Poems by Katherine Mansfield
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|In the Rangitaki Valley
|Spring Wind in London
|Little Brother’s Secret
|Little Brother’s Story
|The Man with the Wooden Leg
|When I was a Bird
|The Arabian Shawl
|Across the Red Sky
|Very Early Spring
|The Awakening River
|The Earth-Child in the Grass
|To God the Father
|The Opal Dream Cave
|There was a Child once
|Deaf House Agent
|POEMS AT THE VILLA PAULINE: 1916
|The Town between the Hills
|Voices of the Air
|To L. H. B. (1894–1915)
|Now I am a Plant, a Weed….
|There is a Solemn Wind To-night
|Out in the Garden
|A Little Girl’s Prayer
|The Wounded Bird
|CHILD VERSES: 1907
|A Fairy Tale
|Song of Karen, the Dancing Child
|A Joyful Song of Five
|The Candle Fairy
|Song by the Window before Bed
|A Little Boy’s Dream
|On a Young Lady’s Sixth Anniversary
|Song of the Little White Girl
|A Few Rules for Beginners
|A Day in Bed
|The Lonesome Child
|A Fine Day
|Evening Song of the Thoughtful Child
|A New Hymn
|The Black Monkey
|The Pillar Box
In her Journal, on January 22, 1916, Katherine Mansfield told her plans as her writer to her dead brother. She wanted to pay “a sacred debt” to her country, New Zealand, because “my brother and I were born there.” “Then,” she continued, “I want to write poetry.”
“I feel always trembling on the brink of poetry,” she whispers to her brother. “The almond tree, the birds, the little wood where you are, the flowers you do not see, the open window out of which I lean and dream that you are against my shoulder, and the times that your photograph ‘looks sad.’ But especially I want to write a kind of long elegy to you … perhaps not in poetry. No, perhaps in prose. Almost certainly in a kind of special prose.”
This “special prose” was the peculiar achievement of her genius. It seems to me that nothing like Prelude or At the Bay or The Voyage or The Doves’ Nest had ever been written in English before. English prose was turned to a new and magical use, made crystal-clear, and filled with rainbow-beauties that are utterly indefinable. What might, in another writer of genius, have become poetry, Katherine Mansfield put into her stories.
Nevertheless, she had written and, at long intervals, continued to write poetry. Perhaps her poetry is not quite poetry, just as her prose is not quite prose. Certainly, whatever they are, they belong to the same order; they have the same simple and mysterious beauty, and they are, above all, the expression of the same exquisite spirit. To my sense they are unique.
Comparatively few of these poems have been published; and of these few hardly one, except those which have appeared after her death in The Adelphi, over her own name. All those which were published in her lifetime, with two exceptions, appeared in papers which we edited together—in Rhythm, when we were young; in The Athenaeum, when we were older. The reason of this restriction was that she had tried in vain to get them published in other places. I remember her telling me when first we met that the beautiful pieces now gathered together as “Poems, 1911–1913” had been refused, because they were unrhymed, by the only editor who used to accept her work. He wanted her to write nothing but satirical prose. This treatment made her very reserved about her verses. Those she published in Rhythm appeared as translations from an imaginary Russian called Boris Petrovsky; those she published in The Athenaeum appeared over the pseudonym of Elizabeth Stanley. Her cousin, to whom this book is dedicated, was the only person to penetrate this latter disguise.
The poems have been roughly grouped in periods. Katherine Mansfield’s practice was suddenly to spend several days in writing poetry, and then to abandon poetry wholly for months and years together. “Poems at the Villa Pauline,” with the exception of the sonnet to L. H. B., were written in curious circumstances. Villa Pauline was a four-roomed cottage on the shore of the Mediterranean where we lived in 1916. For the whole of one week we made a practice of sitting together after supper at a very small table in the kitchen and writing verses on a single theme which we had chosen. It seems to me now almost miraculous that so exquisite a poem as, for instance, “Voices of the Air,” should have been thus composed.
The Child Verses at the end of the volume were written when Katherine Mansfield was still at Queen’s College. They were saved from destruction by one of her friends.
IN THE RANGITAKI VALLEY
O valley of waving broom, O lovely, lovely light, O heart of the world, red-gold! Breast high in the blossom I stand; It beats about me like waves Of a magical, golden sea.
The barren heart of the world Alive at the kiss of the sun, The yellow mantle of Summer Flung over a laughing land, Warm with the warmth of her body, Sweet with the kiss of her breath.
O valley of waving broom, O lovely, lovely light, O mystical marriage of Earth With the passionate Summer sun! To her lover she holds a cup And the yellow wine o’erflows. He has lighted a little torch And the whole of the world is ablaze. Prodigal wealth of love! Breast high in the blossom I stand.
SPRING WIND IN LONDON
I blow across the stagnant world, I blow across the sea, For me, the sailor’s flag unfurled, For me, the uprooted tree. My challenge to the world is hurled; The world must bow to me.
I drive the clouds across the sky, I huddle them like sheep; Merciless shepherd-dog am I And shepherd-watch I keep. If in the quiet vales they lie I blow them up the steep.
Lo! In the tree-tops do I hide, In every living thing; On the moon’s yellow wings I glide, On the wild rose I swing; On the sea-horse’s back I ride, And what then do I bring?
And when a little child is ill I pause, and with my hand I wave the window curtain’s frill That he may understand Outside the wind is blowing still. … It is a pleasant land.
O stranger in a foreign place, See what I bring to you. This rain—is tears upon your face; I tell you—tell you true I came from that forgotten place Where once the wattle grew.
All the wild sweetness of the flower Tangled against the wall. It was that magic, silent hour…. The branches grew so tall They twined themselves into a bower. The sun shone … and the fall
Of yellow blossom on the grass! You feel that golden rain? Both of you could not hold, alas, (Both of you tried—in vain) A memory, stranger. So I pass…. It will not come again.
In the middle of our porridge plates There was a blue butterfly painted And each morning we tried who should reach the butterfly first. Then the Grandmother said: “Do not eat the poor butterfly.” That made us laugh. Always she said it and always it started us laughing. It seemed such a sweet little joke. I was certain that one fine morning The butterfly would fly out of the plates, Laughing the teeniest laugh in the world, And perch on the Grandmother’s lap.
