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Poem by Frederick Locker-Lampson

The Garter

The healthy-wealthy-wise, affirm,
That early birds secure the worm,
   And doubtless so they do;
Who scorns his couch should earn, by rights,
A world of pleasant sounds and sights
   That vanish with the dew.

Bright Phosphor, from his watch released,
Now fading from the purple East—
   The morning waxing stronger;
The comely cock that vainly strives
To crow from sleep his drowsy wives,
   Who would be dosing longer.

Uxorious Chanticleer! and hark!
Upraise thine eyes, and find the lark,
   That matutine musician,
Who heavenward soars on rapture’s wings,
Though sought, unseen, who mounts, and sings
   In musical derision.

A daughter hast’ning to prepare
Her father’s humble morning fare—
   The sturdy reaper’s meal.
In russet gown and apron blue,
The daughter sings; like “Lucy,” too,
   She plies her spinning-wheel.

Anon the early reaper hies
To waving fields that clasp the skies,
   Broad sheets of sunlit water.
All these were heard or seen by one
Who stole a march upon that sun,
   And then—upon that Daughter!

This dainty maid, the hamlet’s pride,
A lambkin trotting at her side,
   Then hied her through the park;
A fond and gentle foster-dam—
May be she slumbered with her lamb,
   Thus rising with the lark!

The lambkin frisk’d, the damsel fain
Would wile him back,—she called in vain.
   The truant gamboll’d farther:
One follow’d for the maiden’s sake,
A pilgrim in an Angel’s wake—
   A happy pilgrim, rather.

The maid gave chase, the lambkin ran,
As only woolly vagrant can,
   Who never felt a crook;
But stay’d at length, as ’twere disposed
To drink, where tawny sands disclosed
   The margent of a brook.

His mistress, who had follow’d fast,
Cried, “Little rogue, you’re caught at last;
   I’m fleeter, Sir, than you.”
Then straight the wanderer convey’d
Where tangled shrubs, in branching shade,
   Protected her from view—

Of all save one.  She glanced around,
All fearful lest the slightest sound
   Might mortal footfall be.
Then shrinkingly she stepped aside
One moment, and her garter tied
   The truant to a tree.

Perhaps the world may wish to know
The hue of this delightful bow,
   And how it might be placed:
No, not from him, he only knows—
It might be purple, blue, or rose,—
   ’Twas tied—with maiden taste.

Suffice it that the nymph was fair,
With dove-like eyes, and golden hair,
   And feet of lily dye:
And, though these feet were pure from stain,
She turned her to the brook again,
   And laved them dreamingly.

Awhile she sat in maiden mood,
And watch’d the shadows in the flood,
   Which varied with the stream:
And as each pretty foot she dips,
The ripples ope their crystal lips
   In welcome, as ’twould seem.

But reveries are fleeting things,
Which come and go on Fancy’s wings,
   Now longer, and now shorter:
The Fair One well her day-dream nurst,
But, when the light-blown bubble burst,
   She wearied of the water;

Betook her to the spot where yet
Safe tether’d lay her snowy pet,
   To roving tastes a martyr:
But something met the damsel’s gaze,
Which made her cry in sheer amaze,
   “Good gracious! where’s my garter?”

Yes! where indeed? the echoes there,
Inquisitive, responded “where?”
   And mourn’d the missing fetter:
A something else a little space
Must render duty in its place,
   Till banish’d for a better.

The blushing Fair her lamb led home,
Perhaps resolved no more to roam
   At peep of day together;
If chance so takes them, it is plain
She will not venture forth again
   Without an extra tether.

A fair white stone will mark this morn—
He wears a prize, one lightly worn,
   Love’s gage (though not intended);
Of course he’ll guard it near his heart,
Till suns and even stars depart,
   And chivalry has ended.

And knighthood he’ll not envy you,
The crosses, stars, and cordons bleus,
   Which pride for folly barters;
He’ll bear his cross ’mid mundane jars,
His ribbon prize, and thank his stars
   He does not crave your garters!

Frederick Locker-Lampson

Frederick Locker-Lampson's other poems:
  1. My Life Is A—
  2. My Firstborn
  3. The Old Clerk
  4. The Pilgrims of Pall Mall
  5. St George’s, Hanover Square

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