Red Riding-Hood

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

On the wide lawn the snow lay deep,
Ridged o’er with many a drifted heap;
The wind that through the pine-trees sung
The naked elm-boughs tossed and swung;
While, through the window, frosty-starred,
Against the sunset purple barred,
We saw the sombre crow flap by,
The hawk’s gray fleck along the sky,
The crested blue-jay flitting swift,
The squirrel poising on the drift,
Erect, alert, his broad gray tail
Set to the north wind like a sail.

It came to pass, our little lass,
With flattened face against the glass,
And eyes in which the tender dew
Of pity shone, stood gazing through
The narrow space her rosy lips
Had melted from the frost’s eclipse
“Oh, see,” she cried, “the poor blue-jays!
What is it that the black crow says?
The squirrel lifts his little legs
Because he has no hands, and begs;
He’s asking for my nuts, I know
May I not feed them on the snow?”

Half lost within her boots, her head
Warm-sheltered in her hood of red,
Her plaid skirt close about her drawn,
She floundered down the wintry lawn;
Now struggling through the misty veil
Blown round her by the shrieking gale;
Now sinking in a drift so low
Her scarlet hood could scarcely show
Its dash of color on the snow.

She dropped for bird and beast forlorn
Her little store of nuts and corn,
And thus her timid guests bespoke
“Come, squirrel, from your hollow oak,
Come, black old crow, come, poor blue-jay,
Before your supper’s blown away
Don’t be afraid, we all are good;
And I’m mamma’s Red Riding-Hood!”

O Thou whose care is over all,
Who heedest even the sparrow’s fall,
Keep in the little maiden’s breast
The pity which is now its guest!
Let not her cultured years make less
The childhood charm of tenderness,
But let her feel as well as know,
Nor harder with her polish grow!
Unmoved by sentimental grief
That wails along some printed leaf,
But, prompt with kindly word and deed
To own the claims of all who need,
Let the grown woman’s self make good
The promise of Red Riding-Hood

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