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A Little Book of Western Verse by Eugene Field

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A preacher come from Roarin' Crick to comfort 'em an' pray,
'Nd all the camp wuz present at the obsequies next day;
A female teacher staged it twenty miles to sing a hymn,
An' we jined her in the chorus,--big, husky men an' grim
Sung "Jesus, Lover uv my Soul," an' then the preacher prayed,
An' preacht a sermon on the death uv that fair blossom laid
Among them other flowers he loved,--wich sermon set sech weight
On sinners bein' always heeled against the future state,
That, though it had been fashionable to swear a perfec' streak,
There warn't no swearin' in the camp for pretty nigh a week!

Last thing uv all, four strappin' men took up the little load
An' bore it tenderly along the windin', rocky road,
To where the coroner had dug a grave beside the brook,
In sight uv Marthy's winder, where the same could set an' look
An' wonder if his cradle in that green patch, long an' wide,
Wuz ez soothin' ez the cradle that wuz empty at her side;
An' wonder if the mournful songs the pines wuz singin' then
Wuz ez tender ez the lullabies she'd never sing again,
'Nd if the bosom of the earth in wich he lay at rest
Wuz half ez lovin' 'nd ez warm ez wuz his mother's breast.

The camp is gone; but Red Hoss Mountain rears its kindly head,
An' looks down, sort uv tenderly, upon its cherished dead;
'Nd I reckon that, through all the years, that little boy wich died
Sleeps sweetly an' contentedly upon the mountain-side;
That the wild-flowers uv the summer-time bend down their heads to hear
The footfall uv a little friend they know not slumbers near;
That the magpies on the sollum rocks strange flutterin' shadders make,
An' the pines an' hemlocks wonder that the sleeper doesn't wake;
That the mountain brook sings lonesomelike an' loiters on its way
Ez if it waited for a child to jine it in its play.


Through sleet and fogs to the saline bogs
Where the herring fish meanders,
An army sped, and then, 't is said,
Swore terribly in Flanders:
A hideous store of oaths they swore,
Did the army over in Flanders!

At this distant day we're unable to say
What so aroused their danders;
But it's doubtless the case, to their lasting disgrace,
That the army swore in Flanders:
And many more such oaths they swore,
Did that impious horde in Flanders!

Some folks contend that these oaths without end
Began among the commanders,
That, taking this cue, the subordinates, too,
Swore terribly in Flanders:
Twas "------------!"

Why, the air was blue with the hullaballoo
Of those wicked men in Flanders!

But some suppose that the trouble arose
With a certain Corporal Sanders,
Who sought to abuse the wooden shoes
That the natives wore in Flanders.
Saying: "--------!"

What marvel then, that the other men
Felt encouraged to swear in Flanders!
At any rate, as I grieve to state,
Since these soldiers vented their danders
Conjectures obtain that for language profane
There is no such place as Flanders.

This is the kind of talk you'll find
If ever you go to Flanders.
How wretched is he, wherever he be,
That unto this habit panders!
And how glad am I that my interests lie
In Chicago, and not in Flanders!

Would never go down in this circumspect town
However it might in Flanders.


When in the halcyon days of old, I was a little tyke,
I used to fish in pickerel ponds for minnows and the like;
And oh, the bitter sadness with which my soul was fraught
When I rambled home at nightfall with the puny string I'd caught!
And, oh, the indignation and the valor I'd display
When I claimed that all the biggest fish I'd caught had got away!

Sometimes it was the rusty hooks, sometimes the fragile lines,
And many times the treacherous reeds would foil my just designs;
But whether hooks or lines or reeds were actually to blame,
I kept right on at losing all the monsters just the same--
I never lost a _little_ fish--yes, I am free to say
It always was the _biggest_ fish I caught that got away.

And so it was, when later on, I felt ambition pass
From callow minnow joys to nobler greed for pike and bass;
I found it quite convenient, when the beauties wouldn't bite
And I returned all bootless from the watery chase at night,
To feign a cheery aspect and recount in accents gay
How the biggest fish that I had caught had somehow got away.

And really, fish look bigger than they are before they are before they're
When the pole is bent into a bow and the slender line is taut,
When a fellow feels his heart rise up like a doughnut in his throat
And he lunges in a frenzy up and down the leaky boat!
Oh, you who've been a-fishing will indorse me when I say
That it always _is_ the biggest fish you catch that gets away!

'T 'is even so in other things--yes, in our greedy eyes
The biggest boon is some elusive, never-captured prize;
We angle for the honors and the sweets of human life--
Like fishermen we brave the seas that roll in endless strife;

And then at last, when all is done and we are spent and gray,
We own the biggest fish we've caught are those that got away.

