Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems

A Child’s Pity

Algernon Charles Swinburne

NO sweeter thing than children’s ways and wiles,
    Surely, we say, can gladden eyes and ears :
Yet sometime sweeter than their words or smiles
    Are even their tears.

To one for once a piteous tale was read,
    How, when the murderous mother crocodile
Was slain, her fierce brood famished, and lay dead,
    Starved, by the Nile.

In vast green reed-beds on the vast grey slime
    Those monsters motherless and helpless lay,
Perishing only for the parent’s crime
    Whose seed were they.

Hours after, toward the dusk, our blithe small bird
    Of Paradise, who has our hearts in keeping,
Was heard or seen, but hardly seen or heard,
    For pity weeping.

He was so sorry, sitting still apart,
    For the poor little crocodiles, he said.
Six years had given him, for an angel’s heart,
    A child’s instead.

Feigned tears the false beasts shed for murderous ends,
    We know from travellers’ tales of crocodiles :
But these tears wept upon them of my friend’s
    Outshine his smiles.

What heavenliest angels of what heavenly city
    Could match the heavenly heart in children here?
The heart that hallowing all things with its pity
    Casts out all fear?

So lovely, so divine, so dear their laughter
    Seems to us, we know not what could be more dear :
But lovelier yet we see the sign thereafter
    Of such a tear.

With sense of love half laughing and half weeping
    We met your tears, our small sweet-spirited friend :
Let your love have us in its heavenly keeping
    To life’s last end.

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