Phoebe Cary (1824-1871)
A Leak in the Dike
A Story of Holland
1The good dame looked from her cottage
2 At the close of the pleasant day,
3And cheerily called to her little son
4 Outside the door at play:
5"Come, Peter, come! I want you to go,
6 While there is light to see,
7To the hut of the blind old man who lives
8 Across the dike, for me;
9And take these cakes I made for him--
10 They are hot and smoking yet;
11You have time enough to go and come
12 Before the sun is set."
13Then the good-wife turned to her labor,
14 Humming a simple song,
15And thought of her husband, working hard
16 At the sluices all day long;
17And set the turf a-blazing,
18 And brought the coarse black bread;
19That he might find a fire at night,
20 And find the table spread.
21And Peter left the brother,
22 With whom all day he had played,
23And the sister who had watched their sports
24 In the willow's tender shade;
25And told them they 'd see him back before
26 They saw a star in sight,
27Though he would n't be afraid to go
28 In the very darkest night!
29For he was a brave, bright fellow,
30 With eye and conscience clear;
31He could do whatever a boy might do,
32 And he had not learned to fear.
33Why, he would n't have robbed a bird's nest,
34 Nor brought a stork to harm,
35Though never a law in Holland
36 Had stood to stay his arm!
37And now, with his face all glowing,
38 And eyes as bright as the day
39With the thoughts of his pleasant errand,
40 He trudged along the way;
41And soon his joyous prattle
42 Made glad a lonesome place--
43Alas! if only the blind old man
44 Could have seen that happy face!
45Yet he somehow caught the brightness
46 Which his voice and presence lent;
47And he felt the sunshine come and go
48 As Peter came and went.
49And now, as the day was sinking,
50 And the winds began to rise,
51The mother looked from her door again,
52 Shading her anxious eyes;
53And saw the shadows deepen
54 And birds to their homes come back,
55But never a sign of Peter
56 Along the level track.
57But she said: "He will come at morning,
58 So I need not fret or grieve--
59Though it is n't like my boy at all
60 To stay without my leave."
61But where was the child delaying?
62 On the homeward way was he,
63And across the dike while the sun was up
64 An hour above the sea.
65He was stopping now to gather flowers,
66 Now listening to the sound,
67As the angry waters dashed themselves
68 Against their narrow bound.
69"Ah! well for us," said Peter,
70 "That the gates are good and strong,
71And my father tends them carefully,
72 Or they would not hold you long!
73You 're a wicked sea," said Peter;
74 "I know why you fret and chafe;
75You would like to spoil our lands and homes;
76 But our sluices keep you safe!"
77But hark! Through the noise of waters
78 Comes a low, clear, trickling sound;
79And the child's face pales with terror,
80 And his blossoms drop to the ground.
81He is up the bank in a moment,
82 And, stealing through the sand,
83He sees a stream not yet so large
84 As his slender, childish hand.
85'T is a leak in the dike! He is but a boy,
86 Unused to fearful scenes;
87But, young as he is, he has learned to know
88 The dreadful thing that means.
89A leak in the dike! The stoutest heart
90 Grows faint that cry to hear,
91And the bravest man in all the land
92 Turns white with mortal fear.
93For he knows the smallest leak may grow
94 To a flood in a single night;
95And he knows the strength of the cruel sea
96 When loosed in its angry might.
97And the boy! He has seen the danger,
98 And, shouting a wild alarm,
99He forces back the weight of the sea
100 With the strength of his single arm!
101He listens for the joyful sound
102 Of a footstep passing nigh;
103And lays his ear to the ground, to catch
104 The answer to his cry.
105And he hears the rough winds blowing,
106 And the waters rise and fall,
107But never an answer comes to him,
108 Save the echo of his call.
109He sees no hope, no succor,
110 His feeble voice is lost;
111Yet what shall he do but watch and wait,
112 Though he perish at his post!
113So, faintly calling and crying
114 Till the sun is under the sea;
115Crying and moaning till the stars
116 Come out for company;
117He thinks of his brother and sister,
118 Asleep in their safe warm bed;
119He thinks of his father and mother,
120 Of himself as dying--and dead;
121And of how, when the night is over,
122 They must come and find him at last:
123But he never thinks he can leave the place
124 Where duty holds him fast.
125The good dame in the cottage
126 Is up and astir with the light,
127For the thought of her little Peter
128 Has been with her all night.
129And now she watches the pathway,
130 As yester eve she had done;
131But what does she see so strange and black
132 Against the rising sun?
133Her neighbors are bearing between them
134 Something straight to her door;
135Her child is coming home, but not
136 As he ever came before!
137"He is dead!" she cries; "my darling!"
138 And the startled father hears,
139And comes and looks the way she looks,
140 And fears the thing she fears:
141Till a glad shout from the bearers
142 Thrills the stricken man and wife--
143"Give thanks, for your son has saved our land,
144 And God has saved his life!"
145So, there in the morning sunshine
146 They knelt about the boy;
147And every head was bared and bent
148 In tearful, reverent joy.
149'T is many a year since then; but still,
150 When the sea roars like a flood,
151Their boys are taught what a boy can do
152 Who is brave and true and good.
153For every man in that country
154 Takes his son by the hand,
155And tells him of little Peter,
156 Whose courage saved the land.
157They have many a valiant hero,
158 Remembered through the years:
159But never one whose name so oft
160 Is named with loving tears.
161And his deed shall be sung by the cradle,
162 And told to the child on the knee,
163So long as the dikes of Holland
164 Divide the land from the sea!
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: The Poetical Works of Alice and Phoebe Cary (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1882): 210-12. PS 1263 A1 1882 Robarts Library.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/21
Other poems by Phoebe Cary