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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Lettice White

By Jean Ingelow (1820–1897)

From ‘Supper at the Mill’

MY neighbor White—we met to-day—

He always had a cheerful way,

As if he breathed at ease;

My neighbor White lives down the glade,

And I live higher, in the shade

Of my old walnut-trees.

So many lads and lasses small,

To feed them all, to clothe them all,

Must surely tax his wit:

I see his thatch when I look out;

His branching roses creep about,

And vines half smother it.

There white-haired urchins climb his eaves,

And little watch-fires heap with leaves,

And milky filberts hoard;

And there his oldest daughter stands

With downcast eyes and skillful hands

Before her ironing-board.

She comforts all her mother’s days,

And with her sweet obedient ways

She makes her labor light;

So sweet to hear, so fair to see!

O, she is much too good for me,

That lovely Lettice White!

’Tis hard to feel one’s self a fool!

With that same lass I went to school—

I then was great and wise;

She read upon an easier book,

And I—I never cared to look

Into her shy blue eyes.

And now I know they must be there,

Sweet eyes, behind those lashes fair

That will not raise their rim:

If maids be shy, he cures who can;

But if a man be shy—a man—

Why then, the worse for him!

My mother cries, “For such a lad

A wife is easy to be had,

And always to be found;

A finer scholar scarce can be,

And for a foot and leg,” says she,

“He beats the country round!

“My handsome boy must stoop his head

To clear her door whom he would wed.”

Weak praise, but fondly sung!

“O mother! scholars sometimes fail—

And what can foot and leg avail

To him that wants a tongue?”

When by her ironing-board I sit,

Her little sisters round me flit,

And bring me forth their store;

Dark cluster grapes of dusty blue,

And small sweet apples, bright of hue

And crimson to the core.

But she abideth silent, fair;

All shaded by her flaxen hair

The blushes come and go:

I look, and I no more can speak

Than the red sun that on her cheek

Smiles as he lieth low.

Sometimes the roses by the latch

Or scarlet vine-leaves from her thatch

Come sailing down like birds;

When from their drifts her board I clear,

She thanks me, but I scarce can hear

The shyly uttered words.

Oft have I wooed sweet Lettice White

By daylight and by candlelight

When we two were apart.

Some better day come on apace,

And let me tell her face to face,

“Maiden, thou hast my heart.”

How gently rock yon poplars high

Against the reach of primrose sky

With heaven’s pale candles stored!

She sees them all, sweet Lettice White:

I’ll e’en go sit again to-night

Beside her ironing-board!