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Poem by Isabella Valancy Crawford

The Mother's Soul

When the moon was horned the mother died,
 And the child pulled at her hand and knee,
And he rubbed her cheek and loudly cried:
 'O mother, arise, give bread to me!'
    But the pine tree bent its head,
    And the wind at the door-post said:
    'O child, thy mother is dead !'
The sun set his loom to weave the day;
 The frost bit sharp like a silent cur;
The child by her pillow paused in his play:
 'Mother, build up the sweet fire of fir !'
    But the fir tree shook its cones,
    And loud cried the pitiful stones:
    'Wolf Death has thy mother's bones!'

They bore the mother out on her bier;
 Their tears made warm her breast and shroud;
The smiling child at her head stood near;
 And the long, white tapers shook and bowed,
    And said with their tongues of gold,
    To the ice lumps of the grave mold:
    'How heavy are ye and cold!'

They buried the mother; to the feast
 They flocked with the beaks of unclean crows.
The wind came up from the red-eyed east
 And bore in its arms the chill, soft snows.
    They said to each other: 'Sere
    Are the hearts the mother held dear;
    Forgotten, her babe plays here!'

The child with the tender snowflakes played,
 And the wind on its fingers twined his hair;
And still by the tall, brown grave he stayed,
 Alone in the churchyard lean and bare.
    The sods on the high grave cried
    To the mother's white breast inside:
    'Lie still; in thy deep rest bide!'

Her breast lay still like a long-chilled stone,
 Her soul was out on the bleak, grey day;
She saw her child by the grave alone,
 With the sods and snow and wind at play.
    Said the sharp lips of the rush,
    'Red as thy roses,O bush,
    With anger the dead can blush !'

A butterfly to the child's breast flew,*
 Fluttered its wings on his sweet, round cheek,
Danced by his fingers, small, cold and blue.
 The sun strode down past the mountain peak.
    The butterfly whispered low
    To the child: 'Babe, follow me; know,
    Cold is the earth here below.'

The butterfly flew; followed the child,
 Lured by the snowy torch of its wings;
The wind sighed after them soft and wild
 Till the stars wedded night with golden rings
    Till the frost upreared its head,
    And the ground to it groaned and said:
    'The feet of the child are lead!'

The child's head drooped to the brown, sere mold,
 On the crackling cones his white breast lay;
The butterfly touched the locks of gold,
 The soul of the child sprang from its clay.
    The moon to the pine tree stole,
     And silver-lipped, said to its bole:
    'How strong is the mother's soul!'

The wings of the butterfly grew out
 To the mother's arms, long, soft and white;
She folded them warm her babe about,
 She kissed his lips into berries bright,
    She warmed his soul on her breast;
    And the east called out to the west:
    'Now the mother's soul will rest!'

Under the roof where the burial feast
 Was heavy with meat and red with wine,
Each crossed himself as out of the east
 A strange wind swept over oak and pine.
    The trees to the home-roof said:
    ' 'Tis but the airy rush and tread
    Of angels greeting thy dead.'

Isabella Valancy Crawford

Isabella Valancy Crawford's other poems:
  1. Bouche-Mignonne
  2. An Interregnum
  3. Late Loved - Well Loved
  4. Malcolm's Katie: A Love Story - Part 1
  5. Said the Wind

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