Prometheus Bound, and other poems/A Child's Grave at Florence
A CHILD'S GRAVE AT FLORENCE.
Born July, 1848. Died November, 1849.
OF English blood, of Tuscan birth, . .
What country should we give her?
Instead of any on the earth,
The civic Heavens receive her.
And here, among the English tombs,
In Tuscan ground we lay her,
While the blue Tuscan sky endomes
Our English words of prayer.
A little child!—how long she lived,
By months, not years, is reckoned:
Born in one July, she survived
Alone to see a second.
Bright-featured, as the July sun
Her little face, still played in,
And splendours, with her birth begun,
Had had no time for fading
So, Lily, from those July hours,
No wonder we should call her;
She looked such kinship to the flowers . . .
Was but a little taller.
A Tuscan Lily,—only white . . .
As Dante, in abhorrence
Of red corruption, wished aright
The lilies of his Florence.
We could not wish her whiter, . . Her
Who perfumed with pure blossom
The house!—a lovely thing to wear
Upon a mother's bosom!
This July creature thought perhaps
Our speech not worth assuming:
She sate upon her parents' laps,
And mimicked the gnat's humming;
. . Said "Father," "Mother!"—then, left off;
For tongues celestial, fitter.
Her hair had grown just long enough
To catch Heaven's jasper-glitter.
Babes! Love could always hear and see
Behind the cloud that hid them:
"Let little children come to me,
And do not thou forbid them."
So, unforbidding, have we met,
And gently here have laid her;
Though winter is no time to get
The flowers that should o'erspread her.
We should bring pansies, quick with spring,
Rose, violet, daffodilly,
And also, above everything,
White lilies for our Lily.
Nay, more than flowers, this grave exacts . .
Glad, grateful attestations
Of her sweet eyes and pretty acts,—
With calm renunciations.
Her very mother with light feet
Should leave the place too earthy,
Saying, "The angels have thee, sweet,
Because we are not worthy."
But winter kills the orange-buds,—
The gardens in the frost are;
And all the heart dissolves in floods,
Remembering we have lost her!
Poor earth, poor heart!—too weak, too weak,
To miss the July shining!
Poor heart!—what bitter words we speak,
When God speaks of resigning!
Sustain this heart in us, that faints,
Thou God, the self-existent!
We catch up wild at parting saints,
And feel thy Heaven too distant!
The wind that swept them out of sin,
Has ruffled all our vesture:
On the shut door that let them in,
We beat with frantic gesture;
To us, us also—open straight!
The outer life is chilly—
Are we, too, like the earth, to wait
Till next year for our Lily?
—Oh, my own baby on my knees,
My leaping, dimpled treasure,—
At every word I write like these,
Clasped close, with stronger pressure!
Too well my own heart understands . . .
At every word, beats fuller . . .
My little feet, my little hands,
And hair of Lily's colour!
—But God gives patience, Love learns strength,
And Faith remembers promise;
And Hope itself can smile at length
On other hopes gone from us.
Love, strong as Death, shall conquer Death,
Through struggle, made more glorious:
This mother stills her sobbing breath,
Renouncing, yet victorious.
Arms, empty of her child, she lifts,
With spirit unbereaven—
"God will not all take back His gifts:
My Lily's mine in Heaven!
"Still mine!—maternal rights serene
Not given to another!
The crystal bars shine faint between
The souls of child and mother.
"Meanwhile," the mother cries, "content!
Our love was well divided;
Its sweetness following where she went,
Its anguish stayed where I did.
"Well done of God, to halve the lot,
And give her all the sweetness!
To us, the empty room and cot,—
To her, the Heaven's completeness:
"To us, this grave—to her, the rows
The mystic palm-trees spring in:
To us, the silence in the house,—
To her, the choral singing!
"For her, to gladden in God's view,—
For us, to hope and bear on!—
Grow, Lily, in thy garden new,
Beside the Rose of Sharon.
"Grow fast in Heaven, sweet lily clipped,
In love more calm than this is,—
And may the angels dewy-lipped
Remind thee of our kisses!
"While none shall tell thee of our tears,
These human tears now falling;
Till, after a few patient years,
One home shall take us all in;
"Child, father, mother—who, left out?
Not mother, and not father!—
And when, their dying couch about,
The natural mists shall gather,
"Some smiling angel close shall stand,
In old Correggio's fashion,
Bearing a Lily in his hand,
For death's annunciation.