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Poems by Katherine Mansfield

Poems : 1917–1919

Poems : 1917–1919

page break page 59

Night-Scented Stock

White, white in the milky night
The moon danced over a tree.
“Wouldn't it be lovely to swim in the lake !”
Someone whispered to me.

“Oh, do-do-do !” cooed someone else,
And clasped her hands to her chin.
“I should so love to see the white bodies-
All the white bodies jump in !”

The big dark house hid secretly
Behind the magnolia and the spreading pear-tree,
But there was a sound of music—music rippled and ran
Like a lady laughing behind her fan,
Laughing and mocking and running away …
“Come into the garden—it's as light as day !”

“I can't dance to that Hungarian stuff,
The rhythm in it is not passionate enough,”
Said somebody. “I absolutely refuse…”
But he took off his socks and his shoes
And round he spun. “It's like Hungarian fruit dishes
Hard and bright—a mechanical blue !”

page 60

His white feet flicked in the grass like fishes …
Someone cried : “I want to dance, too !”

But one with a queer Russian ballet head
Curled up on a blue wooden bench instead.
And another, shadowy—shadowy and tall—
Walked in the shadow of the dark house wall,
Someone beside her. It shone in the gloom,
His round grey hat, like a wet mushroom.

“Don't you think, perhaps … ?” piped someone's flute …
“How sweet the flowers smell!” I heard the other say—
Somebody picked a wet, wet pink
Smelled it and threw it away.

“Is the moon a virgin or is she a harlot ?”
Asked somebody. Nobody would tell.
The faces and the hands moved in a pattern
As the music rose and fell,
In a dancing, mysterious, moon-bright pattern
Like flowers nodding under the sea …

The music stopped and there was nothing left of them
But the moon dancing over the tree.


page 61

Now I am a Plant, a Weed …

Now I am a plant, a weed,
Bending and swinging
On a rocky ledge;
And now I am a long brown grass
Fluttering like flame;
I am a reed;
An old shell singing
For ever the same;
A drift of sedge;
A white, white stone;
A bone;
Until I pass
Into sand again,
And spin and blow
To and fro, to and fro,
On the edge of the sea
In the fading light—
For the light fades.

But if you were to come you would not say :
“She is not waiting here for me;
She has forgotten.” Have we not in play
Disguised ourselves as weed and stones and grass
While the strange ships did pass
Gently, gravely, leaving a curl of foam
page 62 That uncurled softly about our island home …
Bubbles of foam that glittered on the stone
Like rainbows ? Look, darling ! No, they are gone.
And the white sails have melted into the sailing sky. …


page 63

There is a Solemn Wind To-Night

There is a solemn wind to-night
That sings of solemn rain;
The trees that have been quiet so long
Flutter and start again.

The slender trees, the heavy trees,
The fruit trees laden and proud,
Lift up their branches to the wind
That cries to them so loud.

The little bushes and the plants
Bow to the solemn sound,
And every tiniest blade of grass
Shakes on the quiet ground.


page 64

Out in the Garden

Out in the garden,
Out in the windy, swinging dark,
Under the trees and over the flower-beds,
Over the grass and under the hedge border,
Someone is sweeping, sweeping,
Some old gardener.
Out in the windy, swinging dark,
Someone is secretly putting in order,
Someone is creeping, creeping.


page 65

Fairy Tale

Now folds the Tree of Day its perfect flowers,
And every bloom becomes a bud again,
Shut and sealed up against the golden showers
Of bees that hover in the velvet hours. …
Now a strain
Wild and mournful blown from shadow towers,
Echoed from shadow ships upon the foam,
Proclaims the Queen of Night.
From their bowers
The dark Princesses fluttering, wing their flight
To their old Mother, in her huge old home.


page 66

Covering Wings

Love! Love! Your tenderness,
Your beautiful, watchful ways
Grasp me, fold me, cover me;
I lie in a kind of daze,
Neither asleep nor yet awake,
Neither a bud nor flower.
Brings to-morrow
Joy or sorrow,
The black or the golden hour?