By my bed, on a little round table The Grandmother placed a candle. She gave me three kisses telling me they were three dreams And tucked me in just where I loved being tucked. Then she went out of the room and the door was shut. I lay still, waiting for my three dreams to talk; But they were silent. Suddenly I remembered giving her three kisses back. Perhaps, by mistake, I had given my three little dreams. I sat up in bed. The room grew big, oh, bigger far than a church. The wardrobe, quite by itself, as big as a house. And the jug on the washstand smiled at me: It was not a friendly smile. I looked at the basket-chair where my clothes lay folded: The chair gave a creak as though it were listening for something. Perhaps it was coming alive and going to dress in my clothes. But the awful thing was the window: I could not think what was outside. No tree to be seen, I was sure, No nice little plant or friendly pebbly path. Why did she pull the blind down every night? It was better to know. I crunched my teeth and crept out of bed, I peeped through a slit of the blind. There was nothing at all to be seen. But hundreds of friendly candles all over the sky In remembrance of frightened children. I went back to bed … The three dreams started singing a little song.
LITTLE BROTHER’S SECRET
When my birthday was coming Little Brother had a secret: He kept it for days and days And just hummed a little tune when I asked him. But one night it rained And I woke up and heard him crying: Then he told me. “I planted two lumps of sugar in your garden Because you love it so frightfully I thought there would be a whole sugar tree for your birthday, And now it will all be melted.” O the darling!
LITTLE BROTHER’S STORY
We sat in front of the fire; Grandmother was in the rocking chair doing her knitting And Little Brother and I were lying down flat. “Please tell us a story, Grandmother,” we said. But she put her head on one side and began counting the stitches, “Suppose you tell me one instead.” I made up one about a spotted tiger That had a knot in his tail; But though I liked this about the knot, I did not know why it was put there. So I said: “Little Brother’s turn.” “I know a perfect story,” he cried, waving his hands. Grandmother laid down her knitting. “Do tell us, dear.” “Once upon a time there was a bad little girl And her Mummy gave her the slipper, and that’s all.” It was not a very special story. But we pretended to be very pleased And Grandmother gave him jumps on her lap.
THE MAN WITH THE WOODEN LEG
There was a man lived quite near us; He had a wooden leg and a goldfinch in a green cage. His name was Farkey Anderson, And he’d been in a war to get his leg. We were very sad about him, Because he had such a beautiful smile And was such a big man to live in a very small house. When he walked on the road his leg did not matter so much; But when he walked in his little house It made an ugly noise. Little Brother said his goldfinch sang the loudest of all birds, So that he should not hear his poor leg And feel too sorry about it.
WHEN I WAS A BIRD
I climbed up the karaka tree Into a nest all made of leaves But soft as feathers. I made up a song that went on singing all by itself And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end. There were daisies in the grass under the tree. I said just to try them: “I’ll bite off your heads and give them to my little children to eat.” But they didn’t believe I was a bird; They stayed quite open. The sky was like a blue nest with white feathers And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm. That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words. Little Brother came up the patch, wheeling his barrow. I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet. Then when he was quite near I said: “Sweet, sweet!” For a moment he looked quite startled; Then he said: “Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see your legs.” But the daisies didn’t really matter, And Little Brother didn’t really matter; I felt just like a bird.
THE ARABIAN SHAWL
“It is cold outside, you will need a coat— What! this old Arabian shawl! Bind it about your head and throat, These steps … it is dark … my hand … you might fall.”
What has happened? What strange, sweet charm Lingers about the Arabian shawl … Do not tremble so! There can be no harm In just remembering—that is all.
“I love you so—I will be your wife,” Here, in the dark of the Terrace wall, Say it again. Let that other life Fold us like the Arabian shawl.
“Do you remember?” … “I quite forget, Some childish foolishness, that is all, To-night is the first time we have met … Let me take off my Arabian shawl!”
Sleeping together … how tired you were … How warm our room … how the firelight spread On walls and ceiling and great white bed! We spoke in whispers as children do, And now it was I—and then it was you Slept a moment, to wake—“My dear, I’m not at all sleepy,” one of us said…
Was it a thousand years ago? I woke in your arms—you were sound asleep— And heard the pattering sound of sheep. Softly I slipped to the floor and crept To the curtained window, then, while you slept, I watched the sheep pass by in the snow.
O flock of thoughts with their shepherd Fear Shivering, desolate, out in the cold, That entered into my heart to fold! A thousand years … was it yesterday When we, two children of far away, Clinging close in the darkness, lay Sleeping together?… How tired you were…
Our quarrel seemed a giant thing, It made the room feel mean and small, The books, the lamp, the furniture, The very pictures on the wall—
Crowded upon us as we sat Pale and terrified, face to face. “Why do you stay?” she said, “my room Can never be your resting place.”
“Katinka, ere we part for life, I pray you walk once more with me.” So down the dark, familiar road We paced together, silently.
The sky—it seemed on fire with stars! I said:—“Katinka dear, look up!” Like thirsty children, both of us Drank from that giant loving cup.
“Who were those dolls?” Katinka said. “What were their stupid, vague alarms?” And suddenly we turned and laughed And rushed into each other’s arms.
Now it is Loneliness who comes at night Instead of Sleep, to sit beside my bed. Like a tired child I lie and wait her tread, I watch her softly blowing out the light. Motionless sitting, neither left nor right She turns, and weary, weary droops her head. She, too, is old; she, too, has fought the fight. So, with the laurel she is garlanded.
Through the sad dark the slowly ebbing tide Breaks on a barren shore, unsatisfied. A strange wind flows … then silence. I am fain To turn to Loneliness, to take her hand, Cling to her, waiting, till the barren land Fills with the dreadful monotone of rain.
We started speaking, Looked at each other, then turned away. The tears kept rising to my eyes But I could not weep. I wanted to take your hand But my hand trembled. You kept counting the days Before we should meet again. But both of us felt in our hearts That we parted for ever and ever. The ticking of the little clock filled the quiet room. “Listen,” I said. “It is so loud, Like a horse galloping on a lonely road, As loud as that—a horse galloping past in the night.” You shut me up in your arms. But the sound of the clock stifled our hearts’ beating. You said, “I cannot go: all that is living of me Is here for ever and ever.” Then you went. The world changed. The sound of the clock grew fainter, Dwindled away, became a minute thing. I whispered in the darkness, “If it stops, I shall die.”
