Decorative Plaques

Poems by Mary E. Wilkins

From Decorative Plaques (D. Lothrop & Company; Boston: 1883)

A Reed of Arcady.

A little fair Arcadian maid upon a reed once sweetly played
  One of those lovely tunes of old the reeds in keeping used to hold,
While all around her through the glade danced golden leaves and leaves of shade.
  And through the boughs above her rolled the light in drops of finer gold.
And when she piped so slender-sweet, would come a-scurrying to her feet
  The little bright-eyed hares to hear a melody so fine and clear;
And rosy-footed doves would meet, and nightingales, and swallows fleet
  On boughs and flowering bushes near, and listen, thinking not of fear.
She danced away when twilight fell, with silent reed, and broke the spell;
  And now her reed's as vain a thing as one that never learned to sing.
But still the wee wild-folk that dwell in those old woods remember well,
  And at the first sweet whistling, would come the rush of foot and wing.

The Baby Year.

Fiercely is the north wind blowing, drives a rasping, sleety shower;
Yet to-day upon the mountain there's an apple-tree in flower;
To it honey-bees are going, butterflies around it play,
Near it through the snow, a fountain leaps in whirls of silver spray.
In the tree a nest is swinging, wove of rushes green and sere,
Softly lined with down and roses for the dainty baby-year;
Robins in his ears are singing, doves and bluebirds round him skim,
As he in his nest reposes, rosy dawn-light over him.
On his shoulders wings are lying, silver lines and filmy blue,
And his eyes are twinkling ever with new lights, like drops of dew.
Baby years to earth a-flying, there have been a thousand more,
But, thou, pearl of babies, never came one half so sweet before.


The gulls were flying, the ships were sailing out of the West and North;
She sat high up in her cushioned window, merrily gazing forth;
She took her lute with its broad blue ribbon, and daintily touched the strings,
Till the room was full of trills and quavers, as a wood when the robin sings.
Rosebuds blowing on fields of silver, was her gown of a rich old stuff,
And her sweet face looked like a rose from its calyx, out of her royal ruff;
She beat the time with her tiny slipper, and sang as she watched the sea:
“I have a ship that the fairies have laden, a-sailing the ocean to me.”
While she was singing, the ships kept sailing, but hers came never in sight,
With its tall black masts on the rim of ocean, though she watched till the fall of night.
But she fingered her lute with its broad blue ribbon, and her singing was just as gay:
“I have a ship that the fairies have laden; it reached not the port to-day.”

That Little Hat.

'Twas in March, a windy morning; tree-boughs bent out and in,
  Clouds of dust whirled round the corners, last year's leaves like swallows flew,
When she tied that little bonnet, in the picture, 'neath her chin,
  Such a pretty little bonnet, white, with silken strings of blue.
Then when she had kissed her mother, off to school the darling sped;
Half-way there a wilder wind-gust snatched her bonnet from her head;
With her fluffy locks a-blowing, staring in a piteous plight,
She could see it floating, floating, o'er the tree-tops, out of sight.
And she never saw it after. What the March wind could have meant
  Stealing Bessie's little bonnet with its silken strings of blue,
If to snowland, or to flowerland, with it on his head he went,
  Long they pondered and they wondered; but they never really knew.

The Alphabet of Spring.

Sing a song of grasses O! bravely they begin to grow;
  O'er the southern slopes are bristling legions of their fairy spears.
Sing a song of branches O! leaflets green begin to show,
  Folded half, and dainty-pointed are they as a squirrel's ears.
Sing a song of laddies O! one there was — a darling fellow,
With his eyes as blue as lilies, and his locks like roses, yellow;
With his tiny, peaked slippers, knots of ribbon on the toes;
With his scarlet ribbon-garters, and his little silken hose.
Out 'mid budding boughs and grasses, on a sunny April day,
  Something, of a sudden, stopped him, wondering, from his frolicking;
And he, trustingly, and meekly, as a happy baby may,
  In a moment, for a lifetime, learned the A B C of Spring.

Come Into the Garden.

O lady, my lady, my sweet pretty lady! walk out in your garden to-day,
For the peaches flower out in this beautiful weather, and the apple and cherry-trees blossom together.
Tie on your hat with its floating white feather, and walk in your garden, I pray;
  Yes, tie on your hat with its veil and feather, and take up your peacock fan,
And up and down thro' the garden-alley, with a gentle air and a stately sally,
  As a beautiful lady can, as a beautiful lady can.
And the apple and cherry-boughs blowing and snowing over your lovely head,
  All of the way will a carpet be spreading, as grand as it were for a princess' treading,
Of blossoms of gray and red, of blossoms of gray and red.
  So you in your garden a-walking this morning can dream you are Queen of the May.
O tender green garlands the bushes are wreathing, and mellow sweet airs float by for your breathing!
O lady, sweet lady, my sweet pretty lady! go walk in your garden, I pray.

