Mary and Charles Lamb page

Poems of Charles and Mary Lamb

(Charles: Published 1797)

I saw a famous fountain in my dream,
Where shady pathways to a valley led;
A weeping willow lay upon the 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 entred in
Disrobed was of every earthly thought,
And straight became as one who knew not sin,
Or to the world's first innocence was brought;
Enseemed it now he stood on holy ground,
In sweet and tender melancholy wrapt around.

A most strange calm stole o,er my soothàd sprite:
Long time I stood, and longer had I stayed,
When lo! I saw, saw by the sweet moonlight,
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 addressed myself to speak,
She lifted up her eyes, and nothing said;
The delicate red came mantling o'er her cheek,
And, gathering up her loose attire, she fled
To the dark covert of that woody shade,
And in her goings seemed a timid gentle maid.

Revolving in my mind what this should mean,
And why that lovely lady plainèd so;
Perplexed 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.

    footnote to Psyche defines her as The soul

    "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'ershadowy, 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 stained 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
    Composed 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
    Deemed lightly of that sacred tie,
    Gave to a treacherous world my heart,
    And played 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 ecstatic marriage hymn"

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

(Charles: February 1797)

Thou too art dead, [Aunt Hetty]! very kind
Hast thou been to me in my childish days,
Thou best good creature. I have not forgot
How thou didst love thy Charles, when he was yet
A prating schoolboy : I have not forgot
The busy joy on that important day,
When, childlike, the poor wanderer was content
To leave the bosom of parental love,
His childhood's play-place, and his early home,
For the rude fosterings of a stranger's hand,
Hard uncouth tasks, and schoolboy's scanty fare.
How did thine eye peruse him round and round,
And hardly know him in his yellow coats,
Red leathern belt, and gown of russet blue!
Farewell, good aunt!
Go thou and occupy the same gravebed
Where the dead mother lies,
O my dear mother! thou dear dead saint!
Where's now that placid face, where oft hath sat
A mother's smile, to think her son should thrive
In this bad world, when she was dead and gone;
And where a tear hath sat (take shame, O son !)
When that same child has proved himself unkind?
One parent yet is left - a wretched thing,
A sad survivor of his buried wife,
A palsy-smitten, childish, old, old man,
A semblance most forlorn of what he was,
A merry, cheerful man. A merrier man,
A man more apt to frame matter for mirth,
Mad jokes, and antics for a Christmas Eve,
Making life social, and the laggard time
To move on nimbly, never yet did cheer
The little circle of domestic friends.

(Charles: August 1797)

A stranger, and alone, I past those scenes
We past so late together ; and my heart
Felt something like desertion, when I looked
Around me, and the well-known voice of friend
Was absent, and the cordial look was there
No more to smile on me. I thought on Lloyd.}
All he had been to me. And now I go
Again to mingle with a world impure,
With men who make a mock of holy things
Mistaken, and of man's best hope think scorn.
The world does much to warp the heart of man,
And I may sometimes join its idiot laugh.
Of this I now complain not. Deal with me,
Omniscient Father ! as Thou judgest best,
And in Thy season tender Thou my heart.
I pray not for myself; I pray for him
Whose soul is sore perplexed; shine Thou on him,
Father of Lights! and in the difficult paths
Make plain his way before him. His own thoughts
May he not think, his own ends not pursue;
So shall he best perform Thy will on earth.
Greatest and Best, Thy will be ever ours !

(Charles: September 1797)

Alas! how am I changed! Where be the tears,
The sobs, and forced suspensions of the breath,
And all the dull desertions of the heart,
With which I hung o'er my dead mother's corse?
Where be the blest subsidings of the storm
Within, the sweet resignedness of hope
Drawn heavenward, and strength of filial love
In which I bowed me to my Father's will?
My God and my Redeemer! keep not Thou
My soul in brute and sensual thanklessness
Sealed up; oblivious ever of that dear grace;
And health restored to my long-loved friend,
Long-loved and worthy known. Thou didst not leave
Her soul in death! O leave not now, my Lord,
Thy servants in far worse, in spiritual death!
And darkness blacker than those feared shadows
Of the valley all must tread. Lend us thy balms,
Thou dear Physician of the sin-sick soul,
And heal our cleansed bosoms of the wounds
With which the world has pierced us through and through.
Give us new flesh, new birth. Elect of heaven
May we become, in Thine election sure
'Contained, and to one purpose steadfast drawn,
Our soul's salvation!

