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

William Sharp 1855–1905

The Death-Child


SHE sits beneath the elder-tree

And sings her song so sweet,

And dreams o’er the burn that darksomely

Runs by her moonwhite feet.

Her hair is dark as starless night,

Her flower-crowned face is pale,

But oh, her eyes are lit with light

Of dread ancestral bale.

She sings an eerie song, so wild

With immemorial dule—

Though young and fair, Death’s mortal child

That sits by that dark pool.

And oft she cries an eldritch scream,

When red with human blood

The burn becomes a crimson stream,

A wild, red, surging flood:

Or shrinks, when some swift tide of tears—

The weeping of the world—

Dark eddying ’neath man’s phantom-fears

Is o’er the red stream hurled.

For hours beneath the elder-tree

She broods beside the stream;

Her dark eyes filled with mystery,

Her dark soul rapt in dream.

The lapsing flow she heedeth not

Through deepest depths she scans:

Life is the shade that clouds her thought,

As Death ’s the eclipse of man’s.

Time seems but as a bitter thing

Remembered from of yore:

Yet ah (she thinks) her song she ’ll sing

When Time’s long reign is o’er.

Erstwhiles she bends alow to hear

What the swift water sings,

The torrent running darkly clear

With secrets of all things.

And then she smiles a strange sad smile

And lets her harp lie long;

The death-waves oft may rise the while,

She greets them with no song.

Few ever cross that dreary moor,

Few see that flower-crowned head;

But whoso knows that wild song’s lure

Knoweth that he is dead.