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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Sir Edmund William Gosse 1849–1928

Lying in the Grass


BETWEEN two golden tufts of summer grass,

I see the world through hot air as through glass,

And by my face sweet lights and colors pass.

Before me, dark against the fading sky,

I watch three mowers mowing, as I lie:

With brawny arms they sweep in harmony.

Brown English faces by the sun burnt red,

Rich glowing color on bare throat and head,

My heart would leap to watch them, were I dead!

And in my strong young living as I lie,

I seem to move with them in harmony,—

A fourth is mowing, and that fourth am I.

The music of the scythes that glide and leap,

The young men whistling as their great arms sweep,

And all the perfume and sweet sense of sleep,

The weary butterflies that droop their wings,

The dreamy nightingale that hardly sings,

And all the lassitude of happy things,

Are mingling with the warm and pulsing blood

That gushes through my veins a languid flood,

And feeds my spirit as the sap a bud.

Behind the mowers, on the amber air,

A dark-green beech wood rises, still and fair,

A white path winding up it like a stair.

And see that girl, with pitcher on her head,

And clean white apron on her gown of red,—

Her even-song of love is but half-said:

She waits the youngest mower. Now he goes;

Her cheeks are redder than a wild blush-rose:

They climb up where the deepest shadows close.

But though they pass, and vanish, I am there.

I watch his rough hands meet beneath her hair,

Their broken speech sounds sweet to me like prayer.

Ah! now the rosy children come to play,

And romp and struggle with the new-mown hay;

Their clear high voices sound from far away.

They know so little why the world is sad,

They dig themselves warm graves and yet are glad;

Their muffled screams and laughter make me mad!

I long to go and play among them there;

Unseen, like wind, to take them by the hair,

And gently make their rosy cheeks more fair.

The happy children! full of frank surprise,

And sudden whims and innocent ecstasies;

What godhead sparkles from their liquid eyes!

No wonder round those urns of mingled clays

That Tuscan potters fashioned in old days,

And colored like the torrid earth ablaze,

We find the little gods and loves portrayed,

Through ancient forests wandering undismayed,

And fluting hymns of pleasure unafraid.

They knew, as I do now, what keen delight

A strong man feels to watch the tender flight

Of little children playing in his sight;

What pure sweet pleasure, and what sacred love,

Come drifting down upon us from above,

In watching how their limbs and features move.

I do not hunger for a well-stored mind;

I only wish to live my life, and find

My heart in unison with all mankind.

My life is like the single dewy star

That trembles on the horizon’s primrose-bar,—

A microcosm where all things living are.

And if, among the noiseless grasses, Death

Should come behind and take away my breath,

I should not rise as one who sorroweth;

For I should pass, but all the world would be

Full of desire and young delight and glee,

And why should men be sad through loss of me?

The light is flying; in the silver-blue

The young moon shines from her bright window through:

The mowers are all gone, and I go too.