The Naughty Baby-Boy.

Once there was a baby-boy, on a pleasant summer day,
Went out in a flowery field with his little dog to play;
Velvet mulleins stood around, sorrel bent its rosy sprays,
Yarrow trembled, blackberry-vines took their graceful, devious ways;
And the baby-boy was happy as a baby-boy could be,
And he played till he was tired; then beneath a spreading tree,
On a little grassy bank, down he sat to rest a spell;
All at once he thought he heard, sweet and far away, a bell;
Then he heard a voice a-calling: “Come, come home now, baby dear!”
First the bell, and then the voice, tinkling, calling, he could hear;
But he sat still with his doggie underneath the spreading tree,
Just as sweet, and just as naughty as a baby-boy could be.

Feeding the Bossy.

Daisies, O my gentle Bessy, clover red, and honey sweet,
  Feathery grasses, bearded grasses, pointed grasses wet with dew —
Was there ever anybody had such lovely things to eat,
  As I've heaped up in the manger, pretty little pet, for you?
Why, I wonder, don't I like them? why is it I'll eat instead,
  When you've had your breakfast, after mother's called me in to ours,
Ham and eggs — I smell them cooking — and a buttered slice of bread?
  Why is it, I wonder, Bessy, little girls don't live on flowers?
After all — though you are pretty — nobody, I think, would dream
  Looking at us both, you lived on heaps of blossoms wet with dew,
And I, on such homely victuals; for I really think I seem,
  Though maybe I should not say it, more like a flower than you.

A Hint of Thanksgiving.

Here he is, sir! Now, what think? Beats last year's one out and out!
  Just look, mother! Sis, come here, 'tain't a-snowing much, I say!
It's my 'pinion there ain't one miles and miles and miles about,
  Half so big as him! Sam White, if he wants to talk, he may.
Yesterday, he says, says he: “We've got just the biggest chap —
  Yours, O lor! it looks to me like a chicken side of ours.”
Then he walked off, grand as if he'd got a crown on for a cap,
  And his nose a-sniffin' up 's if he smelt a bunch of flowers.
Guess he'll see — but I don't care. My, but ain't it jolly O!
  Here's Thanksgiving in a week, puddings, pies, and all the rest —
Lots of nice things — Sis, look here, after all, I s'pose, you know,
   Every boy might just as well think his turkey is the best.

The Woodland Horn.

Where, on feathery brake and star-flower, lies at noon the morning dew,
  Where the silver poplars twinkle and the pines like wind-harps play,
Sat a lonely boy one morning; for his little comrades two
  Somewhere 'mongst the cool green shadows from his sight had strayed away.
First he listened, steady staring; then — he had his horn with him —
  He would send a tirra-lirra flying through the forest ways,
“Tirra-lirra, lirra-lirra,” through the woodland alleys dim.
  Then he listened, on the distance fastening his earnest gaze;
“Tirra-lirra, lirra-lirra,” blew he on his horn again.
  Over to the southward — can it — some one answered, can it be?
“Tirra-lirra, lirra-lirra,” comes from far, a fainter strain,
  “Yes,” he said, “I thought I heard it — there's the fellows calling me!”

The Fisher-Maiden.

What she caught — this fisher-maiden with her blowing yellow curls?
Why, her net — so runs the story — full of emeralds and pearls,
And some broken bits of glory from the rainbows in the river,
Which the sunlight of a morning wakes and links and sets a-quiver;
All their silver fins a-winking, shot the groups of fishes past.
Right and left the jewels dashing, down her little net she cast;
Up the emeralds came flashing — with the pearls and rainbows ever,
But the pretty silver fishes tangled in amongst them, never.
One would think this fisher-maiden with her blowing yellow curls,
Might have liked the bits of glory, and the emeralds and pearls,
But all day — so runs the story — since she had such paltry wishes,
There she sat, beside the river, fishing all in vain for fishes.

The Doves' Breakfast.

In the grassy farmhouse yard, southward from the kitchen door,
There she stands a-flinging crumbs from her little pinafore;
For the tender little girl loves the pretty helpless things,
Fluttering eagerly about on their snowy, humming wings.
Not a morning comes around, but her hungry doves she feeds,
Lovingly and patiently caring for their simple needs.
Rather breakfastless herself any day, she'd choose to go,
Than to fail the waiting birds she has taught to trust her so.
Well, my little kindly heart, after many a sun and rain,
All the comfort that you give, back to you may come again;
May be, some day, you will be set at peace when sore bestead,
And, because you fed the doves, like a dove you will be fed.