Mary and Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb
1755 - 1834

A Selection Of His Poetry

The Old Familiar Faces - 1798

Composed at Midnight - 1798

Hester - 1803

To a River in Which a Child Was Drowned - 1818

Queen Oriana's Dream - 1818

On the Sight of Swans in Kensington Gardens - 1818

Work - 1819

Leisure - 1821

Angel Help - 1827

On An Infant Dying As Soon As Born - 1829

She is Going - 1830

To a Young Friend - 1830

And one by Mary Lamb

1765 - 1847

A Child

The Old Familiar Faces

I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I loved a Love once, fairest among women:
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man:
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.

Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood,
Earth seem'd a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces;

How some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.


Composed at Midnight

From broken visions of perturbed rest
I wake, and start, and fear to sleep again.
How total a privation of all sounds,
Sight, and familiar objects, man, bird, beast,
Herb, tree, or flower, and prodigal light of heaven.
'Twere some relief to catch the drowsy cry
Of the mechanic watchman, or the noise
Of revel reeling home from midnight cups.
Those are the moanings of the dying man,
Who lies in the upper chamber; restless moans.
And interrupted only by a cough
Consumptive, torturing the wasted lungs.
So in the bitterness of death he lies,
And waits in anguish for the morning's light.
What can that do for him, or what restore?
Short taste, faint sense, affecting notices,
And little images of pleasures past,
Of health, and active life--health not yet slain,
Nor the other grace of life, a good name, sold
For sin's black wages. On his tedious bed
He writhes, and turns him from the accusing light,
And finds no comfort in the sun, but says
"When night comes I shall get a little rest."
Some few groans, more, death comes, and there an end.
'Tis darkness and conjecture all beyond;
Weak Nature fears, though Charity must hope,
And Fancy, most licentious on such themes
Where decent reverence will had kept her mute,
Hath o'er-stock'd hell with devils, and brought down,
By her enormous fablings and mad lies,
Discredit on the gospel's serious truths
And salutary fears. The man of parts,
Poet, or prose declaimer, on his couch
Lolling, like one indifferent, fabricates
A heave of gold, where he, and such as he,
Their heads encompassed with crowns, their heels
With fine wings garlanded, shall tread the stars
Beneath their feet, heaven's pavement, far removed
From damned spirits, and the torturing cries
Of men, his brethren, fashion'd of the earth,
As he was nourish'd with the self-same bread,
Belike his kindred or companions once--
Through everlasting ages now divorced,
In chains and savage torments to repent
Short years of folly on earth. Their groans unheard
In heav'n, the saint nor pity feels, nor care,
For those thus sentenced--pity might disturb
The delicate sense and most divine repose
Of spirits angelical. Blessed be God,
The measure of His judgments is not fix'd
By man's erroneous standard. He discerns
No such inordinate difference and vast
Betwixt the sinner and the saint, to doom
Such disproportion'd fates. Compared with Him,
No man on earth is holy call'd: they best
Stand in His sight approved, who at His feet
Their little crowns of virtue cast, and yield
To Him of His won works the praise, His due.



When maidens such as Hester die
Their place ye may not well supply,
Though ye among a thousand try
      With vain endeavour.

A month or more hath she been dead,
Yet cannot I by force be led
To think upon the wormy bed
         And her together.

A springy motion in her gait,
A rising step, did indicate
Of pride and joy no common rate,
         That flush'd her spirit:

I know not by what name beside
I shall it call: if 'twas not pride,
It was a joy to that allied,
         She did inherit.

Her parents held the Quaker rule,
Which doth the human feeling cool;
But she was train'd in Nature's school;
         Nature had blest her.

A waking eye, a prying mind;
A heart that stirs, is hard to bind;
A hawk's keen sight ye cannot blind;
      Ye could not Hester.

My sprightly neighbour! gone before
To that unknown and silent shore,
Shall we not meet, as heretofore,
      Some summer morning;

When from thy cheerful eyes a ray
Hath struck a bliss upon the day,
A bliss that would not go away,
        A sweet forewarning?


To a River in Which a Child Was Drowned

Smiling river, smiling river,
  On thy bosom sun-beams play;
Though they're fleeting and retreating,
  Thou hast more deceit than they.

In they channel, in thy channel,
  Choked with ooze and grav'lly stones,
Deep immersed, and unhearsed,
  Lies young Edward's corse: his bones.

Ever whitening, ever whitening,
  As thy waves against them dash;
What thy torrent, in the current,
  Swallow'd, now it helps to wash.

