Little Mattie by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Dead! Thirteen a month ago!
Short and narrow her life’s walk;
Lover’s love she could not know
Even by a dream or talk:
Too young to be glad of youth,
Missing honour, labour, rest,
And the warmth of a babe’s mouth
At the blossom of her breast.
Must you pity her for this
And for all the loss it is,
You, her mother, with wet face,
Having had all in your case?
Just so young but yesternight,
Now she is as old as death.
Meek, obedient in your sight,
Gentle to a beck or breath
Only on last Monday! Yours,
Answering you like silver bells
Lightly touched! An hour matures:
You can teach her nothing else.
She has seen the mystery hid
Under Egypt’s pyramid:
By those eyelids pale and close
Now she knows what Rhamses knows.
Cross her quiet hands, and smooth
Down her patient locks of silk,
Cold and passive as in truth
You your fingers in spilt milk
Drew along a marble floor;
But her lips you cannot wring
Into saying a word more,
“Yes,” or “No,” or such a thing:
Though you call and beg and wreak
Half your soul out in a shriek,
She will lie there in default
And most innocent revolt.
Ay, and if she spoke, maybe
She would answer, like the Son,
“What is now ‘twixt thee and me?”
Dreadful answer! better none.
Yours on Monday, God’s to-day!
Yours, your child, your blood, your heart,
Called … you called her, did you say,
“Little Mattie” for your part?
Now already it sounds strange,
And you wonder, in this change,
What He calls His angel-creature,
Higher up than you can reach her.
‘T was a green and easy world
As she took it; room to play
(Though one’s hair might get uncurled
At the far end of the day).
What she suffered she shook off
In the sunshine; what she sinned
She could pray on high, enough
To keep safe above the wind.
If reproved by God or you,
‘T was to better her, she knew;
And if crossed, she gathered still
‘T was to cross out something ill.
You, you had the right, you thought,
To survey her with sweet scorn,
Poor gay child, who had not caught
Yet the octave-stretch forlorn
Of your larger wisdom! Nay,
Now your places are changed so,
In that same superior way
She regards you dull and low
As you did herself exempt
From life’s sorrows. Grand contempt
Of the spirits risen awhile,
Who look back with such a smile!
There’s the sting of’t. That, I think,
Hurts the most a thousandfold!
To feel sudden, at a wink,
Some dear child we used to scold,
Praise, love both ways, kiss and tease,
Teach and tumble as our own,
All its curls about our knees,
Rise up suddenly full-grown.
Who could wonder such a sight
Made a woman mad outright?
Show me Michael with the sword
Rather than such angels, Lord!