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Poem by Caroline Norton
I WAS a laughing child, and gaily dwelt Where murmuring brooks, and dark blue rivers roll'd, And shadowy trees outspread their silent arms, To welcome all the weary to their rest. And there an antique castle rais'd its head, Where dwelt a fair and fairy girl: perchance Two summers she had seen beyond my years; And all she said or did, was said and done With such a light and airy sportiveness, That oft I envied her, for I was poor, And lowly, and to me her fate did seem Fraught with a certainty of happiness. Years past; and she was wed against her will, To one who sought her for the gold she brought, And they did vex and wound her gentle spirit, Till madness took the place of misery. And oft I heard her low, soft, gentle song, Breathing of early times with mournful sound, Till I could weep to hear, and thought how sad. The envied future of her life had prov'd. And then I grew a fond and thoughtful girl, Loving, and deeming I was lov'd again: But he that won my easy heart, full soon Turn'd to another:—she might be more fair, But could not love him better. And I wept, Day after day, till weary grew my spirit, With fancying how happy she must be Whom he had chosen—yet she was not so; For he she wedded, loved her for a time, And then he changed, even as he did to me, Though something later; and he sought another To please his fancy, far away from home. And he was kind: oh, yes! he still was kind. It vex'd her more; for though she knew his love Had faded like the primrose after spring, Yet there was nothing which she might complain, Had cause to grieve her; he was gentle still. She would have given all the store she had, That he would but be angry for an hour, That she might come and soothe his wounded spirit, And lay her weeping head upon his bosom, And say, how freely she forgave her wrongs: But still, with calm, cold kindness he pursued (Kindness, the mockery of departed love!) His way—and then she died, the broken-hearted; And I thanked heaven, who gave me not her lot, Though I had wish'd it. Again, I was a wife, a happy wife; And he I loved was still unchangeable, And kind, and true, and loved me from his soul; But I was childless, and my lonely heart Yearned for an image of my heart's beloved, A something which should be my 'future' now That I had so much of my life gone by; Something to look to after I should go, And all except my memory be past. There was a child, a little rosy thing, With sunny eyes, and curled and shining hair, That used to play among the daisy flowers, Looking as innocent and fair as they; And sail its little boat upon the stream, Gazing with dark blue eyes in the blue waters, And singing in its merriment of heart All the bright day: and when the sun was setting, It came unbid to its glad mother's side, To lisp with holy look its evening prayer: And, kneeling on the green and flowery ground, At the sweet cottage door—he fixed his eyes For some short moments on her tranquil face, As if she was his guiding star to God; And then with young, meek, innocent brow upraised, Spoke the slow words with lips that longed to smile, But dared not. Oh! I loved that child with all A mother's fondest love; and, as he grew More and more beautiful from day to day, The half-involuntary sigh I gave Spoke but too plain the wish that he were mine— My child—my own. And in my solitude, Often I clasped my hands and thought of him, And looked with mournful and reproachful gaze To heaven, which had denied me such a one. Years past: the child became a rebel boy; The boy a wild, untamed, and passionate youth; The youth a man—but such a man! so fierce, So wild, so headlong, and so haughty too, So cruel in avenging any wrongs, So merciless when he had half avenged them! At length his hour had come—a deed of blood, Of murder, was upon his guilty soul. He stood in that same spot, by his sweet home, The same blue river flowing by his feet, (Whose stream might never wash his guilt away The same green hills, and mossy sloping banks, Where the bright sun was smiling as of yore: With pallid cheek and dark and sullen brow, The beautiful and lost; you might have deemed That Satan, newly banished, stood and gazed On the bright scenery of an infant world. For, fallen as he was, his Maker's hand Had stamped him beauteous, and he was so still. And his eyes turned from off his early home With something like a shudder; and they lighted On his poor broken-hearted mother's grave. And there was something in them of old times, Ere sin had darkened o'er their tranquil blue, In that most mournful look—that made me weep; "For I had gazed on him with fear and anguish Till now. And, "weep for her," my favourite said, For she was good—I murdered her—I killed Many that harmed me not." And still he spoke In a low, listless voice; and forms came round Who dragged him from us. I remember not What followed then. But on another day, There was a crowd collected, and a cart Slowly approached to give to shameful death Its burden; and there was a prayer, and silence, Silence like that of death. And then a murmur! And all was over. And I groaned, and turned To where his poor old father had been sitting; And there he sate, still with his feeble limbs And palsied head, and dim and watery eyes, Gazing up at the place where was his son; And with a shuddering touch I sought to rouse him, But could not, for the poor old man was dead. And then I flung myself upon the ground, And mingled salt tears with the evening dew; And thanked my God that he was not my son; And that I was a childless, lonely wife. To-morrow I will tell thee all that now Remains to tell—but I am old and feeble. And cannot speak for tears. She rose and went, But she returned no more. The morrow came, But not to her;—the tale of life was finished, Not by her lips, for she had ceased to breath. But, by this silent warning joined to hers, How little we may count upon the future, Or reckon what that future may bring forth!
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