Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Children in the Wood
          Being a true relation of the inhuman murder of two children of a deceased gentleman in Norfolk, England, whom he left to the care of his brother; but the wicked uncle, in order to get the children’s estate, contrived to have them destroyed by two ruffians whom he hired for that purpose; with an account of the heavy judgments of God, which befell him, for this inhuman deed, and of the untimely end of the two bloody ruffians. To which is added a word of advice to executors, &c.

NOW ponder well, you parents dear,
  These words which I do write;
A doleful story you shall hear,
  In time, brought forth to light.
A gentleman of good account        5
  In Norfolk lived of late,
Whose fame and credit did surmount
  Most men of his estate.
So sick he was, and like to die,
  No help he then could have;        10
His wife by him as sick did lie,
  And both possess one grave.
No love between these two was lost,
  Each was to other kind;
In love they lived, in love they died,        15
  And left two babes behind;—
The one a fine and pretty boy,
  Not passing three years old;
The other a girl more young than he,
  And made of beauteous mould.        20
The father left his little son,
  As plainly doth appear,
When he to perfect age should come,
  Three hundreds pounds a year.
And to his little daughter Jane        25
  Two hundred pounds in gold,
For to be paid on marriage day,
  Which might not be controlled.
But, if these children chanced to die
  Ere they to age did come,        30
The uncle should possess the wealth;
  For so the will did run.
“Now, brother,” said the dying man,
  “Look to my children dear,
Be good unto my boy and girl:        35
  No friend else have I here.
“To God and you I do commend
  My children night and day:
A little while be sure we have
  Within this world to stay.        40
“You must be father, mother both,
  “And uncle, all in one;
God knows what will become of them
  When I am dead and gone.”
With that bespoke the mother dear,        45
  “O brother kind!” quoth she,
“You are the man must bring my babes
  To wealth or misery.
“If you do keep them carefully,
  Then God will you reward:        50
If otherwise you seem to deal,
  God will your deeds regard.”
With lips as cold as any stone,
  She kissed her children small;
“God bless you both, my children dear!”        55
  With that the tears did fall.
These speeches then the brother spoke
  To the sick couple there;
“The keeping of your children dear,
  Sweet sister, never fear.        60
“God never prosper me nor mine,
  Nor aught else that I have,
If I do wrong your children dear,
  When you’re laid in the grave.”
The parents being dead and gone,        65
  The children home he takes,
And brings them home unto his house,
  And much of them he makes.
He had not kept these pretty babes
  A twelvemonth and a day,        70
But for their wealth he did devise
  To make them both away.
He bargained with two ruffians rude,
  Who were of furious mood,
That they should take these children young,        75
  And slay them in a wood;
And told his wife and all he had,
  He did those children send,
To be brought up in fair London,
  With one that was his friend.        80
Away then went these pretty babes,
  Rejoicing at the tide,
And smiling with a merry mind,
  They on cock-horse should ride.
They prate and prattle pleasantly        85
  As they rode on the way,
To them that should their butchers be,
  And work their lives’ decay.
So that the pretty speech they had
  Made murderers’ hearts relent;        90
And they that took the deed to do,
  Full sore they did repent.
Yet one of them, more hard of heart,
  Did vow to do his charge,
Because the wretch that hired him        95
  Had paid him very large.
The other would not agree thereto,
  So here they fell in strife:
With one another they did fight
  About the children’s life.        100
And he that was of mildest mood
  Did slay the other there,
Within an unfrequented wood,
  Where babes do quake for fear.
He took the children by the hand,        105
  When tears stood in their eye,
And bid them come, and go with him,
  And see they did not cry.
And two long miles he led them thus,
  While they for bread complain;        110
“Stay here,” quoth he: “I’ll bring you bread
  When I do come again.”
These pretty babes, with hand in hand,
  Went wandering up and down;
But never more they saw the man        115
  Approaching from the town.
Their pretty lips with blackberries
  Were all besmeared and dyed;
But, when they saw the darksome night,
  They sat them down and cried.        120
Thus wandered these two little babes
  Till death did end their grief:
In one another’s arms they died,
  As babes wanting relief.
No burial these pretty babes        125
  Of any man receives;
But robin red-breast painfully
  Did cover them with leaves.
And now the heavy wrath of God
  Upon the uncle fell;        130
Yea, fearful fiends did haunt his house,
  His conscience felt a hell.
His barns were fired, his goods consumed,
  His lands were barren made;
His cattle died within the field,        135
  And nothing with him staid.
And in a voyage to Portugal,
  Two of his sons did die;
And to conclude, himself was brought
  Unto much misery.        140
He pawned and mortgaged all his lands
  Ere seven years came about;
And now at length, this wicked act
  By this means did come out:
The fellow that did take in hand        145
  These children for to kill
Was for a robbery judged to die,
  As was God’s blessed will.
Who did confess the very truth
  That is herein expressed:        150
The uncle died, where he, for debt,
  Did in the prison rest.

All ye who be executors made,
  And overseërs eke,
Of children that be fatherless,        155
  And infants mild and meek,
Take you example by this thing,
  And yield to each his right;
Lest God, by such like misery,
  Your wicked deeds requite.        160

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