I would not have it otherwise; 't is better there should be
Much bigger fish than I have caught a-swimming in the sea;
For now some worthier one than I may angle for that game--
May by his arts entice, entrap, and comprehend the same;
Which, having done, perchance he'll bless the man who's proud to say
That the biggest fish he ever caught were those that got away.


O hapless day! O wretched day!
I hoped you'd pass me by--
Alas, the years have sneaked away
And all is changed but I!
Had I the power, I would remand
You to a gloom condign,
But here you've crept upon me and
I--I am thirty-nine!

Now, were I thirty-five, I could
Assume a flippant guise;
Or, were I forty years, I should
Undoubtedly look wise;
For forty years are said to bring
Sedateness superfine;
But thirty-nine don't mean a thing--
_À bas_ with thirty-nine!

You healthy, hulking girls and boys,--
What makes you grow so fast?
Oh, I'll survive your lusty noise--
I'm tough and bound to last!
No, no--I'm old and withered too--
I feel my powers decline
(Yet none believes this can be true
Of one at thirty-nine).

And you, dear girl with velvet eyes,
I wonder what you mean
Through all our keen anxieties
By keeping sweet sixteen.
With your dear love to warm my heart,
Wretch were I to repine;
I was but jesting at the start--
I'm glad I'm thirty-nine!

So, little children, roar and race
As blithely as you can,
And, sweetheart, let your tender grace
Exalt the Day and Man;
For then these factors (I'll engage)
All subtly shall combine
To make both juvenile and sage
The one who's thirty-nine!

Yes, after all, I'm free to say
I would much rather be
Standing as I do stand to-day,
'Twixt devil and deep sea;
For though my face be dark with care
Or with a grimace shine,
Each haply falls unto my share,
For I am thirty-nine!

'Tis passing meet to make good cheer
And lord it like a king,
Since only once we catch the year
That doesn't mean a thing.
O happy day! O gracious day!
I pledge thee in this wine--
Come, let us journey on our way
A year, good Thirty-Nine!

Sept. 2, 1889.


_Where wail the waters in their flaw
A spectre wanders to and fro,
And evermore that ghostly shore
Bemoans the heir of Yvytot_.

_Sometimes, when, like a fleecy pall,
The mists upon the waters fall,
Across the main float shadows twain
That do not heed the spectre's call_.

The king his son of Yvytot
Stood once and saw the waters go
Boiling around with hissing sound
The sullen phantom rocks below.

And suddenly he saw a face
Lift from that black and seething place--
Lift up and gaze in mute amaze
And tenderly a little space,

A mighty cry of love made he--
No answering word to him gave she,
But looked, and then sunk back again
Into the dark and depthless sea.

And ever afterward that face,
That he beheld such little space,
Like wraith would rise within his eyes
And in his heart find biding place.

So oft from castle hall he crept
Where mid the rocks grim shadows slept,
And where the mist reached down and kissed
The waters as they wailed and wept.

The king it was of Yvytot
That vaunted, many years ago,
There was no coast his valiant host
Had not subdued with spear and bow.

For once to him the sea-king cried:
"In safety all thy ships shall ride
An thou but swear thy princely heir
Shall take my daughter to his bride.

"And lo, these winds that rove the sea
Unto our pact shall witness be,
And of the oath which binds us both
Shall be the judge 'twixt me and thee!"

Then swore the king of Yvytot
Unto the sea-king years ago,
And with great cheer for many a year
His ships went harrying to and fro.

Unto this mighty king his throne
Was born a prince, and one alone--
Fairer than he in form and blee
And knightly grace was never known.

But once he saw a maiden face
Lift from a haunted ocean place--
Lift up and gaze in mute amaze
And tenderly a little space.

Wroth was the king of Yvytot,
For that his son would never go
Sailing the sea, but liefer be
Where wailed the waters in their flow,

Where winds in clamorous anger swept,
Where to and fro grim shadows crept,
And where the mist reached down and kissed
The waters as they wailed and wept.

So sped the years, till came a day
The haughty king was old and gray,
And in his hold were spoils untold
That he had wrenched from Norroway.

Then once again the sea-king cried:
"Thy ships have harried far and wide;
My part is done--now let thy son
Require my daughter to his bride!"

Loud laughed the king of Yvytot,
And by his soul he bade him no--
"I heed no more what oath I swore,
For I was mad to bargain so!"

Then spake the sea-king in his wrath:
"Thy ships lie broken in my path!
Go now and wring thy hands, false king!
Nor ship nor heir thy kingdom hath!

"And thou shalt wander evermore
All up and down this ghostly shore,
And call in vain upon the twain
That keep what oath a dastard swore!"

The king his son of Yvytot
Stood even then where to and fro
The breakers swelled--and there beheld
A maiden face lift from below.

