A Mother Showing The Portrait Of Her Child

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Living child or pictured cherub,
  Ne’er o’ermatched its baby grace;
And the mother, moving nearer,
  Looked it calmly in the face;
Then with slight and quiet gesture,
  And with lips that scarcely smiled,
Said—­“A Portrait of my daughter
  When she was a child.”

Easy thought was hers to fathom,
  Nothing hard her glance to read,
For it seemed to say, “No praises
  For this little child I need:
If you see, I see far better,
  And I will not feign to care
For a stranger’s prompt assurance
  That the face is fair.”

Softly clasped and half extended,
  She her dimpled hands doth lay:
So they doubtless placed them, saying—­
  “Little one, you must not play.”
And while yet his work was growing,
  This the painter’s hand hath shown,
That the little heart was making
  Pictures of its own.

Is it warm in that green valley,
  Vale of childhood, where you dwell?
Is it calm in that green valley,
  Round whose bournes such great hills swell?
Are there giants in the valley—­
  Giants leaving footprints yet?
Are there angels in the valley?
  Tell me—­I forget.

Answer, answer, for the lilies,
  Little one, o’ertop you much,
And the mealy gold within them
  You can scarcely reach to touch;
O how far their aspect differs,
  Looking up and looking down!
You look up in that green valley—­
  Valley of renown.

Are there voices in the valley,
  Lying near the heavenly gate?
When it opens, do the harp-strings,
  Touched within, reverberate?
When, like shooting-stars, the angels
  To your couch at nightfall go,
Are their swift wings heard to rustle?
  Tell me! for you know.

Yes, you know; and you are silent,
  Not a word shall asking win;
Little mouth more sweet than rosebud,
  Fast it locks the secret in.
Not a glimpse upon your present
  You unfold to glad my view;
Ah, what secrets of your future
I could tell to you!

Sunny present! thus I read it,
  By remembrance of my past:—­
Its to-day and its to-morrow
  Are as lifetimes vague and vast;
And each face in that green valley
  Takes for you an aspect mild,
And each voice grows soft in saying—­
  “Kiss me, little child!”

As a boon the kiss is granted:
  Baby mouth, your touch is sweet,
Takes the love without the trouble
  From those lips that with it meet;
Gives the love, O pure!  O tender!
  Of the valley where it grows,
But the baby heart receiveth

Comes the future to the present—­
  “Ah!” she saith, “too blithe of mood;
Why that smile which seems to whisper—­
  ‘I am happy, God is good?’
God is good:  that truth eternal
  Sown for you in happier years,
I must tend it in my shadow,
  Water it with tears.

“Ah, sweet present!  I must lead thee
  By a daylight more subdued;
There must teach thee low to whisper—­
  ‘I am mournful, God is good!’”
Peace, thou future! clouds are coming,
  Stooping from the mountain crest,
But that sunshine floods the valley:
  Let her—­let her rest.

Comes the future to the present—­
  “Child,” she saith, “and wilt thou rest?
How long, child, before thy footsteps
  Fret to reach yon cloudy crest?
Ah, the valley!—­angels guard it,
  But the heights are brave to see;
Looking down were long contentment:
  Come up, child, to me.”

So she speaks, but do not heed her,
  Little maid with wondrous eyes,
Not afraid, but clear and tender,
  Blue, and filled with prophecies;
Thou for whom life’s veil unlifted
  Hangs, whom warmest valleys fold,
Lift the veil, the charm dissolveth—­
  Climb, but heights are cold.

There are buds that fold within them,
  Closed and covered from our sight,
Many a richly tinted petal,
  Never looked on by the light:
Fain to see their shrouded faces,
  Sun and dew are long at strife,
Till at length the sweet buds open—­
  Such a bud is life.

When the rose of thine own being
  Shall reveal its central fold,
Thou shalt look within and marvel,
  Fearing what thine eyes behold;
What it shows and what it teaches
  Are not things wherewith to part;
Thorny rose! that always costeth
  Beatings at the heart.

Look in fear, for there is dimness;
  Ills unshapen float anigh.
Look in awe, for this same nature
  Once the Godhead deigned to die.
Look in love, for He doth love it,
  And its tale is best of lore:
Still humanity grows dearer,
  Being learned the more.

Learn, but not the less bethink thee
  How that all can mingle tears;
But his joy can none discover,
  Save to them that are his peers;
And that they whose lips do utter
  Language such as bards have sung—­
Lo! their speech shall be to many
  As an unknown tongue.

Learn, that if to thee the meaning
  Of all other eyes be shown,
Fewer eyes can ever front thee,
  That are skilled to read thine own;
And that if thy love’s deep current
  Many another’s far outflows,
Then thy heart must take forever,
Less than it Bestows

© Jean Ingelow