A red-cap sang in Bishop's wood, A lark o'er Golder's lane, As I the April pathway trod Bound west for Willesden.
At foot each tiny blade grew big And taller stood to hear, And every leaf on every twig Was like a little ear.
As I too paused, and both ways tried To catch the rippling rain, — So still, a hare kept at my side His tussock of disdain, —
Behind me close I heard a step, A soft pit-pat surprise, And looking round my eyes fell deep Into sweet other eyes;
The eyes like wells, where sun lies too, So clear and trustful brown, Without a bubble warning you That here's a place to drown.
"How many miles?" Her broken shoes Had told of more than one. She answered like a dreaming Muse, "I came from Islington."
"So long a tramp?" Two gentle nods, Then seemed to lift a wing, And words fell soft as willow-buds, "I came to find the Spring."
A timid voice, yet not afraid In ways so sweet to roam, As it with honey bees had played And could no more go home.
Her home! I saw the human lair, I heard the huckster's bawl, I stifled with the thickened air Of bickering mart and stall.
Without a tuppence for a ride, Her feet had set her free. Her rags, that decency defied, Seemed new with liberty.
But she was frail. Who would might note The trail of hungering That for an hour she had forgot In wonder of the Spring.
So shriven by her joy she glowed It seemed a sin to chat. (A tea-shop snuggled off the road; Why did I think of that?)
Oh, frail, so frail! I could have wept, — But she was passing on, And I but muddled, "You'll accept A penny for a bun?"
Then up her little throat a spray Of rose climbed for it must; A wilding lost till safe it lay Hid by her curls of rust;
And I saw modesties at fence With pride that bore no name; So old it was she knew not whence It sudden woke and came;
But that which shone of all most clear Was startled, sadder thought That I should give her back the fear Of life she had forgot.
And I blushed for the world we'd made, Putting God's hand aside, Till for the want of sun and shade His little children died;
And blushed that I who every year With Spring went up and down, Must greet a soul that ached for her With "penny for a bun!"
Struck as a thief in holy place Whose sin upon him cries, I watched the flowers leave her face, The song go from her eyes.
Then she, sweet heart, she saw my rout, And of her charity A hand of grace put softly out And took the coin from me.
A red-cap sang in Bishop's wood, A lark o'er Golder's lane; But I, alone, still glooming stood, And April plucked in vain;
Till living words rang in my ears And sudden music played: Out of such sacred thirst as hers The world shall be remade.
Afar she turned her head and smiled As might have smiled the Spring, And humble as a wondering child I watched her vanishing.