A gulf of silence separates us from each other. I stand at one side of the gulf, you at the other. I cannot see you or hear you, yet know that you are there. Often I call you by your childish name And pretend that the echo to my crying is your voice. How can we bridge the gulf? Never by speech or touch. Once I thought we might fill it quite up with tears. Now I want to shatter it with our laughter.
I ran to the forest for shelter, Breathless, half sobbing; I put my arms round a tree, Pillowed my head against the rough bark. “Protect me,” I said. “I am a lost child.” But the tree showered silver drops on my face and hair. A wind sprang up from the ends of the earth; It lashed the forest together. A huge green wave thundered and burst over my head. I prayed, implored, “Please take care of me!” But the wind pulled at my cloak and the rain beat upon me. Little rivers tore up the ground and swamped the bushes. A frenzy possessed the earth: I felt that the earth was drowning In a bubbling cavern of space. I alone— Smaller than the smallest fly—was alive and terrified. Then, for what reason I know not, I became triumphant. “Well, kill me!” I cried and ran out into the open. But the storm ceased: the sun spread his wings And floated serene in the silver pool of the sky. I put my hands over my face: I was blushing. And the trees swung together and delicately laughed.
ACROSS THE RED SKY
Across the red sky two birds flying, Flying with drooping wings. Silent and solitary their ominous flight. All day the triumphant sun with yellow banners Warred and warred with the earth, and when she yielded Stabbed her heart, gathered her blood in a chalice, Spilling it over the evening sky. When the dark plumaged birds go flying, flying, Quiet lies the earth wrapt in her mournful shadow, Her sightless eyes turned to the red sky And the restlessly seeking birds.
VERY EARLY SPRING
The fields are snowbound no longer; There are little blue lakes and flags of tenderest green. The snow has been caught up into the sky— So many white clouds—and the blue of the sky is cold. Now the sun walks in the forest, He touches the boughs and stems with his golden fingers; They shiver, and wake from slumber. Over the barren branches he shakes his yellow curls. … Yet is the forest full of the sound of tears…. A wind dances over the fields. Shrill and clear the sound of her waking laughter, Yet the little blue lakes tremble And the flags of tenderest green bend and quiver.
THE AWAKENING RIVER
The gulls are mad-in-love with the river, And the river unveils her face and smiles. In her sleep-brooding eyes they mirror their shining wings. She lies on silver pillows: the sun leans over her. He warms and warms her, he kisses and kisses her. There are sparks in her hair and she stirs in laughter. Be careful, my beautiful waking one! you will catch on fire. Wheeling and flying with the foam of the sea on their breasts, The ineffable mists of the sea clinging to their wild wings, Crying the rapture of the boundless ocean, The gulls are mad-in-love with the river. Wake! we are the dream thoughts flying from your heart. Wake! we are the songs of desire flowing from your bosom. O, I think the sun will lend her his great wings And the river will fly away to the sea with the mad-in-love birds.
THE SEA CHILD
Into the world you sent her, mother, Fashioned her body of coral and foam, Combed a wave in her hair’s warm smother, And drove her away from home.
In the dark of the night she crept to the town And under a doorway she laid her down, The little blue child in the foam-fringed gown.
And never a sister and never a brother To hear her call, to answer her cry. Her face shone out from her hair’s warm smother Like a moonkin up in the sky.
She sold her corals; she sold her foam; Her rainbow heart like a singing shell Broke in her body: she crept back home.
Peace, go back to the world, my daughter, Daughter, go back to the darkling land; There is nothing here but sad sea water, And a handful of sifting sand.
THE EARTH-CHILD IN THE GRASS
In the very early morning Long before Dawn time I lay down in the paddock And listened to the cold song of the grass. Between my fingers the green blades, And the green blades pressed against my body. “Who is she leaning so heavily upon me?” Sang the grass. “Why does she weep on my bosom, Mingling her tears with the tears of my mystic lover? Foolish little earth child! It is not yet time. One day I shall open my bosom And you shall slip in—but not weeping. Then in the early morning Long before Dawn time Your lover will lie in the paddock. Between his fingers the green blades And the green blades pressed against his body … My song shall not sound cold to him In my deep wave he will find the wave of your hair In my strong sweet perfume, the perfume of your kisses. Long and long he will lie there … Laughing—not weeping.”
TO GOD THE FATHER
To the little, pitiful God I make my prayer, The God with the long grey beard And flowing robe fastened with a hempen girdle Who sits nodding and muttering on the all-too-big throne of Heaven. What a long, long time, dear God, since you set the stars in their places, Girded the earth with the sea, and invented the day and night. And longer the time since you looked through the blue window of Heaven To see your children at play in a garden…. Now we are all stronger than you and wiser and more arrogant, In swift procession we pass you by. “Who is that marionette nodding and muttering On the all-too-big throne of Heaven? Come down from your place, Grey Beard, We have had enough of your play-acting!” It is centuries since I believed in you, But to-day my need of you has come back. I want no rose-coloured future, No books of learning, no protestations and denials— I am sick of this ugly scramble, I am tired of being pulled about— O God, I want to sit on your knees On the all-too-big throne of Heaven, And fall asleep with my hands tangled in your grey beard.
THE OPAL DREAM CAVE
In an opal dream cave I found a fairy: Her wings were frailer than flower petals, Frailer far than snowflakes. She was not frightened, but poised on my finger, Then delicately walked into my hand. I shut the two palms of my hands together And held her prisoner. I carried her out of the opal cave, Then opened my hands. First she became thistledown, Then a mote in a sunbeam, Then—nothing at all. Empty now is my opal dream cave.
The Sea called—I lay on the rocks and said: “I am come.” She mocked and showed her teeth, Stretching out her long green arms. “Go away!” she thundered. “Then tell me what I am to do,” I begged. “If I leave you, you will not be silent, But cry my name in the cities And wistfully entreat me in the plains and forests; All else I forsake to come to you—what must I do?” “Never have I uttered your name,” snarled the Sea. “There is no more of me in your body Than the little salt tears you are frightened of shedding. What can you know of my love on your brown rock pillow…. Come closer.”
