Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
From Sister Songs
By Francis Thompson (1859–1907)

        A KISS? for a child’s kiss?
        Aye, goddess, even for this.
    Once, bright Sylviola! in days not far,
Once—in that nightmare-time which still doth haunt
My dreams, a grim, unbidden visitant—        5
        Forlorn, and faint, and stark,
I had endured through watches of the dark
    The abashless inquisition of each star,
Yea, was the outcast mark
        Of all those heavenly passers’ scrutiny;        10
        Stood bound and helplessly
For Time to shoot his barbéd minutes at me;
Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour
        In night’s slow-wheeléd car;
    Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length        15
    From under the dread wheels; and, bled of strength,
      I waited the inevitable last.
        Then came there past
A child; like thee, a spring-flower; but a flower
Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring,        20
And through the city-streets blown withering!—
And of her own scant pittance did she give,
        That I might eat and live;
Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive.
        Therefore I kissed in thee        25
The heart of childhood, so divine for me;
        And her, through what sore ways,
        And what unchildish days,
Borne from me now, as then, a trackless fugitive.
        Therefore I kissed in thee        30
        Her, child! and innocency,
And spring, and all things that have gone from me,
        And that shall never be;
All vanished hopes, and all most hopeless bliss,
        Came with thee to my kiss.        35
And ah! so long myself had strayed afar
From child and woman, and the boon earth’s green,
And all wherewith life’s face is fair beseen;
        Journeying its journey bare
Five suns, except of the all-kissing sun        40
        Unkissed of one;
        Almost I had forgot
        The healing harms,
And whitest witchery, a-lurk in that
Authentic cestus of two girdling arms;        45
        And I remembered not
    The subtle sanctities which dart
From childish lips’ unvalued precious brush,
Nor how it makes the sudden lilies push
    Between the loosening fibres of the heart.        50
        Then, that thy little kiss
        Should be to me all this,
Let workaday wisdom blink sage lids thereat;
Which towers a flight three hedgerows high, poor bat!
    And straightway charts me out the empyreal air.        55
Its chart I wing not by, its canon of worth
Scorn not, nor reck though mine should breed it mirth;
And howso thou and I may be disjoint,
Yet still my falcon spirit makes her point
        Over the covert where        60
Thou, sweetest quarry, hast put in from her!

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