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Poem by Francis Thompson


A Child's Kiss


        Where its umbrage1 was enrooted,
                Sat, white-suited,
        Sat, green-amiced and bare-footed,
            Spring, amid her minstrelsy;
        There she sat amid her ladies,
              Where the shade is
        Sheen as Enna mead ere Hades'
            Gloom fell thwart Persephone.
        Dewy buds were interstrown
        Through her tresses hanging down,
              And her feet
              Were most sweet,
        Tinged like sea-stars, rosied brown.
    A throng of children like to flowers were sown
    About the grass beside, or clomb her knee:
    I looked who were that favoured company.
              And one there stood
              Against the beamy flood
    Of sinking day, which, pouring its abundance,
    Sublimed the illuminous and volute redundance
    Of locks that, half dissolving, floated round her face;
              As see I might
        Far off a lily-cluster poised in sun
            Dispread its gracile curls of light.
        I knew what chosen child was there in place!
        I knew there might no brows be, save of one,
        With such Hesperian fulgence compassèd,
    Which in her moving seemed to wheel about her head.

    O Spring's little children, more loud your lauds upraise,
    For this is even Sylvia with her sweet, feat ways!
        Your lovesome labours lay away,
        And prank you out in holiday,
            For syllabling to Sylvia;
    And all you birds on branches, lave your mouths with May,
        To bear with me this burthen
            For singing to Sylvia!

    Spring, goddess, is it thou, desirèd long?
    And art thou girded round with this young train?--
    If ever I did do thee ease in song,
    Now of thy grace let me one meed obtain,
                And list thou to one plain.
                Oh, keep still in thy train,
    After the years when others therefrom fade,
              This tiny, well-belovèd maid!
    To whom the gate of my heart's fortalice,
                With all which in it is,
    And the shy self who doth therein immew him
    'Gainst what loud leaguerers battailously woo him,
                I, bribèd traitor to him,
                Set open for one kiss.

                A kiss? for a child's kiss?
                Aye, goddess, even for this.
        Once, bright Sylviola! in days not far,
    Once--in that nightmare-time which still doth haunt
    My dreams, a grim, unbidden visitant--
                Forlorn, and faint, and stark,
    I had endured through watches of the dark
        The abashless inquisition of each star,
    Yea, was the outcast mark
                Of all those heavenly passers' scrutiny;
                Stood bound and helplessly
    For Time to shoot his barbèd minutes at me;
    Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour
                In night's slow-wheelèd car;
        Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length
        From under those dread wheels; and, bled of strength,
              I waited the inevitable last.
                Then there came past
    A child; like thee, a spring-flower; but a flower
    Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring,
    And through the city-streets blown withering.
    She passed,--O brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing!--
    And of her own scant pittance did she give,
                That I might eat and live:
    Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive.
                Therefore I kissed in thee
    The heart of Childhood, so divine for me;
                And her, through what sore ways,
                And what unchildish days,
    Borne from me now, as then, a trackless fugitive.
                Therefore I kissed in thee
                Her, child! and innocency,
    And spring, and all things that have gone from me,
                And that shall never be;
    All vanished hopes, and all most hopeless bliss,
                Came with thee to my kiss.
    And ah! so long myself had strayed afar
    From child, and woman, and the boon earth's green,
    And all wherewith life's face is fair beseen;
                Journeying its journey bare
    Five suns, except of the all-kissing sun
                  Unkissed of one;
                  Almost I had forgot
                  The healing harms,
    And whitest witchery, a-lurk in that
    Authentic cestus of two girdling arms:
                And I remembered not
        The subtle sanctities which dart
    From childish lips' unvalued precious brush,
    Nor how it makes the sudden lilies push
        Between the loosening fibres of the heart.
              Then, that thy little kiss
              Should be to me all this,
    Let workaday wisdom blink sage lids thereat;
    Which towers a flight three hedgerows high, poor bat!
        And straightway charts me out the empyreal air.
    Its chart I wing not by, its canon of worth
    Scorn not, nor reck though mine should breed it mirth:
    And howso thou and I may be disjoint,
    Yet still my falcon spirit makes her point
                Over the covert where
    Thou, sweetest quarry, hast put in from her!

    Soul, hush these sad numbers, too sad to upraise
    In hymning bright Sylvia, unlearn'd in such ways!
          Our mournful moods lay me away,
          And prank our thoughts in holiday,
              For syllabling to Sylvia;
    When all the birds on branches lave their mouths with May,
              To bear with us this burthen
              For singing to Sylvia!

1 The umbrage of an elm-tree, described earlier in the Sister Songs from which this and the six succeeding poems are detached.




Francis Thompson


Francis Thompson's other poems:
  1. Epilogue to the Poet's Sitter
  2. A Fallen Yew
  3. Any Saint
  4. Scala Jacobi Portaque Eburnea
  5. A Judgment in Heaven

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