In The Children’s Hospital

A poem by Alfred Tennyson



Our doctor had call’d in another, I never

had seen him before,

But he sent a chill to my heart when I saw

him come in at the door,

Fresh from the surgery-schools of France

and of other lands–

Harsh red hair, big voice, big chest, big

merciless hands!

Wonderful cures he had done, O, yes, but

they said too of him

He was happier using the knife than in trying

to save the limb,

And that I can well believe, for he look’d

so coarse and so red,

I could think he was one of those who would

break their jests on the dead,

And mangle the living dog that had loved

him and fawn’d at his knee–

Drench’d with the hellish oorali–that

ever such things should be!


Here was a boy–I am sure that some of

our children would die

But for the voice of love, and the smile,

and the comforting eye–

Here was a boy in the ward, every bone

seem’d out of its place–

Caught in a mill and crush’d–it was all

but a hopeless case:

And he handled him gently enough; but his

voice and his face were not kind,

And it was but a hopeless case, he had seen

it and made up his mind,

And he said to me roughly, ‘The lad will

need little more of your care.’

‘All the more need,’ I told him, ‘to seek

The Lord Jesus in prayer;

They are all His children here, and I pray

for them all as my own.’

But he turn’d to me, ‘Ay, good woman,

can prayer set a broken bone?’

Then he mutter’d half to himself, but I

know that I heard him say,

‘All very well–but the good Lord Jesus

has had his day.’


Had? has it come? It has only dawn’d.

It will come by and by.

O, how could I serve in the wards if the

hope of the world were a lie?

How could I bear with the sights and the

loathsome smells of disease

But that He said, ‘Ye do it to me, when ye

do it to these’?


So he went. And we past to this ward

where the younger children are laid.

Here is the cot of our orphan, our darling,

our meek little maid;

Empty, you see, just now! We have lost

her who loved her so much–

Patient of pain tho’ as quick as a sensitive

plant to the touch.

Hers was the prettiest prattle, it often

moved me to tears,

Hers was the gratefullest heart I have

found in a child of her years–

Nay you remember our Emmie; you used

to send her the flowers.

How she would smile at ’em, play with ’em,

talk to ’em hours after hours!

They that can wander at will where the

works of the Lord are reveal’d

Little guess what joy can be got from a

cowslip out of the field;

Flowers to these ‘spirits in prison’ are all

they can know of the spring,

They freshen and sweeten the wards like

the waft of an angel’s wing.

And she lay with a flower in one hand and

her thin hands crost on her breast–

Wan, but as pretty as heart can desire, and

we thought her at rest,

Quietly sleeping–so quiet, our doctor said,

‘Poor little dear,

Nurse, I must do it to-morrow; she’ll

never live thro’ it, I fear.’


I walk’d with our kindly old doctor as far

as the head of the stair,

Then I return’d to the ward; the child

didn’t see I was there.


Never since I was nurse had I been so

grieved and so vext!

Emmie had heard him. Softly she call’d

from her cot to the next,

‘He says I shall never live thro’ it; O Annie,

what shall I do?’

Annie consider’d. ‘If I,’ said the wise

little Annie, ‘was you,

I should cry to the dear Lord Jesus to help

me, for, Emmie, you see,

It’s all in the picture there: “Little children

should come to me”’–

Meaning the print that you gave us, I

find that it always can please

Our children, the dear Lord Jesus with

children about his knees.

‘Yes, and I will,’ said Emmie, ‘but then if

I call to the Lord,

How should he know that it’s me? such a

lot of beds in the ward!’

That was a puzzle for Annie. Again she

consider’d and said:

‘Emmie, you put out your arms, and you

leave ’em outside on the bed–

The Lord has so much to see to! but, Emmie,

you tell it him plain,

It’s the little girl with her arms lying out

on the counterpane.’


I had sat three nights by the child–I

could not watch her for four–

My brain had begun to reel–I felt I

could do it no more.

That was my sleeping-night, but I thought

that it never would pass.

There was a thunderclap once, and a clatter

of hail on the glass,

And there was a phantom cry that I heard

as I tost about,

The motherless bleat of a lamb in the

storm and the darkness without;

My sleep was broken besides with dreams

of the dreadful knife

And fears for our delicate Emmie who

scarce would escape with her life;

Then in the gray of the morning it seem’d

she stood by me and smiled,

And the doctor came at his hour, and we

went to see to the child.


He had brought his ghastly tools; we believed

her asleep again–

Her dear, long, lean, little arms lying out

on the counterpane–

Say that His day is done! Ah, why should

we care what they say?

The Lord of the children had heard her,

and Emmie had past away.

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