Hast thou ne’er seen rough pointsmen spy
Some simple English phrase—“With care”
Or “This side uppermost”—and cry
Like children? No? No more have I.
Yet deem not him whose eyes are dry
But ah! what treasure hides beneath
That lid so much the worse for wear?
A ring perhaps—a rosy wreath —
A photograph by Vernon Heath —
Some matron’s temporary teeth
Perhaps some seaman, in Peru
Or Ind, hath stow’d herein a rare
Cargo of birds’ eggs for his Sue;
With many a vow that he’ll be true,
And many a hint that she is too,
Perhaps—but wherefore vainly pry
Into the page that’s folded there?
I shall be better by and by:
The porters, as I sit and sigh,
Pass and repass—I wonder why
I watch’d her as she stoop’d to pluck
A wildflower in her hair to twine;
And wish’d that it had been my luck
To call her mine.
Anon I heard her rate with mad
Mad words her babe within its cot;
And felt particularly glad
That it had not.
I knew (such subtle brains have men)
That she was uttering what she shouldn’t;
And thought that I would chide, and then
I thought I wouldn’t:
Who could have gazed upon that face,
Those pouting coral lips, and chided?
A Rhadamanthus, in my place,
Had done as I did:
For ire wherewith our bosoms glow
Is chain’d there oft by Beauty’s spell;
And, more than that, I did not know
The widow well.
So the harsh phrase pass’d unreproved.
Still mute—(O brothers, was it sin?) —
I drank, unutterably moved,
Her beauty in:
And to myself I murmur’d low,
As on her upturn’d face and dress
The moonlight fell, “Would she say No,
By chance, or Yes?”
She stood so calm, so like a ghost
Betwixt me and that magic moon,
That I already was almost
A finish’d coon.
But when she caught adroitly up
And soothed with smiles her little daughter;
And gave it, if I’m right, a sup
And, crooning still the strange sweet lore
Which only mothers’ tongues can utter,
Snow’d with deft hand the sugar o’er
Its bread and butter;
And kiss’d it clingingly—(Ah, why
Don’t women do these things in private?) —
I felt that if I lost her, I
Should not survive it:
And from my mouth the words nigh flew —
The past, the future, I forgat ’em:
“Oh! if you’d kiss me as you do
That thankless atom!”
But this thought came ere yet I spake,
And froze the sentence on my lips:
“They err, who marry wives that make
Those little slips.”