Love! Love! You pity me so!
Chide me, scold me—cry,
“Submit—submit! You must not fight!
What may I do, then? Die?
But, oh, my horror of quiet beds !
How can I longer stay!
One to be ready,
Two to be steady,
Three to be off and away!

Darling heart—your gravity!
Your sorrowful, mournful gaze—
“Two bleached roads lie under the moon,
At the parting of the ways.”
But the tiny, tree-thatched, narrow lane,
Isn't it yours and mine?
page 67 The blue-bells ring
Hey, ding-a-ding, ding!
And buds are thick on the vine.

Love! Love! grief of my heart!
As a tree droops over a stream
You hush me, lull me, darken me,
The shadow hiding the gleam.
Your drooping and tragical boughs of grace
Are heavy as though with rain.
Run! Run!
Into the sun!
Let us be children again.


page 68


Playing in the fire and twilight together,
My little son and I,
Suddenly—woefully—I stoop to catch him.
“Try, mother, try!”
Old Nurse Silence lifts a silent finger:
“Hush! cease your play!”
What happened? What in that tiny moment
Flew away?


page 69

Sorrowing Love

And again the flowers are come
And the light shakes,
And no tiny voice is dumb,
And a bud breaks
On the humble bush and the proud restless tree.
Come with me!

Look, this little flower is pink,
And this one white.
Here's a pearl cup for your drink,
Here's for your delight
A yellow one, sweet with honey,
Here's fairy money
Silver bright
Scattered over the grass
As we pass.

Here's moss. How the smell of it lingers
On my cold fingers!
You shall have no moss. Here's a frail
Hyacinth, deathly pale.
Not for you, not for you!
And the place where they grew
You must promise me not to discover,
My sorrowful lover!
page 70 Shall we never be happy again?
Never again play?
In vain—in vain!
Come away!


page 71

A Little Girl's Prayer

Grant me the moment, the lovely moment
That I may lean forth to see
The other buds, the other blooms,
The other leaves on the tree:

That I may take into my bosom
The breeze that is like his brother,
But stiller, lighter, whose faint laughter
Echoes the joy of the other.

Above on the blue and white cloud-spaces
There are small clouds at play.
I watch their remote, mysterious play-time
In the other far-away.

Grant I may hear the small birds singing
The song that the silence knows …
(The Light and the Shadow whisper together,
The lovely moment grows,

Ripples into the air like water
Away and away without sound,
And the little girl gets up from her praying
On the cold ground.)


page 72

The Wounded Bird

In the wide bed
Under the green embroidered quilt
With flowers and leaves always in soft motion
She is like a wounded bird resting on a pool.

The hunter threw his dart
And hit her breast,—
Hit her but did not kill.
“O my wings, lift me—lift me!
I am not dreadfully hurt!”
Down she dropped and was still.

Kind people come to the edge of the pool with baskets.
“Of course what the poor bird wants is plenty of food!”
Their bags and pockets are crammed almost to bursting
With dinner scrapings and scraps from the servants' lunch.
Oh! how pleased they are to be really giving!
“In the past, you know you know, you were always so fly-away.
So seldom came to the window-sill, so rarely
Shared the delicious crumbs thrown into the yard.

page 73

Here is a delicate fragment and here a tit-bit
As good as new. And here's a morsel of relish
And cake and bread and bread and bread and bread.”

At night, in the wide bed
With the leaves and flowers
Gently weaving in the darkness,
She is like a wounded bird at rest on a pool.
Timidly, timidly she lifts her head from her wing.
In the sky there are two stars
Floating, shining …
O waters—do not cover me!
I would look long and long at those beautiful stars!
O my wings—lift me—lift me!
I am not so dreadfully hurt …


page 74

A Sunset

A beam of light was shaken out of the sky
On to the brimming tide, and there it lay,
Palely tossing like a creature condemned to die
Who has loved the bright day.

Ah, who are these that wing through the shadowy air?
She cries, in agony. Are they coming for me?
The big waves croon to her: Hush now!
There, now, there!
There is nothing to see.