Heavens above! here’s an old tie of yours— Sea-green dragons stamped on a golden ground. Ha! Ha! Ha! What children we were in those days.
Do you love me enough to wear it now? Have you the courage of your pristine glories? Ha! Ha! Ha! You laugh and shrug your shoulders.
Those were the days when a new tie spelt a fortune: We wore it in turn—I flaunted it as a waist-belt. Ha! Ha! Ha! What easily satisfied babies.
“I think I’ll turn it into a piano duster.” “Give it to me, I’ll polish my slippers on it!” Ha! Ha! Ha! The rag’s not worth the dustbin.
“Throw the shabby old thing right out of the window; Fling it into the faces of other children!” Ha! Ha! Ha! We laughed and laughed till the tears came!
THERE WAS A CHILD ONCE
There was a child once. He came to play in my garden; He was quite pale and silent. Only when he smiled I knew everything about him, I knew what he had in his pockets, And I knew the feel of his hands in my hands And the most intimate tones of his voice. I led him down each secret path, Showing him the hiding-place of all my treasures. I let him play with them, every one, I put my singing thoughts in a little silver cage And gave them to him to keep … It was very dark in the garden But never dark enough for us. On tiptoe we walked among the deepest shades; We bathed in the shadow pools beneath the trees, Pretending we were under the sea. Once—near the boundary of the garden— We heard steps passing along the World-road; O how frightened we were! I whispered: “Have you ever walked along that road?” He nodded, and we shook the tears from our eyes…. There was a child once. He came—quite alone—to play in my garden; He was pale and silent. When we met we kissed each other, But when he went away, we did not even wave.
In the profoundest ocean There is a rainbow shell, It is always there, shining most stilly Under the greatest storm waves And under the happy little waves That the old Greek called ‘ripples of laughter.’ And you listen, the rainbow shell Sings—in the profoundest ocean. It is always there, singing most silently!
I will think no more of the sea! Of the big green waves And the hollowed shore, Of the brown rock caves No more, no more Of the swell and the weed And the bubbling foam.
Memory dwells in my far away home, She has nothing to do with me.
She is old and bent With a pack On her back. Her tears all spent, Her voice, just a crack. With an old thorn stick She hobbles along, And a crazy song Now slow, now quick Wheeks in her throat.
And every day While there’s light on the shore She searches for something, Her withered claw Tumbles the seaweed; She pokes in each shell Groping and mumbling Until the night Deepens and darkens, And covers her quite, And bids her be silent, And bids her be still.
The ghostly feet Of the whispery waves Tiptoe beside her. They follow, follow To the rocky caves In the white beach hollow … She hugs her hands, She sobs, she shrills, And the echoes shriek In the rocky hills. She moans: “It is lost! Let it be! Let it be! I am old. I’m too cold. I am frightened … the sea Is too loud … it is lost, It is gone…” Memory Wails in my far away home.
These be two Country women. What a size! Grand big arms And round red faces; Big substantial Sit down places; Great big bosoms firm as cheese Bursting through their country jackets; Wide big laps And sturdy knees; Hands outspread, Round and rosy, Hands to hold A country posy Or a baby or a lamb— And such eyes! Stupid, shifty, small and sly Peeping through a slit of sty, Squinting through their neighbours’ plackets.
Most merciful God Look kindly upon An impudent child Who wants sitting on. This evening late I went to the door And then to the gate There were more stars—more Than I could have expected, Even I! I was simply amazed Almighty, August! I was utterly dazed, Omnipotent! Just In a word I was floored, Good God of Hosts—Lord! That at this time of day They should still blaze away, That thou hadst not rejected Or at least circumspected Their white silver beauty— Was it spite … Was it duty..?
DEAF HOUSE AGENT
That deaf old man With his hand to his ear— His hand to his head stood out like a shell, Horny and hollow. He said, “I can’t hear,” He muttered, “Don’t shout, I can hear very well!” He mumbled, “I can’t catch a word; I can’t follow.” Then Jack with a voice like a Protestant bell Roared—“Particulars! Farmhouse! At 10 quid a year!” “I dunno wot place you are talking about,” Said the deaf old man. Said Jack, “What the Hell!”
But the deaf old man took a pin from his desk, picked a piece of wool the size of a hen’s egg from his ear, had a good look at it, decided in its favour and replaced it in the aforementioned organ.
POEMS AT THE VILLA PAULINE 1916
But, ah! before he came You were only a name: Four little rooms and a cupboard Without a bone, And I was alone! Now with your windows wide Everything from outside Of sun and flower and loveliness Comes in to hide, To play, to laugh on the stairs, To catch unawares Our childish happiness, And to glide Through the four little rooms on tip-toe With lifted finger, Pretending we shall not know When the shutters are shut That they still linger Long, long after. Lying close in the dark He says to me: “Hark, Isn’t that laughter?”
Outside the sky is light with stars; There’s a hollow roaring from the sea. And, alas! for the little almond flowers, The wind is shaking the almond tree.
How little I thought, a year ago, In that horrible cottage upon the Lee That he and I should be sitting so And sipping a cup of camomile tea.
Light as feathers the witches fly, The horn of the moon is plain to see; By a firefly under a jonquil flower A goblin toasts a bumble-bee.
We might be fifty, we might be five, So snug, so compact, so wise are we! Under the kitchen-table leg My knee is pressing against his knee.
Our shutters are shut, the fire is low, The tap is dripping peacefully; The saucepan shadows on the wall Are black and round and plain to see.
I saw a tiny God Sitting Under a bright blue Umbrella That had white tassels And forkèd ribs of gold. Below him His little world Lay open to the sun. The shadow of His hat Lay upon a city. When he stretched forth His hand A lake became a dark tremble. When he kicked up His foot It became night in the mountain passes.
But thou art small! There are gods far greater than thou; They rise and fall, The tumbling gods of the sea. Can thy heart heave such sighs, Such hollow savage cries, Such windy breath, Such groaning death? And can thy arm enfold The old, The cold, The changeless dreadful places Where the herds Of horned sea-monsters And the screaming birds Gather together? From those silent men That lie in the pen Of our pearly prisons, Canst thou hunt thy prey? Like us canst thou stay Awaiting thine hour, And then rise like a tower And crash and shatter?
