at some play:
And these from Pain may be deduced; for these
Removed some ill, and hence their power to please.
But it was Misery stung me in the day
Death of an infant sister made a prey;
For then first met and moved my early fears,
A father's terrors, and a mother's tears.
Though greater anguish I have since endured, --
Some heal'd in part, some never to be cured;
Yet was there something in that first-born ill,
So new, so strange, that memory feels it still!
That my first grief: but, oh! in after-years
Were other deaths, that call'd for other tears.
No! that I cannot, that I dare not, paint --
That patient sufferer, that enduring saint,
Holy and lovely -- but all words are faint.
But here I dwell not -- let me, while I can,
Go to the Child, and lose the suffering Man.
Sweet was the morning's breath, the inland tide,
And our boat gliding, where alone could glide
Small craft -- and they oft touch'd on either side.
It was my first-born joy. I heard them say,
'Let the child go; he will enjoy the day.'
For children ever feel delighted when
They take their portion, and enjoy with men.
Give him the pastime that the old partake,
And he will quickly top and taw forsake.
The linnet chirp'd upon the furze as well,
To my young sense, as sings the nightingale.
Without was paradise -- because within
Was a keen relish, without taint of sin.
A town appear'd, -- and where an infant went,
Could they determine, on themselves intent?
I lost my way, and my companions me,
And all, their comforts and tranquillity.
Mid-day it was, and, as the sun declined,
The good, found early, I no more could find:
The men drank much, to whet the appetite;
And, growing heavy, drank to make them light;
Then drank to relish joy, then further to excite.
Their cheerfulness did but a moment last;
Something fell short, or something overpast.
The lads play'd idly with the helm and oar,
And nervous women would be set on shore,
Till 'civil dudgeon' grew, and peace would smile no more.
Now on the colder water faintly shone
The sloping light -- the cheerful day was gone;
Frown'd every cloud, and from the gather'd frown
The thunder burst, and rain came pattering down.
My torpid senses now my fears obey'd,
When the fierce lightning on the eye-balls play'd.
Now, all the freshness of the morning fled,
My spirits burden'd, and my heart was dead;
The female servants show'd a child their fear,
And men, full wearied, wanted strength to cheer;
And when, at length, the dreaded storm went past,
And there was peace and quietness at last,
'Twas not the morning's quiet -- it was not
Pleasure revived, but Misery forgot:
It was not Joy that now commenced her reign,
But mere relief from wretchedness and Pain.
So many a day, in life's advance, I knew;
So they commenced, and so they ended too,
All Promise they -- all Joy as they began!
But Joy grew less, and vanish'd as they ran!
Errors and evils came in many a form, --
The mind's delusion, and the passions' storm.
The promised joy, that like this morning rose,
Broke on my view, then clouded at its close;
E'en Love himself, that promiser of bliss,
Made his best days of pleasure end like this:
He mix'd his bitters in the cup of joy,
Nor gave a bliss uninjured by alloy.





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