The Collected Poems of Dora Sigerson Shorter/The Child
Lone played the child within the magic wood,
Where fountains sang and sunshine ever glowed;
Half-hid among red roses on his way,
He came at last upon a dark abode.
He knew not sorrow, and when cries came forth
Of bitter grief, he could not choose but stay,
And turned from joyous paths his dancing feet,
To see what wonder in that dim house lay—
Met at the door a woodman stern and cold,
Who looked into the sunshine with blind eyes,
And saw behind him, with a hidden face,
One who made sad the wind with sudden cries.
“And who are you,” the man looked up and spoke,
“Who comes thus singing to the home of grief?”
“I am a babe,” the little child replied,
“Who finds the world all fair beyond belief.”
And at his voice the woman stayed her cries,
And at his laugh she raised her hidden face.
“Dark is the day and drear the world,” she said,
“And lives no beauty in this barren place.”
“Drear is the earth,” the man spoke with a sigh;
“Cold is the sun that long has ceased to shine;
Chill is our house set in a desert place,
And Grief and Sorrow on our hearth repine.”
“I see the roses blossom on the roof,”
The child replied, and raised a wondering gaze;
“I hear the birds' glad singing in the woods,
The sun shines ever through the long, sweet days.”
He laid in each sad grasp his fingers small.
Lo, then, the woman said, “The roses see!
They cling upon the roof like amber rain:
For them the birds do sing a melody.”
“And see,” the man replied, “how fair the sun
Doth warm the earth into a thousand flowers;
See the long shadows of the poplars move:
Short is the day that hath such golden hours.”
“Will you not stay and teach us to be glad?”
The woman cried, “we then indeed were blessed.”
“I am but little to go forth alone,”
The babe replied, and nestled to her breast
And so he stayed for many years to play
Beside her hearth, and at each purple eve,
When came the man soft singing from his work,
All full of dreams he could but half believe,
The woman met him on their threshold, spoke
In solemn wonder, with a “Hush!” and “Hark!”
“To-day he drove out Sorrow from the door:
With his small hands he shut her in the dark.”
Or, “Go you soft: he slumbers like a bird
That nests, half-singing in his pleasant sleep
To-day from our hearth-side he thrust out Grief—
This wonder-child did laugh to see her weep.”
So stayed the child and played before the door,
And if a rose in languor over-sweet
Would fall upon his way, the woman kissed
The dimpled arches of his little feet;
Or if a leaf in loving leaned too far
From her high branch, and whirled upon his hair,
The woman ran to break it in her hand
And raise the sunny curl it lit on there.
And oft she kissed his throat all full of song—
Without excuse, to hear his laughter go,
Caught by some echo sung from tree to tree,
Into the distance like a streamlets flow.
So went the hours until one mom she rose
To find him gone, and sought him all the day.
And when at purple eve the man came home.
All loud with weeping she did stop his way.
“He is not lost,” the man said with a smile,
And proud of heart he held her by the hand;
“He lingers but a little, for his feet
Are on a strange road still in manhood's land.”
She looked and saw a youth upon the path.
With axe upon his shoulder, and his eye
All strong and clear to meet the world and fight
A victor's fight, should one his claims deny.
Quick to her side he came with joyous step
To kiss her cheek that was so pale and wan;
And yet she saw his gaze go past her face,
Some stranger maiden so to rest upon.
But as he stood, the man soft murmuring
Looked, saying slow, “It is my son, my son,
So straight of limb, so comely thus to see;
Now is the glory of my life begun.”
But when the night was still the woman went
Where slept the youth in his small room alone;
And from a hiding-place a casket drew,
With now a tear, and oft a stifled moan.
And from its perfumed hollow quick she brought
Two little shoes, and held them to her heart,
Stained them with tears, with many kisses cried,
“O little feet that strayed from me apart!
“Oh, little child that I shall see no more!”
She laid the casket in its hiding-place—
Then bent in prayer above her deeping son,
Who smiled in dreaming of another face.