There are neither trees nor bushes In my country, Said the tiny God. But there are streams And waterfalls And mountain-peaks Covered with lovely weed. There are little shores and safe harbours, Caves for cool and plains for sun and wind. Lovely is the sound of the rivers, Lovely the flashing brightness Of the lovely peaks. I am content.
But Thy kingdom is small, Said the God of the Sea. Thy kingdom shall fall; I shall not let thee be. Thou art proud! With a loud Pealing of laughter, He rose and covered The tiny God’s land With the tip of his hand, With the curl of his fingers: And after—
The tiny God Began to cry.
THE TOWN BETWEEN THE HILLS
The further the little girl leaped and ran, The further she longed to be; The white, white fields of jonquil flowers Danced up as high as her knee And flashed and sparkled before her eyes Until she could hardly see. So into the wood went she.
It was quiet in the wood, It was solemn and grave; A sound like a wave Sighed in the tree-tops And then sighed no more. But she was brave, And the sky showed through A bird’s-egg blue, And she saw A tiny path that was running away Over the hills to—who can say? She ran, too. But then the path broke, Then the path ended And wouldn’t be mended.
A little old man Sat on the edge, Hugging the hedge. He had a fire And two eggs in a pan And a paper poke Of pepper and salt; So she came to a halt To watch and admire: Cunning and nimble was he! “May I help, if I can, little old man?” “Bravo!” he said, “You may dine with me. I’ve two old eggs From two white hens And a loaf from a kind ladie: Some fresh nutmegs, Some cutlet ends In pink and white paper frills: And—I’ve—got A little hot-pot From the town between the hills.”
He nodded his head And made her a sign To sit under the spray Of a trailing vine.
But when the little girl joined her hands And said the grace she had learned to say, The little old man gave two dreadful squeals And she just saw the flash of his smoking heels As he tumbled, tumbled With his two old eggs From two white hens, His loaf from a kind ladie, The fresh nutmegs, The cutlet-ends In the pink and white paper frills. And away rumbled The little hot-pot, So much too hot, From the town between the hills.
VOICES OF THE AIR
But then there comes that moment rare When, for no cause that I can find, The little voices of the air Sound above all the sea and wind.
The sea and wind do then obey And sighing, sighing double notes Of double basses, content to play A droning chord for the little throats—
The little throats that sing and rise Up into the light with lovely ease And a kind of magical, sweet surprise To hear and know themselves for these—
For these little voices: the bee, the fly, The leaf that taps, the pod that breaks, The breeze on the grass-tops bending by, The shrill quick sound that the insect makes.
Her little hot room looked over the bay Through a stiff palisade of glinting palms, And there she would lie in the heat of the day, Her dark head resting upon her arms, So quiet, so still, she did not seem To think, to feel, or even to dream.
The shimmering, blinding web of sea Hung from the sky, and the spider sun With busy frightening cruelty Crawled over the sky and spun and spun. She could see it still when she shut her eyes, And the little boats caught in the web like flies.
Down below at this idle hour Nobody walked in the dusty street A scent of dying mimosa flower Lay on the air, but sweet—too sweet.
TO L. H. B. (1894–1915)
Last night for the first time since you were dead I walked with you, my brother, in a dream. We were at home again beside the stream Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red. “Don’t touch them: they are poisonous,” I said. But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam. “Don’t you remember? We called them Dead Man’s Bread!” I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar Of the dark water tumbling on the shore. Where—where is the path of my dream for my eager feet? By the remembered stream my brother stands Waiting for me with berries in his hands … “These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”
White, white in the milky night The moon danced over a tree. “Wouldn’t it be lovely to swim in the lake!” Someone whispered to me.
“Oh, do—do—do!” cooed someone else, And clasped her hands to her chin. “I should so love to see the white bodies— All the white bodies jump in!”
The big dark house hid secretly Behind the magnolia and the spreading pear-tree, But there was a sound of music—music rippled and ran Like a lady laughing behind her fan, Laughing and mocking and running away … “Come into the garden—it’s as light as day!”
“I can’t dance to that Hungarian stuff, The rhythm in it is not passionate enough,” Said somebody. “I absolutely refuse…” But he took off his socks and his shoes And round her spun. “It’s like Hungarian fruit dishes Hard and bright—a mechanical blue!” His white feet flicked in the grass like fishes … Someone cried: “I want to dance, too!”
But one with a queer Russian ballet head Curled up on a blue wooden bench instead. And another, shadowy—shadowy and tall— Walked in the shadow of the dark house wall, Someone beside her. It shone in the gloom, His round grey hat, like a wet mushroom.
“Don’t you think perhaps …” piped someone’s flute … “How sweet the flowers smell!” I heard the other say— Somebody picked a wet, wet pink Smelled it and threw it away. “Is the moon a virgin or is she a harlot?” Asked somebody. Nobody would tell. The faces and the hands moved in a pattern As the music rose and fell, In a dancing, mysterious, moon-bright pattern Like flowers nodding under the sea …
The music stopped and there was nothing left of them But the moon dancing over the tree.
NOW I AM A PLANT, A WEED …
Now I am a plant, a weed, Bending and swinging On a rocky ledge; And now I am a long brown grass Fluttering like flame; I am a reed; An old shell singing For ever the same; A drift of sedge; A white, white stone; A bone; Until I pass Into sand again, And spin and blow To and fro, to and fro, On the edge of the sea In the fading light— For the light fades.
But if you were to come you would not say: “She is not waiting here for me; She has forgotten.” Have we not in play Disguised ourselves as weed and stones and grass While the strange ships did pass Gently, gravely, leaving a curl of foam That uncurled softly about our island home … Bubbles of foam that glittered on the stone Like rainbows? Look, darling! No, they are gone. And the white sails have melted into the sailing sky …
THERE IS A SOLEMN WIND TO-NIGHT
There is a solemn wind to-night That sings of solemn rain; The trees that have been quiet so long Flutter and start again.
The slender trees, the heavy trees, The fruit trees laden and proud, Lift up their branches to the wind That cries to them so loud.
