My Birthday – Charles Lamb

A dozen years since in this house what commotion,
What bustle, what stir, and what joyful ado;
Every soul in the family at my devotion,
When into the world I came twelve years ago.

I’ve been told by my friends (if they do not belie me)
My promise was such as no parent would scorn;
The wise and the aged who prophesied by me
Augured nothing but good of me when I was born.

But vain are the hopes which are formed by a parent,
Fallacious the marks which in infancy shine;
My frail constitution soon made it apparent,
I nourished within me the seeds of decline.

On a sick bed I lay, through the flesh my bones started,
My grief-wasted frame to a skeleton fell;
My physicians foreboding took leave and departed,
And they wished me dead now, who wishëd me well.

Life and soul were kept in by a mother’s assistance,
Who struggled with faith, and prevailed ‘gainst despair;
Like an angel she watched o’er the lamp of existence,
And never would leave while a glimmer was there.

By her care I’m alive now-but what retribution
Can I for a life twice bestowed thus confer?
Were I to be silent, each year’s revolution
Proclaims-each new birthday is owing to her.

The chance-rooted tree that by waysides is planted,
Where no friendly hand will watch o’er its young shoots,
Has less blame if in autumn, when produce is wanted,
Enriched by small culture it put forth small fruits.

But that which with labour in hot-beds is reared,
Secured by nice art from the dews and the rains,
Unsound at the root may with justice be feared,
If it pay not with interest the tiller’s hard pains.

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Anger – Charles Lamb

Anger in its time and place
May assume a kind of grace.
It must have some reason in it,
And not last beyond a minute.
If to further lengths it go,
It does into malice grow.
‘Tis the difference that we see
‘Twixt the serpent and the bee.
If the latter you provoke,
It inflicts a hasty stroke,
Puts you to some little pain,
But it never stings again.
Close in tufted bush or brake
Lurks the poison-swellëd snake
Nursing up his cherished wrath;
In the purlieux of his path,
In the cold, or in the warm,
Mean him good, or mean him harm,
Whensoever fate may bring you,
The vile snake will always sting you.

A Vision Of Repentance – Charles Lamb

I saw a famous fountain, in my dream,
Where shady path-ways to a valley led;
A weeping willow lay upon that stream,
And all around the fountain brink were spread
Wide branching trees, with dark green leaf rich clad,
Forming a doubtful twilight-desolate and sad.

The place was such, that whoso enter’d in,
Disrobed was of every earthly thought,
And straight became as one that knew not sin,
Or to the world’s first innocence was brought;
Enseem’d it now, he stood on holy ground,
In sweet and tender melancholy wrapt around.

A most strange calm stole o’er my soothed sprite;
Long time I stood, and longer had I staid,
When, lo! I saw, saw by the sweet moon-light,
Which came in silence o’er that silent shade,
Where, near the fountain, something like despair
Made, of that weeping willow, garlands for her hair.

And eke with painful fingers she inwove
Many an uncouth stem of savage thorn-
‘The willow garland, that was for her love,
And these her bleeding temples would adorn.’
With sighs her heart nigh burst, salt tears fast fell,
As mournfully she bended o’er that sacred well.

To whom when I addrest myself to speak,
She lifted up her eyes, and nothing said;
The delicate red came mantling o’er her cheek,
And, gath’ring up her loose attire, she fled
To the dark covert of that woody shade,
And in her goings seem’d a timid gentle maid.

Revolving in my mind what this should mean,
And why that lovely lady plained so;
Perplex’d in thought at that mysterious scene,
And doubting if ’twere best to stay or go,
I cast mine eyes in wistful gaze around,
When from the shades came slow a small and plaintive sound.

‘Psyche am I, who love to dwell
In these brown shades, this woody dell,
Where never busy mortal came,
Till now, to pry upon my shame.

At thy feet what thou dost see
The waters of repentance be,
Which, night and day, I must augment
With tears, like a true penitent,

If haply so my day of grace
Be not yet past; and this lone place,
O’er-shadowy, dark, excludeth hence
All thoughts but grief and penitence.’

‘Why dost thou weep, thou gentle maid!
And wherefore in this barren shade
Thy hidden thoughts with sorrow feed?
Can thing so fair repentance need?’

‘O! I have done a deed of shame,
And tainted is my virgin fame,
And stain’d the beauteous maiden white,
In which my bridal robes were dight.’

‘And who the promised spouse, declare:
And what those bridal garments were.’

‘Severe and saintly righteousness
Compos’d the clear white bridal dress;
Jesus, the son of Heaven’s high king,
Bought with his blood the marriage ring.
A wretched sinful creature, I
Deem’d lightly of that sacred tie,
Gave to a treacherous world my heart,
And play’d the foolish wanton’s part.

Soon to these murky shades I came,
To hide from the sun’s light my shame.
And still I haunt this woody dell,
And bathe me in that healing well,
Whose waters clear have influence
From sin’s foul stains the soul to cleanse;
And, night and day, I them augment,
With tears, like a true penitent,
Until, due expiation made,
And fit atonement fully paid,
The lord and bridegroom me present,
Where in sweet strains of high consent,
God’s throne before, the Seraphim
Shall chaunt the extatic marriage hymn.’

‘Now Christ restore thee soon’-I said,
And thenceforth all my dream was fled.

The Old Familiar Faces – Charles Lamb

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.

Blindness – Charles Lamb

In a stage-coach, where late I chanced to be,
A little quiet girl my notice caught;
I saw she looked at nothing by the way,
Her mind seemed busy on some childish thought.

I with an old man’s courtesy addressed
The child, and called her pretty dark-eyed maid,
And bid her turn those pretty eyes and see
The wide extended prospect. ‘Sir,’ she said,

‘I cannot see the prospect, I am blind.’
Never did tongue of child utter a sound
So mournful, as her words fell on my ear.
Her mother then related how she found

Her child was sightless. On a fine bright day
She saw her lay her needlework aside,
And, as on such occasions mothers will,
For leaving off her work began to chide.

‘I’ll do it when ’tis daylight, if you please,
I cannot work, mamma, now it is night.’
The sun shone bright upon her when she spoke,
And yet her eyes received no ray of light.