But her white arms lift to cover her shining head,
And she presses close to the waves to make herself small.
On their listless knees the beam of light lies dead,
And the birds of shadow fall.


page 75

Old-Fashioned Widow's Song

She handed me a gay bouquet
Of roses pulled in the rain,
Delicate beauties, frail and cold—
Could roses heal my pain?

She smiled: “Ah, c'est un triste temps!”
I laughed and answered “Yes,”
Pressing the roses in my palms.
How could the roses guess?

She sang: “Madame est seule?” Her eye
Snapped like a rain-washed berry.
How could the solemn roses tell
Which of us was more merry?

She turned to go: she stopped to chat;
“Adieu!” at last she cried.
“Mille mercis pour ces jolies fleurs!” …
At that the roses died.

The petals drooped, the petals fell,
The leaves hung crisped and curled.
And I stood holding my dead bouquet
In a dead world.


page break
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Child Verses: 1907

page break page 79

A Fairy Tale

Now this is the story of Olaf
Who ages and ages ago
Lived right on the top of a mountain,
A mountain all covered with snow.

And he was quite pretty and tiny
With beautiful curling fair hair
And small hands like delicate flowers—
Cheeks kissed by the cold mountain air.

He lived in a hut made of pinewood,
Just one little room and a door,
A table, a chair, and a bedstead
And animal skins on the floor.

Now Olaf was partly a fairy
And so never wanted to eat,
He thought dewdrops and raindrops were plenty
And snowflakes and all perfumes sweet.

In the daytime when sweeping and dusting
And cleaning were quite at an end,
He would sit very still on the doorstep
And dream—Oh, that he had a friend!

page 80

Somebody to come when he called them,
Somebody to catch by the hand,
Somebody to sleep with at night time,
Somebody who'd quite understand.

One night in the middle of Winter
He lay wide awake on his bed,
Outside there was fury of tempest
And calling of wolves to be fed—

Thin wolves, grey and silent as shadows;
And Olaf was frightened to death.
He had peeped through a crack in the doorpost,
He had seen the white smoke of their breath.

But suddenly over the storm wind
He heard a small voice pleadingly
Cry, “I am a snow fairy, Olaf,
Unfasten the window for me.”

So he did, and there flew through the opening
The daintiest, prettiest sprite;
Her face and her dress and her stockings,
Her hands and her curls were all white.

page 81

And she said, “O you poor little stranger
Before I am melted, you know,
I have brought you a valuable present,
A little brown fiddle and bow.

So now you can never be lonely,
With a fiddle, you see, for a friend,
But all through the Summer and Winter
Play beautiful songs without end.”

And then,—O she melted like water,
But Olaf was happy at last;
The fiddle he tucked in his shoulder,
He held his small bow very fast.

So perhaps on the quietest of evenings
If you listen, you may hear him soon,
The child who is playing the fiddle
Away up in the cold, lonely moon.

page 82


The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child
Walked out into the street
And splashed in all the puddles till
She had such shocking feet.

The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child
Stayed quietly in the house
And sat upon the fender stool
As still as any mouse.

The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child,
Her hands were black as ink;
She would come running through the house
And begging for a drink.

The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child,
Her hands were white as snow;
She did not like to play around,
She only liked to sew.

The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child
Lost hair ribbons galore;
She dropped them on the garden walks,
She dropped them on the floor.

The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child,
O thoughtful little girl!
page 83 She liked to walk quite soberly,
It kept her hair in curl.

The Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child
When she was glad or proud
Just flung her arms round Mother's neck
And kissed her very loud.

The Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child
Was shocked at such a sight,
She only offered you her cheek
At morning and at night.

O Half-Soled-Boots-With-Toecaps-Child,
Your happy laughing face
Does like a scented Summer rose
Make sweet the dullest place.

O Patent-Leather-Slipper-Child,
My dear, I'm well content,
To have my daughter in my arms,
And not an ornament.

page 84

Song of Karen, the Dancing Child

(O little white feet of mine)
Out in the storm and the rain you fly;
(Red, red shoes the colour of wine)
Can the children hear my cry?

(O little white feet of mine)
Never a child in the whole great town;
(Red, red shoes the colour of wine)
Lights out and the blinds pulled down.

