Charles Lamb (1775-1834)
On an Infant Dying as Soon as Born
1I saw where in the shroud did lurk
2A curious frame of Nature's work.
3A flow'ret crushed in the bud,
4A nameless piece of Babyhood,
5Was in a cradle-coffin lying;
6Extinct, with scarce the sense of dying;
7So soon to exchange the imprisoning womb
8For darker closets of the tomb!
9She did but ope an eye, and put
10A clear beam forth, then strait up shut
11For the long dark: ne'er more to see
12Through glasses of mortality.
13Riddle of destiny, who can show
14What thy short visit meant, or know
15What thy errand here below?
16Shall we say, that Nature blind
17Check'd her hand, and changed her mind,
18Just when she had exactly wrought
19A finish'd pattern without fault?
20Could she flag, or could she tire,
21Or lack'd she the Promethean fire
22(With her nine moons' long workings sicken'd)
23That should thy little limbs have quicken'd?
24Limbs so firm, they seem'd to assure
25Life of health, and days mature:
26Woman's self in miniature!
27Limbs so fair, they might supply
28(Themselves now but cold imagery)
29The sculptor to make Beauty by.
30Or did the stern-eyed Fate descry,
31That babe, or mother, one must die;
32So in mercy left the stock,
33And cut the branch; to save the shock
34Of young years widow'd; and the pain,
35When Single State comes back again
36To the lone man who, 'reft of wife,
37Thenceforward drags a maimed life?
38The economy of Heaven is dark;
39And wisest clerks have miss'd the mark,
40Why Human Buds, like this, should fall,
41More brief than fly ephemeral,
42That has his day; while shrivel'd crones
43Stiffen with age to stocks and stones;
44And crabbed use the conscience sears
45In sinners of an hundred years.
46Mother's prattle, mother's kiss,
47Baby fond, thou ne'er wilt miss.
48Rites, which custom does impose,
49Silver bells and baby clothes;
50Coral redder than those lips,
51Which pale death did late eclipse;
52Music framed for infants' glee,
53Whistle never tuned for thee;
54Though thou want'st not, thou shalt have them,
55Loving hearts were they which gave them.
56Let not one be missing; nurse,
57See them laid upon the hearse
58Of infant slain by doom perverse.
59Why should kings and nobles have
60Pictured trophies to their grave;
61And we, churls, to thee deny
62Thy pretty toys with thee to lie,
63A more harmless vanity?
1] Lucas notes that Lamb wrote the poem for Thomas Hood, who lost his first-born child, a daughter, at birth (333).
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services,
University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Charles and Mary Lamb, Poems and Plays (London: Methuen, 1912): 53-54. PR 4860 A2 1912 Trinity College Library
First publication date:
Publication date note: The Gem, ed. Thomas Hood (1829)
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/17
Form: couplets and triplets
Other poems by Charles Lamb