The Torn Hat

A poem by Nathaniel Parker Willis

There’s something in a noble boy,
A brave, free-hearted, careless one,
With his unchecked, unbidden joy,
His dread of books and love of fun,
And in his clear and ready smile,
Unshaded by a thought of guile,
And unrepressed by sadness,
Which brings me to my childhood back,
As if I trod its very track,
And felt its very gladness.
And yet it is not in his play,
When every trace of thought is lost,
And not when you would call him gay,
That his bright presence thrills me most.
His shout may ring upon the hill,
His voice be echoed in the hall,
His merry laugh like music trill,
And I unheeding hear it all;
For, like the wrinkles on my brow,
I scarcely notice such things now.
But when, amid the earnest game,
He stops as if he music heard,
And, heedless of his shouted name
As of the carol of a bird,
Stands gazing on the empty air
As if some dream were passing there,
’T is then that on his face I look,
His beautiful but thoughtful face,
And, like a long-forgotten book,
Its sweet, familiar meaning trace,
Remembering a thousand things
Which passed me on those golden wings,
Which time has fettered now,
Things that came o’er me with a thrill,
And left me silent, sad, and still,
And threw upon my brow
A holier and a gentler cast,
That was too innocent to last.
’T is strange how thought upon a child
Will, like a presence, sometime press;
And when his pulse is beating wild,
And life itself is in excess,
When foot and hand, and ear and eye,
Are all with ardor straining high,
How in his heart will spring
A feeling, whose mysterious thrall
Is stronger, sweeter far than all;
And, on its silent wing,
How with the clouds he’ll float away,
As wandering and as lost as they

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