(O little white feet of mine)
Never a light on a window pane,
(Red, red shoes the colour of wine)
And the wild wet cry of the rain.

(O little white feet of mine)
Shall I never again be still?
(Red, red shoes the colour of wine)
And away over valley and hill.

(O little white feet of mine)
Children, children, open the door!
(Red, red shoes the colour of wine)
And the wind shrieks Nevermore.

page 85

A Joyful Song of Five

Come, let us all sing very high
And all sing very loud
And keep on singing in the street
Until there's quite a crowd;

And keep on singing in the house
And up and down the stairs;
Then underneath the furniture
Let's all play Polar bears;

And crawl about with doormats on,
And growl and howl and squeak,
Then in the garden let us fly
And play at hide and seek;

And “Here we gather Nuts and May,”
“I wrote a Letter” too,
“Here we go round the Mulberry Bush,”
“The Child who lost its shoe”

And every game we ever played.
And then—to stay alive—
Let's end with lots of Birthday Cake
Because to-day you're five.

page 86

The Candle Fairy

The Candle is a fairy house
That's smooth and round and white,
And Mother carries it about
Whenever it is night.

Right at the top a fairy lives,
A lovely yellow one,
And if you blow a little bit
It has all sorts of fun.

It bows and dances by itself
In such a clever way,
And then it stretches very tall;
“Well, it grows fast,” you say.

The little chimney of the house
Is black and really sweet,
And there the candle fairy stands
Though you can't see its feet.

And when the dark is very big
And you've been having dreams,
Then Mother brings the candle in;
How friendly like it seems!

It's only just for Mothers that
The candle Fairy comes;
page 87 And if you play with it, it bites
Your fingers and your thumbs.

But still you love it very much
This candle Fairy, dear,
Because, at night, it always means
That Mother's very near.

page 88

Song by the Window Before Bed

Little Star, little Star,
Come down quick!
The Moon is a bogey-man;
He'll eat you certain if he can.
Little Star, little Star,
Come down quick!

Little Star, little Star,
Whisper “Yes.”
The trees are just niggers all,
They look so black, they are so tall.
Little Star, little Star,
Whisper “Yes.”

Little Star, little Star,
Gone—all gone.
The bogey-man swallowed you,
The nigger trees are laughing too,
Little Star, little Star,
Gone—all gone.

page 89

A Little Boy's Dream

To and fro, to and fro
In my little boat I go
Sailing far across the sea
All alone, just little me.
And the sea is big and strong
And the journey very long.
To and fro, to and fro
In my little boat I go.

Sea and sky, sea and sky,
Quietly on the deck I lie,
Having just a little rest.
I have really done my best
In an awful pirate fight,
But we captured them all right.
Sea and sky, sea and sky,
Quietly on the deck I lie

Far away, far away
From my home and from my play,
On a journey without end
Only with the sea for friend
And the fishes in the sea.
But they swim away from me
Far away, far away
From my home and from my play.

page 90

Then he cried “O Mother dear.”
And he woke and sat upright,
They were in the rocking chair,
Mother's arms around him—tight.

page 91

Winter Song

Rain and wind, and wind and rain.
Will the Summer come again?
Rain on houses, on the street,
Wetting all the people's feet.
Though they run with might and main.
Rain and wind, and wind and rain.

Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.
Will the Winter never go?
What do beggar children do
With no fire to cuddle to,
P'r'aps with nowhere warm to go?
Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.

Hail and ice, and ice and hail,
Water frozen in the pail.
See the robins, brown and red,
They are waiting to be fed.
Poor dears; battling in the gale!
Hail and ice, and ice and hail.

page 92

On a Young Lady's Sixth Anniversary

Baby babbles—only one,
Now to sit up has begun.

Little Babbles quite turned two
Walks as well as I and you.

And Miss Babbles one, two, three
Has a teaspoon at her tea.

But her Highness at four
Learns to open the front door.

And her Majesty—now six,
Can her shoestring neatly fix.