As if senseless, as if senseless
  Things had feeling in this case;
What so blindly, and unkindly,
  It destroy'd, it now does grace.


Queen Oriana's Dream

On a bank with roses shaded,
Whose sweet scent the violets aided,
Violets whose breath alone
Yields but feeble smell or none
(Sweeter bed Jove ne'er reposed on
When his eyes Olympus closed on),
While o'erhead six slaves did hold
Canopy of cloth o'gold,
And two more did music keep,
Which might Juno lull to sleep,
Oriana, who was queen
To the mighty Tamerlane,
That was lord of all the land
Between Thrace and Samarchand,
While the nontide fervour beam'd,
Mused herself to sleep, and dream'd.

Thus far, in magnific strain,
A young poet soothed his vein,
But he had nor prose nor numbers
To express a princess's slumbers.--
Youthful Richard had strange fancies,
Was deep versed in old romances,
And could talk whole hours upon
The Great Cham and Prester John,--
Tell the field in which the Sophi
From the Tartar won a trophy--
What he read with such delight of,
Thought he could as eas'ly write of--
But his over-young invention
Kept not pace with brave intention
twenty suns did rise and set,
And he could no further get;
But, unable to proceed,
Mad a virtue out of need,
And, his labours wiselier deem'd of,
Did omit what the queen dream'd of.


On the Sight of Swans in Kensington Gardens

Queen-Brid that sittest on thy shining nest,
  And thy young cygnets without sorrow hatchest,
  And thou, thou other royal bird, that watchest
Lest the white mother wandering feet molest:
Shrined are your offspring in a crystal cradle,
  Brighter than Helen's ere she yet had burst
  Her shelly prison. They shall be born at first
Strong, active, graceful, perfect, swan-like able
To tread the land or waters with security.
  Unlike poor human births, conceived in sin,
  In grief brought forth, both outwardly and in
Confessing weakness, error, and impurity.
  Did heavenly creatures own succession's line,
    The births of heaven like to yours would shine.



Who first invented work, and bound the free
  And holyday-rejoicing spirit down
To the ever-haunting importunity
  Of business in the green fields, and the town--
To plough, loom, anvil, spade--and oh! most sad
  To that dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood?
  Who but the Being unblest, alien from good,
Sabbathless Satan! he who his unglad
Task ever plies 'mid rotatory burnings,
  That round and round incalculably reel--
  For wrath divine hath made him like a wheel--
In that red realm from which are no returnings:
  Where toiling, and turmoiling, ever and aye
    He, and his thoughts, keep pensive working-day.



They talk of time, and of time's galling yoke,
  That like a millstone on man's mind doth press,
  Which only works and business can redress:
Of divine Leisure such foul lies are spoke,
Wounding her fair gifts with calumnious stroke.
  But might I, fed with silent meditation,
  Assoiled live from that fiend Occupation--
Improbus Labor, which my spirits hath broke--
I'd drink of time's rich cup, and never surfeit:
  Fling in more days than went to make the gem
  That crown'd white top of Methusalem:
Yea on my weak neck take, and never forfeit,
  Like Atlas bearing up the dainty sky,
    The heaven-sweet burthen of eternity.

Deus Nobis Hæc Otia Fecit.


Angel Help

This rare tablet doth include
Poverty with Sanctitude.
Past midnight this poor maid hath spun,
And yet the work is not half done,
Which must supply from earnings scant
A feeble bed-rid parent's want.
Her sleep-charged eyes exemption ask
And Holy hands take up the task;
Unseen the rock and spindle ply,
And do her earthly drudgery.
Sleep, saintly poor one! sleep, sleep on;
And, waking, find they labours done.
Perchance she knows it by her dreams;
Her eye hath caught the golden gleams,
Angelic presence testifying,
That round her everywhere are flying;
Ostents from which she may presume,
That much of heaven is in the room.
Skirting her own bright hair they run,
And to the sunny add more sun:
Now on that aged face they fix,
Streaming from the Crucifix;
The flesh-clogg'd spirit disabusing,
Death-disarming sleeps infusing,
Prelibations, foretastes high,
And equal thoughts to live or die.
Gardener bright from Eden's bower,
Tend with care that lily flower;
To its leaves and root infuse
Heaven's sunshine, Heaven's dews.
'Tis a type, and 'tis a pledge,
Of a crowning privilege.
Careful as that lily flower,
This Maid must keep her precious dower;
Live a sainted Maid, or die
Martyr to virginity.


