Once in a lonely hamlet I sojourned
In which a Lady driven from France did dwell;
The big and lesser griefs with which she mourned,
In friendship she to me would often tell.
This Lady, dwelling upon British ground,
Where she was childless, daily would repair
To a poor neighbouring cottage; as I found,
For sake of a young Child whose home was there.
Once having seen her clasp with fond embrace
This Child, I chanted to myself a lay,
Endeavouring, in our English tongue, to trace
Such things as she unto the Babe might say:
And thus, from what I heard and knew, or guessed,
My song the workings of her heart expressed.
“Dear Babe, thou daughter of another,
One moment let me be thy mother!
An infant’s face and looks are thine,
And sure a mother’s heart is mine:
Thy own dear mother’s far away,
At labour in the harvest field:
Thy little sister is at play;
What warmth, what comfort would it yield
To my poor heart, if thou wouldst be
One little hour a child to me!
“Across the waters I am come,
And I have left a babe at home:
A long, long way of land and sea!
Come to me, I’m no enemy:
I am the same who at thy side
Sate yesterday, and made a nest
For thee, sweet Baby! thou hast tried,
Thou know’st the pillow of my breast;
Good, good art thou: alas! to me
Far more than I can be to thee.
“Here, little Darling, dost thou lie;
An infant thou, a mother I!
Mine wilt thou be, thou hast no fears;
Mine art thou, spite of these my tears.
Alas! before I left the spot,
My baby and its dwelling-place;
The nurse said to me, ‘Tears should not
Be shed upon an infant’s face,
It was unlucky’ no, no, no;
No truth is in them who say so!
“My own dear Little-one will sigh,
Sweet Babe! and they will let him die.
‘He pines,’ they’ll say, ‘it is his doom,
And you may see his hour is come.’
Oh! had he but thy cheerful smiles,
Limbs stout as thine, and lips as gay,
Thy looks, thy cunning, and thy wiles,
And countenance like a summer’s day,
They would have hopes of him; and then
I should behold his face again!
“‘Tis gone, like dreams that we forget;
There was a smile or two, yet, yet
I can remember them, I see
The smiles, worth all the world to me.
Dear Baby! I must lay thee down;
Thou troublest me with strange alarms;
Smiles hast thou, bright ones of thy own;
I cannot keep thee in my arms;
For they confound me; where, where is
That last, that sweetest smile of his?
“Oh! how I love thee! we will stay
Together here this one half day.
My sister’s child, who bears my name,
From France to sheltering England came;
She with her mother crossed the sea;
The babe and mother near me dwell:
Yet does my yearning heart to thee
Turn rather, though I love her well:
Rest, little Stranger, rest thee here!
Never was any child more dear!
“I cannot help it; ill intent
I’ve none, my pretty Innocent!
I weep, I know they do thee wrong,
These tears, and my poor idle tongue.
Oh, what a kiss was that! my cheek
How cold it is! but thou art good;
Thine eyes are on me, they would speak,
I think, to help me if they could.
Blessings upon that soft, warm face,
My heart again is in its place!
“While thou art mine, my little Love,
This cannot be a sorrowful grove;
Contentment, hope, and mother’s glee,
I seem to find them all in thee:
Here’s grass to play with, here are flowers;
I’ll call thee by my darling’s name;
Thou hast, I think, a look of ours,
Thy features seem to me the same;
His little sister thou shalt be;
And, when once more my home I see,
I’ll tell him many tales of Thee.”
Painting, A peasant woman digging in front of her cottage, Vincent Van Gogh.