Babbles, Babbles, have a care,
You will soon put up your hair!

page 93

Song of the Little White Girl

Cabbage tree, cabbage tree, what is the matter?
Why are you shaking so? Why do you chatter?
Because it is just a white baby you see,
And it's the black ones you like, cabbage tree.

Cabbage tree, cabbage tree, you're a strange fellow
With your green hair and your legs browny-yellow.
Wouldn't you like to have curls, dear, like me?
What! No one to make them? O poor cabbage tree!

Never mind, cabbage tree, when I am taller,
And if you grow, please, a little bit smaller,
I shall be able by that time, may be,
To make you the loveliest curls, cabbage tree.

page 94

A Few Rules for Beginners

Babies must not eat the coal
And they must not make grimaces,
Nor in party dresses roll
And must never black their faces.

They must learn that pointing's rude,
They must sit quite still at table,
And must always eat the food
Put before them—if they're able.

If they fall, they must not cry,
Though it's known how painful this is;
No—there's always Mother by
Who will comfort them with kisses.

page 95

A Day in Bed

I wish I had not got a cold,
The wind is big and wild,
I wish that I was very old,
Not just a little child.

Somehow the day is very long
Just keeping here, alone;
I do not like the big wind's song,
He's growling for a bone.

He's like an awful dog we had
Who used to creep around
And snatch at things—he was so bad,
With just that horrid sound.

I'm sitting up and nurse has made
Me wear a woolly shawl;
I wish I was not so afraid;
It's horrid to be small.

It really feels quite like a day
Since I have had my tea;
P'r'aps everybody's gone away
And just forgotten me.

And oh! I cannot go to sleep
Although I am in bed.
The wind keeps going creepy-creep
And waiting to be fed.

page 96

The Lonesome Child

The baby in the looking-glass
Is smiling through at me;
She has her teaspoon in her hand,
Her feeder on for tea.

And if I look behind her I
Can see the table spread;
I wonder if she has to eat
The nasty crusts of bread.

Her doll, like mine, is sitting close
Beside her special chair,
She has a pussy on her lap;
It must be my cup there.

Her picture-book is on the floor,
The cover's just the same;
And tidily upon the shelf
I see my Ninepin game.

O baby in the looking-glass,
Come through and play with me,
And if you will, I promise, dear,
To eat your crusts at tea.

page 97

A Fine Day

After all the rain, the sun
Shines on hill and grassy mead;
Fly into the garden, child,
You are very glad indeed.

For the days have been so dull,
Oh, so special dark and drear,
That you told me, “Mr. Sun
Has forgotten we live here.”

Dew upon the lily lawn,
Dew upon the garden beds;
Daintily from all the leaves
Pop the little primrose heads.

And the violets in the copse
With their parasols of green
Take a little peek at you;
They're the bluest you have seen.

On the lilac tree a bird
Singing first a little note,
Then a burst of happy song
Bubbles in his lifted throat.

O the sun, the comfy sun!
This the song that you must sing,
“Thank you for the birds, the flowers,
Thank you, sun, for everything.”

page 98

Evening Song of the Thoughtful Child

Shadow children, thin and small,
Now the day is left behind,
You are dancing on the wall,
On the curtains, on the blind.

On the ceiling, children, too,
Peeping round the nursery door,
Let me come and play with you,
As we always played before.

Let's pretend that we have wings
And can really truly fly
Over every sort of things
Up and up into the sky,

Where the sweet star children play—
It does seem a dreadful rule,
They must stay inside all day.
I suppose they go to school.

And to-night, dears, do you see?
They are having such a race
With their father moon—the tree
Almost hides his funny face.

page 99

Evening Song of the Thoughtful Child

Shadow children, once at night,
I was all tucked up in bed,
Father moon came—such a fright—
Through the window poked his head;

I could see his staring eyes,
O my dears, I was afraid,
That was not a nice surprise,
And the dreadful noise I made!

Let us make a fairy ring,
Shadow children, hand in hand,
And our songs quite softly sing
That we learned in fairyland.

Shadow children, thin and small,
See, the day is far behind;
And I kiss you—on the wall—
On the curtains—on the blind.

page 100

A New Hymn

Sing A song of men's pyjamas,
Half-past six has got a pair,
And he's wearing them this evening,
And he's looking such a dear.