The little bushes and the plants Bow to the solemn sound, And every tiniest blade of grass Shakes on the quiet ground.
OUT IN THE GARDEN
Out in the garden, Out in the windy, swinging dark, Under the trees and over the flower-beds, Over the grass and under the hedge border, Someone is sweeping, sweeping, Some old gardener. Out in the windy, swinging dark, Someone is secretly putting in order, Someone is creeping, creeping.
Now folds the Tree of Day its perfect flowers, And every bloom becomes a bud again, Shut and sealed up against the golden showers Of bees that hover in the velvet hours…. Now a strain Wild and mournful blown from shadow towers, Echoed from shadow ships upon the foam, Proclaims the Queen of Night. From their bowers The dark Princesses fluttering, wing their flight To their old Mother, in her huge old home.
Love! Love! Your tenderness, Your beautiful, watchful ways Grasp me, fold me, cover me; I lie in a kind of daze, Neither asleep nor yet awake, Neither a bud nor flower. Brings to-morrow Joy or sorrow, The black or the golden hour?
Love! Love! You pity me so! Chide me, scold me—cry, “Submit—submit! You must not fight!” What may I do, then? Die? But, oh, my horror of quiet beds! How can I longer stay! “One to be ready, Two to be steady, Three to be off and away!”
Darling heart—your gravity! Your sorrowful, mournful gaze— “Two bleached roads lie under the moon, At the parting of the ways.” But the tiny, tree-thatched, narrow lane, Isn’t it yours and mine? The blue-bells ring Hey, ding-a-ding, ding! And buds are thick on the vine.
Love! Love! grief of my heart! As a tree droops over a stream You hush me, lull me, darken me, The shadow hiding the gleam. Your drooping and tragical boughs of grace Are heavy as though with rain. Run! Run! Into the sun! Let us be children again.
Playing in the fire and twilight together, My little son and I, Suddenly—woefully—I stoop to catch him. “Try, mother, try!”
Old Nurse Silence lifts a silent finger: “Hush! cease your play!” What happened? What in that tiny moment Flew away?
And again the flowers are come And the light shakes, And no tiny voice is dumb, And a bud breaks On the humble bush and the proud restless tree. Come with me!
Look, this little flower is pink, And this one white. Here’s a pearl cup for your drink, Here’s for your delight A yellow one, sweet with honey, Here’s fairy money Silver bright Scattered over the grass As we pass.
Here’s moss. How the smell of it lingers On my cold fingers! You shall have no moss. Here’s a frail Hyacinth, deathly pale. Not for you, not for you! And the place where they grew You must promise me not to discover, My sorrowful lover! Shall we never be happy again? Never again play? In vain—in vain! Come away!
A LITTLE GIRL’S PRAYER
Grant me the moment, the lovely moment That I may lean forth to see The other buds, the other blooms, The other leaves on the tree:
That I may take into my bosom The breeze that is like his brother, But stiller, lighter, whose faint laughter Echoes the joy of the other.
Above on the blue and white cloud-spaces There are small clouds at play. I watch their remote, mysterious play-time In the other far-away.
Grant I may hear the small birds singing The song that the silence knows … (The Light and the Shadow whisper together, The lovely moment grows,
Ripples into the air like water Away and away without sound, And the little girl gets up from her praying On the cold ground.)
THE WOUNDED BIRD
In the wide bed Under the green embroidered quilt With flowers and leaves always in soft motion She is like a wounded bird resting on a pool.
The hunter threw his dart And hit her breast,— Hit her but did not kill. “O my wings, lift me—lift me! I am not dreadfully hurt!” Down she dropped and was still.
Kind people come to the edge of the pool with baskets. “Of course what the poor bird wants is plenty of food!” Their bags and pockets are crammed almost to bursting With dinner scrapings and scraps from the servants’ lunch. Oh! how pleased they are to be really giving! “In the past, you know you know, you were always so fly-away. So seldom came to the window-sill, so rarely Shared the delicious crumbs thrown into the yard. Here is a delicate fragment and here a tit-bit As good as new. And here’s a morsel of relish And cake and bread and bread and bread and bread.”
At night, in the wide bed With the leaves and flowers Gently weaving in the darkness, She is like a wounded bird at rest on a pool. Timidly, timidly she lifts her head from her wing In the sky there are two stars Floating, shining … O waters—do not cover me! I would look long and long at those beautiful stars! O my wings—lift me—lift me! I am not so dreadfully hurt …
CHILD VERSES 1907
A FAIRY TALE
Now this is the story of Olaf Who ages and ages ago Lived right on the top of a mountain, A mountain all covered with snow.
And he was quite pretty and tiny With beautiful curling fair hair And small hands like delicate flowers— Cheeks kissed by the cold mountain air.
He lived in a hut made of pinewood Just one little room and a door A table, a chair, and a bedstead And animal skins on the floor.
Now Olaf was partly a fairy And so never wanted to eat He thought dewdrops and raindrops were plenty And snowflakes and all perfumes sweet.
In the daytime when sweeping and dusting And cleaning were quite at an end, He would sit very still on the doorstep And dream—Oh, that he had a friend!
Somebody to come when he called them, Somebody to catch by the hand, Somebody to sleep with at night time, Somebody who’d quite understand.
One night in the middle of Winter He lay wide awake on his bed, Outside there was fury of tempest And calling of wolves to be fed—
Thin wolves, grey and silent as shadows; And Olaf was frightened to death. He had peeped through a crack in the doorpost, He had seen the white smoke of their breath.
But suddenly over the storm wind He heard a small voice pleadingly Cry, “I am a snow fairy, Olaf, Unfasten the window for me.”
So he did, and there flew through the opening The daintiest, prettiest sprite; Her face and her dress and her stockings, Her hands and her curls were all white.
And she said, “O you poor little stranger Before I am melted, you know, I have brought you a valuable present, A little brown fiddle and bow.
So now you can never be lonely, With a fiddle, you see, for a friend, But all through the Summer and Winter Play beautiful songs without end.”
And then,—O she melted like water, But Olaf was happy at last; The fiddle he tucked in his shoulder, He held his small bow very fast.
So perhaps on the quietest of evenings If you listen, you may hear him soon, The child who is playing the fiddle Away up in the cold, lonely moon.
