Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Georgian Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Georgian Verse.  1909.
On an Infant Dying As Soon As Born
By Charles Lamb (1775–1834)
I SAW 1 where in the shroud did lurk
A curious frame of Nature’s work;
A floweret crush’d in the bud,
A nameless piece of Babyhood,
Was in a craddle-coffin lying;        5
Extinct, with scarce the sense of dying:
So soon to exchange the imprisoning womb
For darker closets of the tomb!
She did but ope an eye, and put
A clear beam forth, then straight up shut        10
For the long dark: ne’er more to see
Through glasses of mortality.
  Riddle of destiny, who can show
What thy short visit meant, or know
What thy errand here below?        15
Shall we say, that Nature blind
Check’d her hand, and changed her mind,
Just when she had exactly wrought
A finished pattern without fault?
Could she flag, or could she tire,        20
Or lack’d she the Promethean fire
(With her nine moons’ long workings sicken’d)
That should thy little limbs have quicken’d?
Limbs so firm, they seem’d to assure
Life of health, and days mature:        25
Woman’s self in miniature!
Limbs so fair, they might supply
(Themselves now but cold imagery)
The sculptor to make Beauty by.
Or did the stem-eyed Fate descry        30
That babe, or mother, one must die;
So in mercy left the stock
And cut the branch; to save the shock
Of young years widow’d, and the pain
When single state comes back again        35
To the lone man who, reft of wife,
Thenceforward drags a mainèd life?
The economy of Heaven is dark,
And wisest clerks have miss’d the mark,
Why Human Buds, like this, should fall,        40
More brief than fly ephemeral
That has his day; while shrivell’d crones
Stiffen with age to stocks and stones;
And crabbèd use the conscience sears
In sinners of an hundred years.        45
  Mother’s prattle, mother’s kiss,
Baby fond, thou ne’er wilt miss:
Rites, which custom does impose,
Silver bells, and baby clothes;
Coral redder than those lips        50
Which pale death did late eclipse;
Music framed for infants’ glee,
Whistle never tuned for thee;
Though thou want’st not, thou shalt have them,
Loving hearts were they which gave them.        55
Let not one be missing; nurse,
See them laid upon the hearse
Of infant slain by doom perverse.
Why should kings and nobles have
Pictured trophies to their grave,        60
And we, churls, to thee deny
Thy pretty toys with thee to lie—
A more harmless vanity?
Note 1. This poem was inspired by the death of Thomas Hood’s first-born child, and printed in The Gem, 1829. In W. C. Hazlitt’s The Lambs, 1897, the following note is printed which was sent by Lamb to Hood at the time of the child’s death: “Dearest Hood,—Your news has spoiled us a merry meeting. Miss Kelly and we were coming, but your note elicited a flood of tears from Mary, and I saw she was not fit for a party. God bless you and the mother (or should be the mother) of your sweet girl that should have been. I have won sexpence of Moxon by the sex of the dear one,—Yours most truly and hers, C. L.” [back]

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