It was once upon a time,
Ere the roses bud and blow,
Underneath the scented lime,
Long ago, ah, long ago!
Is it I that was so fair,
When the sun is slanting low,
With a lily in my hair,
Ah, so very long ago?
Was my heart as light as this
Was the lily white as snow?
What a happy hour it is,
Long ago, ah, long ago?
Then the lily bloom’d to save,
Ere a tear had learn’d to flow
Now it lies upon a grave,
Ah, so very long ago!
While I sat singing, steps came on the
Outside the window—what marvel is this?
Steady and solemn, they make my heart wrath,
Steps come towards me, and they are not his!
Steps in the night time pass up to my door;
Then comes a knocking might waken the dead:
Instead of one Harry there must be four,
Only not one has his light springy tread.
My old nurse’s son to sea ran away—
At a ‘Norwester,’ or gale from the South,
I’ve heard the poor woman tremblingly say
The sound ‘brought her heart up into her mouth!’
I, little prattler, crouched down at her
Would stop aghast in my innocent play,
Wondering, will she be able to eat,
Supposing her heart in her mouth shall stay?
Strange are our minds and their workings,
Studying them might drive Solomon wild:
At the loud knocking, I ran to the door
With a sudden thought of that nurse and child.
I saw her rocking herself in her chair,
While the mad wind blew ’neath the stormy sky;
I saw the little child watching her there,
And knew, with a pang, that the child was I.
(Strange are the pangs, that, when life
is most fair,
With not a regret to shadow the scene,
Seize on the heart with a sudden despair,
From a passing mem’ry of what has been.)
And while to the door I ran with a start,
Frighten’d to death at the knocking without,
I was thinking of my old nurse’s heart,
And not of what all the noise was about!
Four men without peering sharply within;
One girl within looking out at the men;
Silence at first—you might have heard a pin
Drop on the doorsteps—silence—and then,
‘What do you want?’ cried
the girl. She spoke loud,
In a voice that sounded unlike her own.
‘We want Mr. Vane,’ said a man, who bowed,
And uttered the words in a gentle tone.
They were very well dressed—they
were not poor—
They had shining hats and cloaks wrapp’d about,
These men who stood at the happy hall-door,
Where Harry and I run in and run out.
(You want him? I want him, I might
But only to say so seem’d like a sin):
‘He is not within’; and I shook my head,
And while I yet spoke the men were within.