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

Charles Stuart Calverley 1831–84

On the Brink


I WATCH’D her as she stoop’d to pluck

A wild flower 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,

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 shouldn’t;

And thought that I would chide, and then

I thought I would n’t.

Few could have gaz’d upon that face,

Those pouting coral lips, and chided:

A Rhadamanthus, in my place,

Had done as I did.

For wrath with which our bosoms glow

Is chain’d there oft by Beauty’s spell;

And, more than that, I did not know

The widow well.

So the harsh phrase pass’d unreprov’d:

Still mute—(O brothers, was it sin?)—

I drank, unutterably mov’d,

Her beauty in.

And to myself I murmur’d low,

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,

That I already was almost

A finish’d coon.

But when she caught adroitly up

And sooth’d with smiles her little daughter;

And gave it, if I ’m right, a sup

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;

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,—

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:

“They err who marry wives that make

Those little slips.”

It came like some familiar rhyme,

Some copy to my boyhood set;

And that ’s perhaps the reason I’m

Unmarried yet.

Would she have own’d how pleas’d she was,

And told her love with widow’s pride?

I never found out that, because

I never tried.

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.