Not withering on the virgin stalk
In summer’s heat,
Not lingering through the autumn slow
In chill decay and winter’s snow –
Her winding sheet.
Not hers to see her dear ones fade,
Or mourn them gone,
Nor yet in sickness and distress
To stand in widowed helplessness,
And pine alone.
Not dying in the death of those,
Who round us cling,
Wasting and suffering every hour;
She was an early gather’d flower,
Pluck’d in the spring!
‘Twas death; but oh! so beautiful,
So like a sleep:
She still retain’d a rosy smile,
As flowers gather’d for awhile,
Their freshness keep.
We hush’d our words to whispers low,
And softly spake;
With silent steps we trod the floor,
As if we fear’d, as heretofore,
That sleep to break.
We saw our neighbour’s children play
Around the door:
We heard their merry laugh and glee;
Then came the crushing thought that she
Would wake no more.
In her quench’d eyes the soul-lit fire
No longer burn’d:
We kiss’d that cheek so soft and bland,
And press’d that hand – that marble hand
No grasp returned.
… … … … …
We stood beside that little grace,
With smother’d sighs,
And heard upon the coffin lid,
The mould, that now fore ever hid
Her from our eyes.
But still from memory’s faithful page
Time hast not wiped
Those features. Not in death’s decay,
But as in sleep, the beauteous clay
Date:April 12th 1864
This anonymous poem combines two Victorian preoccupations: death and childhood. It is secular in its treatment of the deathbed of a female child (at the very least an adolescent), and ruminates on what would have been the life experience of the subject had they lived. Poems such as this had a greater resonance during the Cotton Famine when child mortality rose significantly through increased poverty, hunger and sickness. – SR