Verse > Anthologies > Fuess and Stearns, eds. > The Little Book of Society Verse
Fuess and Stearns, comps.  The Little Book of Society Verse.  1922.
On the Brink
By Charles Stuart Calverley
I WATCH’D her as she stoop’d to pluck
  A wildflower 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 should n’t;        10
And thought that I would chide, and then
            I thought I would n’t.
Who could have gazed upon that face,
  Those pouting coral lips, and chided?
A Rhadamanthus, in my place,        15
            Had done as I did:
For ire wherewith 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 unreproved.
  Still mute—(O brothers, was it sin?)—
I drank, unutterably moved,
            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 soothed 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
            These 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 pleased 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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