Thou, and I, dear friend,
With filial recognition sweet, shall know
One day the face of our dear mother in heaven;
And her remembered looks of love shall greet
With looks of answering love; her placid smiles
Meet with a smile as placid, and her hand
With drops of fondness wet, nor fear repulse.
Be witness for me, Lord, I do not ask
Those days of vanity to return again
(Nor fitting me to ask, nor Thee to give).
Vain loves and wanderings with a fair-haired maid,
Child of the dust as I am, who so long
My captive heart steeped in idolatry
And creature-loves. Forgive me, O my Maker!
If in a mood of grief I sin almost
In sometimes brooding on the days long past,
And from the grave of time wishing them back,
Days of a mother's fondness to her child,
Her little one.
O where be now those sports,
And infant play-games? where the joyous troops
Of children, and the haunts I did so love?
O my companions ! O ye loved names
Of friend or playmate dear! gone are ye now;
Gone diverse ways; to honour and credit some,
And some, I fear, to ignominy and shame!
I only am left, with unavailing grief,
To mourn one parent dead, and see one live
Of all life's joys bereft and desolate:
Am left with a few friends, and one, above
The rest, found faithful in a length of years,
Contented as I may, to bear me on
To the not unpeaceful evening of a day
Made black by morning storms!

(Charles: October 1797)
Thou' should'st have longer lived, and to the grave
Have peacefully gone down in full old age!
Thy children would have tended thy grey hairs.
We might have sat, as we have often done,
By our fireside, and talked whole nights away,
Old times, old friends, and old events recalling
With many a circumstance, of trivial note,
To memory dear, and of importance grown.
How shall we tell them in a stranger's ear?
A wayward son ofttimes was I to thee ;
And yet, in all our little bickerings,
Domestic jars, there was, I know not what,
Of tender feeling, that were ill exchanged
For this world's chilling friendships, and their smiles
Familiar, whom the heart calls strangers still.
A heavy lot hath he, most wretched man!
Who lives the last of all his family;
He looks around him, and his eye discerns
The face of the stranger, and his heart is sick.
Man of the world, what canst thou do for him ?
Wealth is a burden which he could not bear;
Mirth a strange crime, the which he dares not act;
And wine no cordial, but a bitter cup.
For wounds like his Christ is the only cure,
And Gospel promises are his by right,
For these were given to the poor in heart.
Go, preach thou to him of a world to come,
Where friends shall meet, and know each other's face.
Say less than this, and say it to the winds.

actually titled: WRITTEN ON CHRISTMAS DAY, 1797
Charles: written on Christmas Day, 1797

I am a widowed thing, now thou art gone !
Now thou art gone, my own familiar friend,
Companion, sister, helpmate, counsellor !
Alas! that honoured mind, whose sweet reproof
And meekest wisdom in times past have smoothed
The unfilial harshness of my foolish speech,
And made me loving to my parents old,
(Why is this so, ah, God ! why is this so ?)
That honoured mind become a fearful blank,
Her senses locked up, and herself kept out
From human sight or converse, while so many
Of the foolish sort are left to roam at large,
Doing all acts of folly, and sin, and shame?
Thy paths are mystery!
Yet I will not think,
Sweet friend, but we shall one day meet, and live
In quietness, and die so, fearing God.
Or if not, and these false suggestions be
A fit of the weak nature, loth to part
With what it loved so long, and held so dear;
If thou art to be taken, and I left
(More sinning, yet unpunished, save in thee),
It is the will of God, and we are clay
In the potter's hands; and, at the worst, are made,
From absolute nothing, vessels of disgrace,
Till, His most righteous purpose wrought in us,
Our purified spirits find their perfect rest.

Charles: January 1798

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 seemed 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.

For 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.

Mary: Summer 1800

High-born Helen, round your dwelling
These twenty years I've paced in vain:
Haughty beauty, thy lover's duty
Hath been to glory in his pain.

High-born Helen, proudly telling
Stories of thy cold disdain;
I starve, I die, now you comply,
And I no longer can complain.

These twenty years I've lived on tears,
Dwelling for ever on a frown;
On sighs I've fed, your scorn my bread;
I perish now you kind are grown.

Can I, who loved my beloved
But for the scorn "was in her eye,"
Can I be moved for my beloved,
When she "returns me sigh for sigh"?

In stately pride, by my bed-side
High-born Helen's portrait's hung;
Deaf to my praise, my mournful lays
Are nightly to the portrait sung.