The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child Walked out into the street And splashed in all the puddles till She had such shocking feet.
The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child Stayed quietly in the house And sat upon the fender stool As still as any mouse.
The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child, Her hands were black as ink; She would come running through the house And begging for a drink.
The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child, Her hands were white as snow; She did not like to play around, She only liked to sew.
The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child Lost hair ribbons galore; She dropped them on the garden walks, She dropped them on the floor.
The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child, O thoughtful little girl! She liked to walk quite soberly, It kept her hair in curl.
The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child When she was glad or proud Just flung her arms round Mother’s neck And kissed her very loud.
The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child Was shocked at such a sight, She only offered you her cheek At morning and at night.
O Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child,68 Your happy laughing face Does like a scented Summer rose Make sweet the dullest place.
O Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child, My dear, I’m well content, To have my daughter in my arms, And not an ornament.
SONG OF KAREN, THE DANCING CHILD
(O little white feet of mine) Out in the storm and the rain you fly; (Red, red shoes the colour of wine) Can the children hear my cry?
(O little white feet of mine) Never a child in the whole great town; (Red, red shoes the colour of wine) Lights out and the blinds pulled down.
(O little white feet of mine) Never a light on a window pane, (Red, red shoes the colour of wine) And the wild wet cry of the rain.
(O little white feet of mine) Shall I never again be still? (Red, red shoes the colour of wine) And away over valley and hill.
(O little white feet of mine) Children, children, open the door! (Red, red shoes the colour of wine) And the wind shrieks Nevermore.
A JOYFUL SONG OF FIVE
Come, let us all sing very high And all sing very loud And keep on singing in the street Until there’s quite a crowd;
And keep on singing in the house And up and down the stairs; Then underneath the furniture Let’s all play Polar bears;
And crawl about with doormats on, And growl and howl and squeak, Then in the garden let us fly And play at hide and seek;
And “Here we gather Nuts and May,” “I wrote a Letter” too, “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush,” “The Child who lost its shoe”;
And every game we ever played. And then—to stay alive— Let’s end with lots of Birthday Cake Because to-day you’re five.
THE CANDLE FAIRY
The candle is a fairy house That’s smooth and round and white, And Mother carries it about Whenever it is night.
Right at the top a fairy lives, A lovely yellow one, And if you blow a little bit It has all sorts of fun.
It bows and dances by itself In such a clever way, And then it stretches very tall; “Well, it grows fast,” you say.
The little chimney of the house Is black and really sweet, And there the candle fairy stands Though you can’t see its feet.
And when the dark is very big And you’ve been having dreams, Then Mother brings the candle in; How friendly like it seems!
It’s only just for Mothers that The candle Fairy comes; And if you play with it, it bites Your fingers and your thumbs.
But still you love it very much This candle Fairy, dear, Because, at night, it always means That Mother’s very near.
SONG BY THE WINDOW BEFORE BED
Little Star, little Star, Come down quick. The Moon is a bogey-man; He’ll eat you certain if he can. Little Star, little Star, Come down quick!
Little Star, little Star, Whisper “Yes.” The trees are just niggers all, They look so black, they are so tall. Little Star, little Star, Whisper “Yes.”
Little Star, little Star, Gone—all gone. The bogey-man swallowed you, The nigger trees are laughing too. Little Star, little Star, Gone—all gone.
A LITTLE BOY’S DREAM
To and fro, to and fro In my little boat I go Sailing far across the sea All alone, just little me. And the sea is big and strong And the journey very long. To and fro, to and fro In my little boat I go.
Sea and sky, sea and sky, Quietly on the deck I lie, Having just a little rest. I have really done my best In an awful pirate fight, But we captured them all right. Sea and sky, sea and sky, Quietly on the deck I lie
Far away, far away From my home and from my play, On a journey without end Only with the sea for friend And the fishes in the sea. But they swim away from me Far away, far away From my home and from my play.
Then he cried “O Mother dear.” And he woke and sat upright, They were in the rocking chair, Mother’s arms around him—tight.
Rain and wind, and wind and rain. Will the Summer come again? Rain on houses, on the street, Wetting all the people’s feet. Though they run with might and main. Rain and wind, and wind and rain.
Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow. Will the Winter never go? What do beggar children do With no fire to cuddle to, P’raps with nowhere warm to go? Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.
Hail and ice, and ice and hail, Water frozen in the pail. See the robins, brown and red, They are waiting to be fed. Poor dears; battling in the gale! Hail and ice, and ice and hail.
ON A YOUNG LADY’S SIXTH ANNIVERSARY
Baby Babbles—only one, Now to sit up has begun.
Little Babbles quite turned two Walks as well as I and you.
And Miss Babbles one, two, three Has a teaspoon at her tea.
But her Highness at four Learns to open the front door.
And her Majesty—now six, Can her shoestring neatly fix.
Babbles, Babbles, have a care, You will soon put up your hair!
SONG OF THE LITTLE WHITE GIRL
Cabbage tree, cabbage tree, what is the matter? Why are you shaking so? Why do you chatter? Because it is just a white baby you see, And it’s the black ones you like, cabbage tree?
Cabbage tree, cabbage tree, you’re a strange fellow With your green hair and your legs browny-yellow. Wouldn’t you like to have curls, dear, like me? What! No one to make them? O poor cabbage tree!
Never mind, cabbage tree, when I am taller, And if you grow, please, a little bit smaller, I shall be able by that time, may be, To make you the loveliest curls, cabbage tree.
A FEW RULES FOR BEGINNERS
Babies must not eat the coal And they must not make grimaces, Nor in party dresses roll And must never black their faces.
They must learn that pointing’s rude, They must sit quite still at table, And must always eat the food Put before them—if they’re able.
If they fall, they must not cry, Though it’s known how painful this is; No—there’s always Mother by Who will comfort them with kisses.
A DAY IN BED
I wish I had not got a cold, The wind is big and wild, I wish that I was very old, Not just a little child.
Somehow the day is very long Just keeping here, alone; I do not like the big wind’s song, He’s growling for a bone.
He’s like an awful dog we had Who used to creep around And snatch at things—he was so bad, With just that horrid sound.
I’m sitting up and nurse has made Me wear a woolly shawl; I wish I was not so afraid; It’s horrid to be small.
