Henry, Aged Eight Years.

A poem by Jean Ingelow

Yellow leaves, how fast they flutter - woodland hollows thickly strewing,
Where the wan October sunbeams scantly in the mid-day win,
While the dim gray clouds are drifting, and in saddened hues imbuing
All without and all within!

All within! but winds of autumn, little Henry, round their dwelling
Did not load your father's spirit with those deep and burdened sighs; -
Only echoed thoughts of sadness, in your mother's bosom swelling,
Fast as tears that dim her eyes.

Life is fraught with many changes, checked with sorrow and mutation,
But no grief it ever lightened such a truth before to know: -
I behold them - father, mother - as they seem to contemplation,
Only three short weeks ago!

Saddened for the morrow's parting - up the stairs at midnight stealing -
As with cautious foot we glided past the children's open door, -
"Come in here," they said, the lamplight dimpled forms at last revealing,
"Kiss them in their sleep once more."

You were sleeping, little Henry, with your eyelids scarcely closing,
Two sweet faces near together, with their rounded arms entwined: -
And the rose-bud lips were moving, as if stirred in their reposing
By the movements of the mind!

And your mother smoothed the pillow, and her sleeping treasures numbered,
Whispering fondly - "He is dreaming" - as you turned upon your bed -
And your father stooped to kiss you, happy dreamer, as you slumbered,
With his hand upon your head!

Did he know the true deep meaning of his blessing? No! he never
Heard afar the summons uttered - "Come up hither" - Never knew
How the awful Angel faces kept his sleeping boy for ever,
And for ever in their view.

Awful Faces, unimpassioned, silent Presences were by us,
Shrouding wings - majestic beings - hidden by this earthly veil -
Such as we have called on, saying, "Praise the Lord, O Ananias,
Azarias and Misael!"

But we saw not, and who knoweth, what the missioned Spirits taught him,
To that one small bed drawn nearer, when we left him to their will?
While he slumbered, who can answer for what dreams they may have brought him,
When at midnight all was still?

Father! Mother! must you leave him on his bed, but not to slumber?
Are the small hands meekly folded on his breast, but not to pray?
When you count your children over, must you tell a different number,
Since that happier yesterday?

Father! Mother! weep if need be, since this is a "time" for weeping,
Comfort comes not for the calling, grief is never argued down -
Coldly sounds the admonition, "Why lament? in better keeping
Rests the child than in your own."

"Truth indeed! but, oh! compassion! Have you sought to scan my sorrow?"
(Mother, you shall meekly ponder, list'ning to that common tale)
"Does your heart repeat its echo, or by fellow-feeling borrow
Even a tone that might avail?

"Might avail to steal it from me, by its deep heart-warm affection?
Might perceive by strength of loving how the fond words to combine?
Surely no! I will be silent, in your soul is no reflection
Of the care that burdens mine!"

When the winter twilight gathers, Father, and your thoughts shall wander,
Sitting lonely you shall blend him with your listless reveries,
Half forgetful what division holds the form whereon you ponder
From its place upon your knees -

With a start of recollection, with a half-reproachful wonder,
Of itself the heart shall question, "Art Thou then no longer here?
Is it so, my little Henry? Are we set so far asunder
Who were wont to be so near?"

While the fire-light dimly flickers, and the lengthened shades are meeting,
To itself the heart shall answer, "He shall come to me no more:
I shall never hear his footsteps nor the child's sweet voice entreating
For admission at my door."

But upon your fair, fair forehead, no regrets nor griefs are dwelling,
Neither sorrow nor disquiet do the peaceful features know;
Nor that look, whose wistful beauty seemed their sad hearts to be telling,
"Daylight breaketh, let me go!"

Daylight breaketh, little Henry; in its beams your soul awaketh -
What though night should close around us, dim and dreary to the view -
Though our souls should walk in darkness, far away that morning breaketh
Into endless day for you!

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