The Mad Mother


Her eyes are wild, her head is bare,
The sun has burnt her coal-black hair,
Her eye-brows have a rusty stain,
And she came far from over the main.
She has a baby on her arm, 5
Or else she were alone;
And underneath the hay-stack warm,
And on the green-wood stone,
She talked and sung the woods among;
And it was in the English tongue. 10
“Sweet babe ! they say that I am mad,
But nay, my heart is far too glad;
And I am happy when I sing
Full many a sad and doleful thing:
Then, lovely baby, do not fear ! 15
I pray thee have no fear of me,
But, safe as in a cradle, here
My lovely baby ! thou shalt be,
To thee I know too much I owe;
I cannot work thee any woe. 20
A fire was once within my brain;
And in my head a dull, dull pain;
And fiendish faces one, two, three,
Hung at my breasts, and pulled at me.
But then there came a sight of joy; 25
It came at once to do me good;
I waked, and saw my little boy,
My little boy of flesh and blood;
Oh joy for me that sight to see !
For he was here, and only he. 30
Suck, little babe, oh suck again !
It cools my blood; it cools my brain;
Thy lips I feel them, baby ! they
Draw from my heart the pain away.
Oh ! press me with thy little hand; 35
It loosens something at my chest;
About that tight and deadly band
I feel thy little fingers press’d.
The breeze I see is in the tree;
It comes to cool my babe and me.40
Oh ! love me, love me, little boy !
Thou art thy mother’s only joy;
And do not dread the waves below,
When o’er the sea-rock’s edge we go;
The high crag cannot work me harm, 45
Nor leaping torrents when they howl;
The babe I carry on my arm,
He saves for me my precious soul;
Then happy lie, for blest am I;
Without me my sweet babe would die.50
Then do not fear, my boy ! for thee
Bold as a lion I will be;
And I will always be thy guide,
Through hollow snows and rivers wide.
I’ll build an Indian bower; I know 55
The leaves that make the softest bed:
And if from me thou wilt not go,
But still be true ’till I am dead,
My pretty thing ! then thou shalt sing,
As merry as the birds in spring. 60
Thy father cares not for my breast,
’Tis thine, sweet baby, there to rest:
’Tis all thine own ! and if its hue
Be changed, that was so fair to view,
’Tis fair enough for thee, my dove ! 65
My beauty, little child, is flown;
But thou wilt live with me in love,
And what if my poor cheek be brown ?
’Tis well for me, thou canst not see
How pale and wan it else would be. 70
Dread not their taunts, my little life !
I am thy father’s wedded wife;
And underneath the spreading tree
We two will live in honesty.
If his sweet boy he could forsake, 75
With me he never would have stay’d:
From him no harm my babe can take,
But he, poor man ! is wretched made,
And every day we two will pray
For him that’s gone and far away.80
I’ll teaah (sic)my boy the sweetest things;
I’ll teach him how the owlet sings.
My little babe ! thy lips are still,
And thou hast almost suck’d thy fill.
—Where art thou gone my own dear child?85
What wicked looks are those I see ?
Alas ! alas ! that look so wild,
It never, never came from me:
If thou art mad, my pretty lad,
Then I must be for ever sad. 90
Oh ! smile on me, my little lamb !
For I thy own dear mother am.
My love for thee has well been tried:
I’ve sought thy father far and wide.
I know the poisons of the shade, 95
I know the earth-nuts fit for food;
Then, pretty dear, be not afraid;
We’ll find thy father in the wood.
Now laugh and be gay, to the woods away !
And there, my babe; we’ll live for aye.100