Ballads, and Other Poems

In the Children’s Hospital

Alfred Tennyson, Lord


OUR doctor had call’d in another, I never had seen him before,
But he sent a chill to my heart when I saw him come in at the door,
Fresh from the surgery-schools of France and of other lands—
Harsh red hair, big voice, big chest, big merciless hands!
Wonderful cures he had done, O, yes, but they said too of him
He was happier using the knife than in trying to save the limb,
And that I can well believe, for he look’d so coarse and so red,
I could think he was one of those who would break their jests on the dead,
And mangle the living dog that had loved him and fawn’d at his knee—
Drench’d with the hellish oorali—that ever such things should be!

Here was a boy—I am sure that some of our children would die
But for the voice of love, and the smile, and the comforting eye—
Here was a boy in the ward, every bone seem’d out of its place—
Caught in a mill and crush’d—it was all but a hopeless case:
And he handled him gently enough; but his voice and his face were not kind,
And it was but a hopeless case, he had seen it and made up his mind,
And he said to me roughly, ‘The lad will need little more of your care.’
‘All the more need,’ I told him, ‘to seek The Lord Jesus in prayer;
They are all His children here, and I pray for them all as my own.’
But he turn’d to me, ‘Ay, good woman, can prayer set a broken bone?’
Then he mutter’d half to himself, but I know that I heard him say,
‘All very well—but the good Lord Jesus has had his day.’

Had? has it come? It has only dawn’d. It will come by and by.
O, how could I serve in the wards if the hope of the world were a lie?
How could I bear with the sights and the loathsome smells of disease
But that He said, ‘Ye do it to me, when ye do it to these’?

So he went. And we past to this ward where the younger children are laid.
Here is the cot of our orphan, our darling, our meek little maid;
Empty, you see, just now! We have lost her who loved her so much—
Patient of pain tho’ as quick as a sensitive plant to the touch.
Hers was the prettiest prattle, it often moved me to tears,
Hers was the gratefullest heart I have found in a child of her years—
Nay you remember our Emmie; you used to send her the flowers.
How she would smile at ’em, play with ’em, talk to ’em hours after hours!
They that can wander at will where the works of the Lord are reveal’d
Little guess what joy can be got from a cowslip out of the field;
Flowers to these ‘spirits in prison’ are all they can know of the spring,
They freshen and sweeten the wards like the waft of an angel’s wing.
And she lay with a flower in one hand and her thin hands crost on her breast—
Wan, but as pretty as heart can desire, and we thought her at rest,
Quietly sleeping—so quiet, our doctor said, 145;Poor little dear,
Nurse, I must do it to-morrow; she’ll never live thro’ it, I fear.’

I walk’d with our kindly old doctor as far as the head of the stair,
Then I return’d to the ward; the child didn’t see I was there.

Never since I was nurse had I been so grieved and so vext!
Emmie had heard him. Softly she call’d from her cot to the next,
‘He says I shall never live thro’ it;
O Annie, what shall I do?’ Annie consider’d.
‘If I,’ said the wise little Annie, ‘was you,
I should cry to the dear Lord Jesus to help me, for, Emmie, you see,
It’s all in the picture there: “Little children should come to me”’—
Meaning the print that you gave us, I find that it always can please
Our children, the dear Lord Jesus with children about his knees.
‘Yes, and I will,’ said Emmie, ‘but then if I call to the Lord,
How should he know that it’s me? such a lot of beds in the ward!’
That was a puzzle for Annie. Again she consider’d and said:
‘Emmie, you put out your arms, and you leave ’em outside on the bed—
The Lord has so much to see to! but, Emmie, you tell it him plain,
It’s the little girl with her arms lying out on the counterpane.’

I had sat three nights by the child—I could not watch her for four—
My brain had begun to reel—I felt I could do it no more.
That was my sleeping-night, but I thought that it never would pass.
There was a thunderclap once, and a clatter of hail on the glass,
And there was a phantom cry that I heard as I tost about,
The motherless bleat of a lamb in the storm and the darkness without;
My sleep was broken besides with dreams of the dreadful knife
And fears for our delicate Emmie who scarce would escape with her life;
Then in the gray of the morning it seem’d she stood by me and smiled,
And the doctor came at his hour, and we went to see to the child.

He had brought his ghastly tools; we believed her asleep again—
Her dear, long, lean, little arms lying out on the counterpane—
Say that His day is done! Ah, why should we care what they say?
The Lord of the children had heard her, and Emmie had past away.

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