The Child-Mother

A poem by George MacDonald

Heavily slumbered noonday bright
Upon the lone field, glory-dight,
A burnished grassy sea:
The child, in gorgeous golden hours,
Through heaven-descended starry flowers,
Went walking on the lea.

Velvety bees make busy hum;
Green flies and striped wasps go and come;
The butterflies gleam white;
Blue-burning, vaporous, to and fro
The dragon-flies like arrows go,
Or hang in moveless flight:--

Not one she followed; like a rill
She wandered on with quiet will;
Received, but did not miss;
Her step was neither quick nor long;
Nought but a snatch of murmured song
Ever revealed her bliss.

An almost solemn woman-child,
Not fashioned frolicsome and wild,
She had more love than glee;
And now, though nine and nothing more,
Another little child she bore,
Almost as big as she.

No silken cloud from solar harms
Had she to spread; with shifting arms
She dodged him from the sun;
Mother and sister both in heart,
She did a gracious woman's part,
Life's task even now begun!

They came upon a stagnant ditch,
The slippery sloping banks of which
More varied blossoms line;
Some ragged-robins baby spies,
Stretches his hands, and crows and cries,
Plain saying, "They are mine!"

What baby wants, that baby has--
A law unalterable as
The poor shall serve the rich:
They are beyond her reach--almost!
She kneels, she strains, and, too engrossed,
Topples into the ditch.

Adown the side she slanting rolled,
But her two arms convulsive hold
The precious baby tight;
She lets herself sublimely go,
And in the ditch's muddy flow
Stands up, in evil plight.

'Tis nothing that her feet are wet,
But her new shoes she can't forget--
They cost five shillings bright!
Her petticoat, her tippet blue,
Her frock, they're smeared with slime like glue!
But baby is all right!

And baby laughs, and baby crows;
And baby being right, she knows
That nothing can be wrong;
So, with a troubled heart yet stout,
She plans how ever to get out
With meditation long.

The high bank's edge is far away,
The slope is steep, and made of clay;
And what to do with baby?
For even a monkey, up to run,
Would need his four hands, every one:--
She is perplexed as may be.

And all her puzzling is no good!
Blank-staring up the side she stood,
Which, settling she, grew higher.
At last, seized with a fresh dismay
Lest baby's patience should give way,
She plucked her feet from the mire,

And up and down the ditch, not glad,
But patient, very, did promenade--
Splash, splash, went her small feet!
And baby thought it rare good fun,
Sucking his bit of pulpy bun,
And smelling meadow-sweet.

But, oh, the world that she had left--
The meads from her so lately reft--
Poor infant Proserpine!
A fabled land they lay above,
A paradise of sunny love,
In breezy space divine!

Frequent from neighbouring village-green
Came sounds of laughter, faintly keen,
And barks of well-known dogs,
While she, the hot sun overhead,
Her lonely watery way must tread
In mud and weeds and frogs!

Sudden, the ditch about her shakes;
Her little heart, responsive, quakes
With fear of uncouth woes;
She lifts her boding eyes perforce--
To see the huge head of a horse
Go past upon its nose.

Then, hark, what sounds of tearing grass
And puffing breath!--With knobs of brass
On horns of frightful size,
A cow's head through the broken hedge
Looks awful from the other edge,
Though mild her pondering eyes.

The horse, the cow are passed and gone;
The sun keeps going on and on,
And still no help comes near.--
At misery's last--oh joy, the sound
Of human footsteps on the ground!
She cried aloud, "I'm here!"

It was a man--oh, heavenly joy!
He looked amazed at girl and boy,
And reached his hand so strong:
"Give me the child," he said; but no!
Care would not let the burden go
Which Love had borne so long.

Smiling he kneels with outstretched hands,
And them unparted safely lands
In the upper world again.
Her low thanks feebly murmured, she
Drags her legs homeward painfully--
Poor, wet, one-chickened hen!

Arrived at length--Lo, scarce a speck
Was on the child from heel to neck,
Though she was sorely mired!
No tear confessed the long-drawn rack,
Till her mother took the baby back,
And the she cried, "I'm tired!"

And, intermixed with sobbing wail,
She told her mother all the tale,
Her wet cheeks in a glow:
"But, mother, mother, though I fell,
I kept the baby pretty well--
I did not let him go!"

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