The Street-Children's Dance
NOW the earth in fields and hills
Stirs with pulses of the Spring,
Next-embowering hedges ring
With interminable trills;
Sunlight runs a race with rain,
All the world grows young again.
Young as at the hour of birth:
From the grass the daisies rise
With the dew upon their eyes,
Sun-awakened eyes of earth;
Fields are set with cups of gold;
Can this budding world grow old?
Can the world grow old and sere,
Now when ruddy-tasselled trees
Stoop to every passing breeze,
Rustling in their silken gear;
Now when blossoms pink and white
Have their own terrestrial light?
Brooding light falls soft and warm,
Where in many a wind-rocked nest,
Curled up 'neath the she-bird's breast,
Clustering eggs are hid from harm;
While the mellow-throated thrush
Warbles in the purpling bush.
Misty purple bathes the Spring:
Swallows flashing here and there
Float and dive on waves of air,
And make love upon the wing;
Crocus-buds in sheaths of gold
Burst like sunbeams from the mould.
Chestnut leaflets burst their buds,
Perching tiptoe on each spray,
Springing toward the radiant day,
As the bland, pacific floods
Of the generative sun
All the teeming earth o'errun.
Can this earth run o'er with beauty,
Laugh through leaf and flower and grain,
While in close-pent court and lane,
In the air so thick and sooty,
Little ones pace to and fro,
Weighted with their parents' woe?
Woe-predestined little ones!
Putting forth their buds of life
In an atmosphere of strife,
And crime breeding ignorance;
Where the bitter surge of care
Freezes to a dull despair.
Dull despair and misery
Lie about them from their birth;
Ugly curses, uglier mirth,
Are their earliest lullaby;
Fathers have they without name,
Mothers crushed by want and shame.
Brutish, overburthened mothers,
With their hungry children cast
Half-nude to the nipping blast;
Little sisters with their brothers
Dragging in their arms all day
Children nigh as big as they.
Children mothered by the street:
Shouting, flouting, roaring after
Passers-by with gibes and laughter,
Diving between horses' feet,
In and out of drays and barrows,
Recklessly, like London sparrows.
Mudlarks of our slums and alleys,
All unconscious of the blooming
World behind those housetops looming.
Of the happy fields and valleys,
Of the miracle of Spring
With its boundless blossoming.
Blossoms of humanity!
Poor soiled blossoms in the dust!
Through the thick defiling crust
Of soul-stifling poverty,
In your features may be traced
Childhood's beauty half effaced--
Childhood, stunted in the shadow
Of the light-debarring walls:
Not for you the cuckoo calls
O'er the silver-threaded meadow;
Not for you the lark on high
Pours his music from the sky.
Ah! you have your music too!
And come flocking round that player
Grinding at his organ there,
Summer-eyed and swart of hue,
Rattling off his well-worn tune
On this April afternoon.
Lovely April lights of pleasure
Flit o'er want-beclouded features
Of these little outcast creatures,
As they swing with rhythmic measure,
In the courage of their rags,
Lightly o'er the slippery flags.
Little footfalls, lightly glancing
In a luxury of motion,
Supple as the waves of ocean
In your elemental dancing,
How you fly, and wheel, and spin,
For your hearts too dance within.
Dance along with mirth and laughter,
Buoyant, fearless, and elate,
Dancing in the teeth of fate,
Ignorant of your hereafter
That with all its tragic glooms
Blindly on your future looms.
Past and future, hence away!
Joy, diffused throughout the earth,
Centre in this moment's mirth
Of ecstatic holiday:
Once in all their lives' dark story,
Touch them, Fate! with April glory.
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