On An Infant Dying As Soon as Born

I saw where in the shroud did lurk
A curious frame of Nature’s work;
A floweret crush'd in the bud,
A nameless piece of Babyhood,
Was in her cradle-coffin lying;
Extinct, with scarce the sense of dying:
So soon to exchange the imprisoning womb
For darker closets of the tomb!
She did but ope an eye, and put
A clear beam forth, then straight up shut
For the long dark: ne'er more to see
Through glasses of mortality.

    Riddle of destiny, who can show
What thy short visit meant, or know
What thy errand here below?
Shall we say that Nature blind
Check'd her hand, and changed her mind,
Just when she had exactly wrought
A finish'd pattern without fault?
Could she flag, or could she tire,
Or lack'd she the Promethean fire
(With her nine moons' long workings sicken'd)
That should thy little limbs have quicken'd?
Limbs so firm, they seem'd to assure
Life of health, and days mature:
Woman's self in miniature!
Limbs so fair, they might supply
(Themselves now but cold imagery)
The sculptor to make Beauty by.
Or did the stern-eyed Fate descry
That babe or mother, one must die;
So in mercy left the stock
And cut the branch; to save the shock
Of young years widow'd, and the pain
When single state comes back again
To the lone man who, reft of wife,
Thenceforward drags a maimèd life?
The economy of Heaven is dark,
And wisest clerks have miss'd the mark,
Why human buds, like this, should fall,
More brief than fly ephemeral
That has his day; while shrivell'd crones
Stiffen with age to stocks and stones;
And crabbèd use the conscience sears
In sinners of an hundred years.

    Mother's prattle, mother's kiss,
Baby fond, thou ne'er wilt miss:
Rites, which custom does impose,
Silver bells, and baby clothes;
Coral redder than those lips
Which pale death did late eclipse;
Music framed for infants' glee,
Whistle never tuned for thee;
Though thou want'st not, thou shalt have them,
Loving hearts were they which gave them.
Let not one be missing; nurse,
See them laid upon the hearse
Of infant slain by doom perverse.
Why should kings and nobles have
Pictured trophies to their grave,
And we, churls, to thee deny
Thy pretty toys with thee to lie;
A more harmless vanity?


She is Going

For their elder Sister's hair
Martha does a wreath prepare
Of bridal rose, ornate and gay:
To-morrow is the wedding day.
She is going

Mary, youngest of the three,
Laughing idler, full of glee,
Arm in arm does fondly chain her,
Thinking, poor trifler, to detain her--
She is going

Vex not, maidens, nor regret
Thus to part with Margaret.
Charms like yours can never stay
Long within doors: and one day
She is going


To a Young Friend

On Her Twenty-First Birthday

Crown me a cheerful goblet, while I pray
A blessing on thy years, young Isola;
Young, but no more a child. How swift have flown
To me thy girlish times, a woman grown
Beneath my heedless eyes! in vain I rack
My fancy to believe the almanac,
That speaks thee Twenty-One. Thou shouldst have still
remain'd a child, and at thy sovereign will
Gambol'd about our house, as in times past.
Ungrateful Emma, to grow up so fast,
Hastening to leave thy friends!--for which intent,
Fond Runagate, be this thy punishment:
After some thirty years, spent in such bliss
As this earth can afford, where still we miss
Something of joy entire, may'st thou grow old
As we whom thou hast left! That wish was cold.
O far more aged and wrinkled, till folks say,
Looking upon thee reverend in decay,
"This Dame, for length of days, and virtues rare,
With her respected Grandsire may compare."
Grandchild of that respected Isola,
Thou shouldst have had about thee on this day
Kind looks of Parents, to congratulate
Their Pride grown up to woman's grave estate.
But they have died, and left thee, to advance
Thy fortunes how thou may'st, and owe to chance
The friends which nature grudged. And thou wilt find,
Or make such, Emma, if I am not blind
To thee and thy deservings. That last strain
Had too much sorrow in it. fill again
Another cheerful goblet, while I say
"Health, and twice health, to our lost Isola."


A Child

A child's a plaything for an hour;
  Its pretty tricks we try
For that or for a longer space—
  Then tire, and lay it by.

But I knew one that to itself
  All seasons could control;
That would have mock’d the sense of pain
  Out of a grievèd soul.

Thou straggler into loving arms,
  Young climber-up of knees,
When I forget thy thousand ways
  Then life and all shall cease.