Grandmother's Spring.

A poem by Juliana Horatia Ewing

"In my young days," the grandmother said (Nodding her head,
Where cap and curls were as white as snow),
"In my young days, when we used to go
Rambling,
Scrambling;
Each little dirty hand in hand,
Like a chain of daisies, a comical band
Of neighbours' children, seriously straying,
Really and truly going a-Maying,
My mother would bid us linger,
And lifting a slender, straight forefinger,
Would say--
'Little Kings and Queens of the May,
Listen to me!
If you want to be
Every one of you very good
In that beautiful, beautiful, beautiful wood,
Where the little birds' heads get so turned with delight,
That some of them sing all night:
Whatever you pluck,
Leave some for good luck;
Picked from the stalk, or pulled up by the root,
From overhead, or from underfoot,
Water-wonders of pond or brook;
Wherever you look,
And whatever you find--
Leave something behind:
Some for the Naïads,
Some for the Dryads,
And a bit for the Nixies, and the Pixies.'"

"After all these years," the grandame said,
Lifting her head,
"I think I can hear my mother's voice
Above all other noise,
Saying, 'Hearken, my child!
There is nothing more destructive and wild,
No wild bull with his horns,
No wild-briar with clutching thorns,
No pig that routs in your garden-bed,
No robber with ruthless tread,
More reckless and rude,
And wasteful of all things lovely and good,
Than a child, with the face of a boy and the ways of a bear,
Who doesn't care;
Or some little ignorant minx
Who never thinks.
Now I never knew so stupid an elf,
That he couldn't think and care for himself.
Oh, little sisters and little brothers,
Think for others, and care for others!
And of all that your little fingers find,
Leave something behind,
For love of those that come after:
Some, perchance, to cool tired eyes in the moss that stifled your laughter!
Pluck, children, pluck!
But leave--for good luck--
Some for the Naïads,
And some for the Dryads,
And a bit for the Nixies, and the Pixies!'"

"We were very young," the grandmother said,
Smiling and shaking her head;
"And when one is young,
One listens with half an ear, and speaks with a hasty tongue;
So with shouted Yeses,
And promises sealed with kisses,
Hand-in-hand we started again,
A chubby chain,
Stretching the whole wide width of the lane;
Or in broken links of twos and threes,
For greater ease
Of rambling,
And scrambling,
By the stile and the road,
That goes to the beautiful, beautiful wood;
By the brink of the gloomy pond,
To the top of the sunny hill beyond,
By hedge and by ditch, by marsh and by mead,
By little byways that lead
To mysterious bowers;
Or to spots where, for those who know,
There grow,
In certain out-o'-way nooks, rare ferns and uncommon flowers.
There were flowers everywhere,
Censing the summer air,
Till the giddy bees went rolling home
To their honeycomb,
And when we smelt at our posies,
The little fairies inside the flowers rubbed coloured dust on our noses,
Or pricked us till we cried aloud for snuffing the dear dog-roses.
But above all our noise,
I kept thinking I heard my mother's voice.
But it may have been only a fairy joke,
For she was at home, and I sometimes thought it was really the flowers that spoke.
From the Foxglove in its pride,
To the Shepherd's Purse by the bare road-side;
From the snap-jack heart of the Starwort frail,
To meadows full of Milkmaids pale,
And Cowslips loved by the nightingale.
Rosette of the tasselled Hazel-switch,
Sky-blue star of the ditch;
Dandelions like mid-day suns;
Bindweed that runs;
Butter and Eggs with the gaping lips,
Sweet Hawthorn that hardens to haws, and Roses that die into hips;
Lords-with-their-Ladies cheek-by-jowl,
In purple surcoat and pale-green cowl;
Family groups of Primroses fair;
Orchids rare;
Velvet Bee-orchis that never can sting,
Butterfly-orchis which never takes wing,
Robert-the-Herb with strange sweet scent,
And crimson leaf when summer is spent:
Clustering neighbourly,
All this gay company,
Said to us seemingly--
'Pluck, children, pluck!
But leave some for good luck:
Some for the Naïads,
Some for the Dryads,
And a bit for the Nixies, and the Pixies,'"

"I was but a maid," the grandame said,
"When my mother was dead;
And many a time have I stood.
In that beautiful wood,
To dream that through every woodland noise,
Through the cracking
Of twigs and the bending of bracken,
Through the rustling
Of leaves in the breeze,
And the bustling
Of dark-eyed, tawny-tailed squirrels flitting about the trees,
Through the purling and trickling cool
Of the streamlet that feeds the pool,
I could hear her voice.
Should I wonder to hear it? Why?
Are the voices of tender wisdom apt to die?
And now, though I'm very old,
And the air, that used to feel fresh, strikes chilly and cold,
On a sunny day when I potter
About the garden, or totter
To the seat from whence I can see, below,
The marsh and the meadows I used to know,
Bright with the bloom of the flowers that blossomed there long ago;
Then, as if it were yesterday,
I fancy I hear them say--
'Pluck, children, pluck,
But leave some for good luck;
Picked from the stalk, or pulled up by the root,
From overhead, or from underfoot,
Water-wonders of pond or brook;
Wherever you look,
And whatever your little fingers find,
Leave something behind:
Some for the Naïads,
And some for the Dryads,
And a bit for the Nixies, and the Pixies.'"


The following note was given in Aunt Judy's Magazine, June 1880, when "Grandmother's Spring" first appeared:--"It may interest old readers of Aunt Judy's Magazine to know that 'Leave some for the Naïads and the Dryads' was a favourite phrase with Mr. Alfred Gatty, and is not merely the charge of an imaginary mother to her 'blue-eyed banditti.' Whether my mother invented the expression for our benefit, or whether she only quoted it, I do not know. I only remember its use as a check on the indiscriminate 'collecting' and 'grubbing' of a large family; a mystic warning not without force to fetter the same fingers in later life, with all the power of a pious tradition."--J.H.E.

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