Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
On the Brink
Charles Stuart Calverley (1831–84)
I WATCH’D her as she stoop’d to pluck
  A wild flower in her hair to twine;
And wish’d that it had been my luck
        To call her mine;
Anon I heard her rate with mad,        5
  Mad words her babe within its cot,
And felt particularly glad
        That it had not.
I knew (such subtle brains have men!)
  That she was uttering what she shouldn’t;        10
And thought that I would chide, and then
        I thought I would n’t.
Few could have gaz’d upon that face,
  Those pouting coral lips, and chided:
A Rhadamanthus, in my place,        15
        Had done as I did.
For wrath with which our bosoms glow
  Is chain’d there oft by Beauty’s spell;
And, more than that, I did not know
        The widow well.        20
So the harsh phrase pass’d unreprov’d:
  Still mute—(O brothers, was it sin?)—
I drank, unutterably mov’d,
        Her beauty in.
And to myself I murmur’d low,        25
  As on her upturn’d face and dress
The moonlight fell, “Would she say No,—
        By chance, or Yes?”
She stood so calm, so like a ghost,
  Betwixt me and that magic moon,        30
That I already was almost
        A finish’d coon.
But when she caught adroitly up
  And sooth’d with smiles her little daughter;
And gave it, if I ’m right, a sup        35
        Of barley-water;
And, crooning still the strange, sweet lore
  Which only mothers’ tongues can utter,
Snow’d with deft hand the sugar o’er
        Its bread-and-butter;        40
And kiss’d it clingingly (ah, why
  Don’t women do these things in private?)—
I felt that if I lost her, I
        Should not survive it.
And from my mouth the words nigh flew,—        45
  The past, the future, I forgat ’em,—
“Oh, if you ’d kiss me as you do
        That thankless atom!”
But this thought came ere yet I spake,
  And froze the sentence on my lips:        50
“They err who marry wives that make
        Those little slips.”
It came like some familiar rhyme,
  Some copy to my boyhood set;
And that ’s perhaps the reason I’m        55
        Unmarried yet.
Would she have own’d how pleas’d she was,
  And told her love with widow’s pride?
I never found out that, because
        I never tried.        60
Be kind to babes and beasts and birds,
  Hearts may be hard though lips are coral;
And angry words are angry words:
        And that ’s the moral.


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