It really feels quite like a day Since I have had my tea; P’raps everybody’s gone away And just forgotten me.
And oh! I cannot go to sleep Although I am in bed. The wind keeps going creepy-creep And waiting to be fed.
THE LONESOME CHILD
The baby in the looking-glass Is smiling through at me; She has her teaspoon in her hand, Her feeder on for tea.
And if I look behind her I Can see the table spread; I wonder if she has to eat The nasty crusts of bread.
Her doll, like mine, is sitting close Beside her special chair, She has a pussy on her lap; It must be my cup there.
Her picture-book is on the floor, The cover’s just the same; And tidily upon the shelf I see my Ninepin game.
O baby in the looking glass, Come through and play with me, And if you will, I promise, dear, To eat your crusts at tea.
A FINE DAY
After all the rain, the sun Shines on hill and grassy mead; Fly into the garden, child, You are very glad indeed.
For the days have been so dull, Oh, so special dark and drear, That you told me, “Mr. Sun Has forgotten we live here.”
Dew upon the lily lawn, Dew upon the garden beds; Daintily from all the leaves Pop the little primrose heads.
And the violets in the copse With their parasols of green Take a little peek at you; They’re the bluest you have seen.
On the lilac tree a bird Singing first a little note, Then a burst of happy song Bubbles in his lifted throat.
O the sun, the comfy sun! This the song that you must sing, “Thank you for the birds, the flowers, Thank you, sun, for everything.”
EVENING SONG OF THE THOUGHTFUL CHILD
Shadow children, thin and small, Now the day is left behind, You are dancing on the wall, On the curtains, on the blind.
On the ceiling, children, too, Peeping round the nursery door, Let me come and play with you, As we always played before.
Let’s pretend that we have wings And can really truly fly Over every sort of things Up and up into the sky,
Where the sweet star children play— It does seem a dreadful rule, They must stay inside all day. I suppose they go to school.
And to-night, dears, do you see, They are having such a race With their father moon—the tree Almost hides his funny face.
Shadow children, once at night, I was all tucked up in bed, Father moon came—such a fright— Through the window poked his head;
I could see his staring eyes, O, my dears, I was afraid, That was not a nice surprise, And the dreadful noise I made!
Let us make a fairy ring,82 Shadow children, hand in hand, And our songs quite softly sing That we learned in fairyland.
Shadow children, thin and small, See, the day is far behind; And I kiss you—on the wall On the curtains—on the blind.
A NEW HYMN
Sing a song of men’s pyjamas, Half-past-six has got a pair, And he’s wearing them this evening, And he’s looking such a dear.
Sing a song of frocks with pockets I have got one, it is so’s I can use my ’nitial hankies Every time I blow my nose.
Now’s the time when children’s noses All become as red as roses And the colour of their faces Makes me think of orchard places Where the juicy apples grow And tomatoes in a row.
And to-day the hardened sinner Never could be late for dinner, But will jump up to the table Just as soon as he is able, Ask for three times hot roast mutton— Oh! the shocking little glutton.
Come then, find your ball and racket, Pop into your winter jacket, With the lovely bear-skin lining. While the sun is brightly shining, Let us run and play together And just love the autumn weather.
THE BLACK MONKEY
My Babbles has a nasty knack Of keeping monkeys on her back. A great big black one comes and swings Right on her sash or pinny strings. It is a horrid thing and wild And makes her such a naughty child.
She comes and stands beside my chair With almost an offended air And says:—“Oh, Father, why can’t I?” And stamps her foot and starts to cry— I look at Mother in dismay … What little girl is this, to-day?
She throws about her nicest toys And makes a truly dreadful noise Till Mother rises from her place With quite a Sunday churchy face And Babbles silently is led Into the dark and her own bed.
Never a kiss or one Goodnight, Never a glimpse of candle light. Oh, how the monkey simply flies! Oh, how poor Babbles calls and cries, Runs from the room with might and main, “Father dear, I am good again.”
When she is sitting on my knee Snuggled quite close and kissing me, Babbles and I, we think the same— Why, that the monkey never came Only a terrible dream maybe … What did she have for evening tea?
THE PILLAR BOX
The pillar box is fat and red, The pillar box is high; It has the flattest sort of head And not a nose or eye, But just one open nigger mouth That grins when I go by.
The pillar box is very round But hungry all the day; Although it doesn’t make a sound, Folks know it wants to say, “Give me some letter sandwiches To pass the time away.”
“A postage stamp I like to eat Or gummy letterette.” I see the people on the street, If it is fine or wet, Give something to the greedy thing; They never quite forget.
The pillar box is quite a friend When Father goes away, My Mother has such lots to send, Fat letters every day, And so I drop them in its mouth When I go out to play.
We stood in the vegetable garden As angry and cross as could be ’Cause you said you wouldn’t beg pardon For eating my radish at tea.
I said, “I shall go an’ tell Mummy. I hope it is makin’ you ill. I hope you’ve a pain in your tummy, And then she will give you a pill.”
But you cried out, “Good-bye then—for ever. Go and play with your silly old toys! If you think you’re so grown up and clever, I’ll run off and play with the Boys.”
Half-Past-Six and I were talking In a very grown-up way; We had got so tired with running That we did not want to play.
“How do babies come, I wonder,” He said, looking at the sky, “Does God mix the things together An’ just make it—like a pie?”
I was really not quite certain, But it sounded very nice; It was all that we could think of, Besides a book said ‘sugar and spice.’
Half-Past-Six said—he’s so clever— Cleverer than me, I mean … “I suppose God makes the black ones When the saucepan isn’t clean.”
Hinemoa, Tui, Maina, Ail of them were born together; They are quite an extra special Set of babies—wax and leather.
Every day they took an airing; Mummy made them each a bonnet; Two were cherry, one was yellow With a bow of ribbon on it.
Really, sometimes we would slap them, For if ever we were talking, They would giggle and be silly, Saying, “Mamma, take us walking.”
But we never really loved them Till one day we left them lying In the garden—through a hail-storm, And we heard the poor dears crying.
Half-Past-Six said—“You’re a mother! What if Mummy did forget you?” So I said, “Well, you’re their Father. Get them!” but I wouldn’t let you.