"Be thou or truth or dream," he cried,
"Or spirit of the restless tide,
It booteth not to me, God wot!
But I would have thee to my bride."

Then spake the maiden: "Come with me
Unto a palace in the sea,
For there my sire in kingly ire
Requires thy king his oath of thee!"

Gayly he fared him down the sands
And took the maiden's outstretched hands;
And so went they upon their way
To do the sea-king his commands.

The winds went riding to and fro
And scourged the waves that crouched below,
And bade them sing to a childless king
The bridal song of Yvytot.

So fell the curse upon that shore,
And hopeless wailing evermore
Was the righteous dole of the craven soul
That heeded not what oath he swore.

An hundred ships went down that day
All off the coast of Norroway,
And the ruthless sea made mighty glee
Over the spoil that drifting lay.

The winds went calling far and wide
To the dead that tossed in the mocking tide:
"Come forth, ye slaves! from your fleeting graves
And drink a health to your prince his bride!"

_Where wail the waters in their flow
A spectre wanders to and fro,
But nevermore that ghostly shore
Shall claim the heir of Yvytot_.

_Sometimes, when, like a fleecy pall,
The mists upon the waters fall,
Across the main flit shadows twain
That do not heed the spectre's call_.


I once knew all the birds that came
And nested in our orchard trees;
For every flower I had a name--
My friends were woodchucks, toads, and bees;
I knew where thrived in yonder glen
What plants would soothe a stone-bruised toe--
Oh, I was very learned then;
But that was very long ago!

I knew the spot upon the hill
Where checkerberries could be found,
I knew the rushes near the mill
Where pickerel lay that weighed a pound!
I knew the wood,--the very tree
Where lived the poaching, saucy crow,
And all the woods and crows knew me--
But that was very long ago.

And pining for the joys of youth,
I tread the old familiar spot
Only to learn this solemn truth:
I have forgotten, am forgot.
Yet here's this youngster at my knee
Knows all the things I used to know;
To think I once was wise as he--
But that was very long ago.

I know it's folly to complain
Of whatsoe'er the Fates decree;
Yet were not wishes all in vain,
I tell you what my wish should be:
I'd wish to be a boy again,
Back with the friends I used to know;
For I was, oh! so happy then--
But that was very long ago!


'Tis years, soubrette, since last we met;
And yet--ah, yet, how swift and tender
My thoughts go back in time's dull track
To you, sweet pink of female gender!
I shall not say--though others may--
That time all human joy enhances;
But the same old thrill comes to me still
With memories of your songs and dances.

Soubrettish ways these latter days
Invite my praise, but never get it;
I still am true to yours and you--
My record's made, I'll not upset it!
The pranks they play, the things they say--
I'd blush to put the like on paper,
And I'll avow they don't know how
To dance, so awkwardly they caper!

I used to sit down in the pit
And see you flit like elf or fairy
Across the stage, and I'll engage
No moonbeam sprite was half so airy;
Lo, everywhere about me there
Were rivals reeking with pomatum,
And if, perchance, they caught your glance
In song or dance, how did I hate 'em!

At half-past ten came rapture--then
Of all those men was I most happy,
For bottled beer and royal cheer
And têtes-à-têtes were on the tapis.
Do you forget, my fair soubrette,
Those suppers at the Cafe Rector,--
The cosey nook where we partook
Of sweeter cheer than fabled nectar?

Oh, happy days, when youth's wild ways
Knew every phase of harmless folly!
Oh, blissful nights, whose fierce delights
Defied gaunt-featured Melancholy!
Gone are they all beyond recall,
And I--a shade, a mere reflection--
Am forced to feed my spirit's greed
Upon the husks of retrospection!

And lo! to-night, the phantom light,
That, as a sprite, flits on the fender,
Reveals a face whose girlish grace
Brings back the feeling, warm and tender;
And, all the while, the old-time smile
Plays on my visage, grim and wrinkled,--
As though, soubrette, your footfalls yet
Upon my rusty heart-strings tinkled!


Last night, my darling, as you slept,
I thought I heard you sigh,
And to your little crib I crept,
And watched a space thereby;
And then I stooped and kissed your brow,
For oh! I love you so--
You are too young to know it now,
But some time you shall know!

Some time when, in a darkened place
Where others come to weep,
Your eyes shall look upon a face
Calm in eternal sleep,
The voiceless lips, the wrinkled brow,
The patient smile shall show--
You are too young to know it now,
But some time you may know!

Look backward, then, into the years,
And see me here to-night--
See, O my darling! how my tears
Are falling as I write;
And feel once more upon your brow
The kiss of long ago--
You are too young to know it now,
But some time you shall know.

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