Sing a song of frocks with pockets
I have got one, it is so's
I can use my ‘nitial hankies
Every time I blow my nose.

page 101

Autumn Song

Now's The time when children's noses
All become as red as roses
And the colour of their faces
Makes me think of orchard places
Where the juicy apples grow
And tomatoes in a row.

And to-day the hardened sinner
Never could be late for dinner,
But will jump up to the table
Just as soon as he is able,
Ask for three times hot roast mutton—
Oh! the shocking little glutton.

Come then, find your ball and racket,
Pop into your winter jacket,
With the lovely bear-skin lining.
While the sun is brightly shining,
Let us run and play together
And just love the autumn weather.

page 102

The Blacky Monkey

My babbles has a nasty knack
Of keeping monkeys on her back.
A great big black one comes and swings
Right on her sash or pinny strings.
It is a horrid thing and wild
And makes her such a naughty child.

She comes and stands beside my chair
With almost an offended air
And says:—“Oh, Father, why can't I?”
And stamps her foot and starts to cry—
I look at Mother in dismay …
What little girl is this, to-day?

She throws about her nicest toys
And makes a truly dreadful noise
Till Mother rises from her place
With quite a Sunday churchy face
And Babbles silently is led
Into the dark and her own bed.

Never a kiss or one Goodnight,
Never a glimpse of candle light.
Oh, how the monkey simply flies!
Oh, how poor Babbles calls and cries,
Runs from the room with might and main
“Father dear, I am good again.”

page 103

When she is sitting on my knee
Snuggled quite close and kissing me,
Babbles and I, we think the same—
Why, that the monkey never came
Only a terrible dream maybe …
What did she have for evening tea?

page 104

The Pillar Box

The pillar box is fat and red,
The pillar box is high;
It has the flattest sort of head
And not a nose or eye,
But just one open nigger mouth
That grins when I go by.

The pillar box is very round
But hungry all the day;
Although it doesn't make a sound,
Folks know it wants to say,
“Give me some letter sandwiches
To pass the time away.”

“A postage stamp I like to eat
Or gummy letterette.”
I see the people on the street,
If it is fine or wet,
Give something to the greedy thing;
They never quite forget.

The pillar box is quite a friend
When Father goes away,
My Mother has such lots to send,
Fat letters every day,
And so I drop them in its mouth
When I go out to play.

page 105

The Quarrel

We stood in the vegetable garden
As angry and cross as could be
'Cause you said you wouldn't beg pardon
For eating my radish at tea.

I said, “I shall go an' tell Mummy.
I hope it is makin' you ill.
I hope you've a pain in your tummy,
And then she will give you a pill.”

But you cried out, “Good-bye then—for ever.
Go and play with your silly old toys!
If you think you're so grown up and clever,
I'll run off and play with the Boys.”

page 106

Grown-up Talk

Half-past-six and I were talking
In a very grown-up way;
We had got so tired with running
That we did not want to play.

“How do babies come, I wonder,”
He said, looking at the sky,
“Does God mix the things together
An' just make it—like a pie?”

I was really not quite certain,
But it sounded very nice;
It was all that we could think of,
Besides a book said “sugar and spice.”

Half-Past-Six said—he's so clever—
Cleverer than me, I mean …
“I suppose God makes the black ones
When the saucepan isn't clean.”

page 107

The Family

Hinemoa, Tui, Maina,
All of them were born together;
They are quite an extra special
Set of babies—wax and leather.

Every day they took an airing;
Mummy made them each a bonnet;
Two were cherry, one was yellow
With a bow of ribbon on it.

Really, sometimes we would slap them,
For if ever we were talking,
They would giggle and be silly,
Saying, “Mamma, take us walking.”

But we never really loved them
Till one day we left them lying
In the garden—through a hail-storm,
And we heard the poor dears crying.

Half-Past-Six said—“You're a mother!
What if Mummy did forget you?”
So I said, “Well, you're their Father.
Get them!” but I wouldn't let you.