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

John Sterling 1806–44

To a Child

DEAR child! whom sleep can hardly tame,

As live and beautiful as flame,

Thou glancest round my graver hours

As if thy crown of wild-wood flowers

Were not by mortal forehead worn,

But on the summer breeze were borne,

Or on a mountain streamlet’s waves

Came glistening down from dreamy caves.

With bright round cheek, amid whose glow

Delight and wonder come and go,

And eyes whose inward meanings play,

Congenial with the light of day,

And brow so calm, a home for Thought

Before he knows his dwelling wrought;

Though wise indeed thou seemest not,

Thou brightenest well the wise man’s lot.

That shout proclaims the undoubting mind,

That laughter leaves no ache behind;

And in thy look and dance of glee,

Unforced, unthought of, simply free,

How weak the schoolman’s formal art

Thy soul and body’s bliss to part!

I hail thee Childhood’s very Lord,

In gaze and glance, in voice and word.

In spite of all foreboding fear,

A thing thou art of present cheer;

And thus to be belov’d and known

As is a rushy fountain’s tone,

As is the forest’s leafy shade,

Or blackbird’s hidden serenade:

Thou art a flash that lights the whole;

A gush from Nature’s vernal soul.

And yet, dear Child! within thee lives

A power that deeper feeling gives,

That makes thee more than light or air,

Than all things sweet and all things fair;

And sweet and fair as aught may be,

Diviner life belongs to thee,

For ’mid thine aimless joys began

The perfect Heart and Will of Man.

Thus what thou art foreshows to me

How greater far thou soon shalt be;

And while amid thy garlands blow

The winds that warbling come and go,

Ever within not loud but clear

Prophetic murmur fills the ear,

And says that every human birth

Anew discloses God to earth.