To that I weep, nor ever sleep,
Complaining all night long to her --
Helen, grown old, no longer cold,
Said, "You to all men I prefer."

first published 1809

Within the precincts of this yard,
Each in his narrow confines barr'd,
Dwells every beast that can be found
On Afric or on Indian ground.
How different was the life they led
In those wild haunts where they were bred,
To this tame servitude and fear,
Enslav'd by man, they suffer here!

In that uneasy close recess
Couches a sleeping Lioness;
That next den holds a Bear; the next
A Wolf, by hunger ever vext;
There, fiercer from the keeper's lashes,
His teeth the fell Hyena gnashes;
That creature on whose back abound
Black spots upon a yellow ground,
A Panther is, the fairest beast
That haunteth in the spacious East.
He underneath a fair outside
Does cruelty and treach'ry hide.

That cat-like beast that to and fro
Restless as fire does ever go,
As if his courage did resent
His limbs in such confinement pent,
That should their prey in forests take,
And make the Indian jungles quake,
A Tiger is. Observe how sleek
And glossy smooth his coat: no streak
On satin ever match'd the pride
Of that which marks his furry hide.
How strong his muscles! he with ease
Upon the tallest man could seize,
In his large mouth away could bear him,
And in a thousand pieces tear him:
Yet cabin'd so securely here,
The smallest infant need not fear.

That lordly creature next to him
A Lion is. Survey each limb.
Observe the texture of his claws,
The massy thickness of those jaws;
His mane that sweeps the ground in length,
Like Samson's locks, betok'ning strength.
In force and swiftness he excels
Each beast that in the forest dwells;
The savage tribes him king confess
Throughout the howling wilderness.
Woe to the hapless neighbourhood,
When he is press'd by want of food!
Of man, or child, of bull, or horse,
He makes his prey; such is his force.
A waste behind him he creates,
Whole villages depopulates.
Yet here within appointed lines
How small a grate his rage confines!

This place methinks resembleth well
The world itself in which we dwell.
Perils and snares on every ground
Like these wild beasts beset us round.
But Providence their rage restrains,
Our heavenly Keeper sets them chains;
His goodness saveth every hour
His darlings from the Lion's power.

Charles: published 1829


"Suck, baby, suck! mother's love grows by giving;
Drain the sweet founts that only thrive by wasting;
Black manhood comes, when riotous guilty living
Hands thee the cup that shall be death in tasting.
Kiss, baby, kiss! mother's lips shine by kisses;
Choke the warm breath that else would fall in blessings;
Black manhood comes, when turbulent guilty blisses
Tend thee the kiss that poisons 'mid caressings.
Hang, baby, hang! mother's love loves such forces,
Strain the fond neck that bends still to the clinging;
Black manhood comes, when violent lawless courses
Leave thee a spectacle in rude air swinging"
So sang a withered Beldam energetical,
And banned the ungiving door with lips prophetical.

Charles: published 1829


By Enfield lanes, and Winchmore's verdant hill,
Two lovely damsels cheer my lonely walk;
The fair Maria, as a vestal still.
And Emma brown, exuberant in talk.
With soft and lady speech the first applies
The mild correctives that to grace belong
To her redundant friend, who her defies
With jest, and mad discourse, and bursts of song.
O differing Pair, yet sweetly thus agreeing,
What music from your happy discord rises,
While your companion hearing each, and seeing
Nor this, nor that, but both together, prizes;
This lesson teaching, which our souls may strike,
That harmonies may be in things unlike!

Emma Isola was 21 in 1830.
The poem was published the same year in Album Verses


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 almanack,
That speaks thee twenty-one. Thou should'st have still
Remain'd a child, and at they 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 has 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 should'st 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 will 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."

The following poem was printed immediately
the above in Album Verses (1830)


External gifts of fortune or of face,
Maiden, in truth, thou has not much to show;
Much fairer damsels have I known and know,
And richer may be found in every place.
In the mind seek thy beauty and thy wealth.
Sincereness lodgeth there, the soul's best health.
O guard that treasure above gold or pearl,
Laid up secure from moths and worldly stealth-
And take my benison, plain-hearted girl.

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A natural companion to reading Mary Lamb: Mad Mary Lamb on Susan Tyler Hitchcock's web site
Mad Mary Lamb: Lunacy and Murder in Literary London by Susan Tyler Hitchcock