55 Poems from Sing-Song (1893) by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Bread and milk for breakfast,
And woolen frocks to wear,
And a crumb for robin redbreast
On the cold days of the year.
There's snow on the fields,
And cold in the cottage,
While I sit in the chimney nook
Supping hot pottage.
My clothes are soft and warm,
Fold upon fold,
But I'm so sorry for the poor
Out in the cold.
I dug and dug amongst the snow,
And thought the flowers would never grow;
I dug and dug amongst the sand,
And still no green thing came to hand.
Melt, O snow! the warm winds blow
To thaw the flowers and melt the snow;
But all the winds from every land
Will rear no blossom from the sand.
Hear what the mournful linnets say:
"We built our nest compact and warm,
But cruel boys came round our way
And took our summerhouse by storm.
"They crushed the eggs so neatly laid;
So now we sit with drooping wing,
And watch the ruin they have made,
Too late to build, too sad to sing."
Hope is like a harebell trembling from its birth,
Love is like a rose the joy of all the earth;
Faith is like a lily lifted high and white,
Love is like a lovely rose the world's delight;
Harebells and sweet lilies show a thornless growth,
But the rose with all its thorns excels them both.
O wind, why do you never rest
Wandering, whistling to and fro,
Bringing rain out of the west,
From the dim north bringing snow?
Growing in the vale
By the uplands hilly,
Growing straight and frail,
In a golden crown,
And a scant green gown
While the spring blows chilly,
A linnet in a gilded cage,-
A linnet on a bough,-
In frosty winter one might doubt
Which bird is luckier now.
But let the trees burst out in leaf,
And nests be on the bough,
Which linnet is the luckier bird,
Oh who could doubt it now?
If all were rain and never sun,
No bow could span the hill;
If all were sun and never rain,
There'd be no rainbow still.
O wind, where have you been,
That you blow so sweet?
Among the violets
Which blossom at your feet.
The honeysuckle waits
For Summer and for heat.
But violets in the chilly Spring
Make the turf so sweet.
On the grassy banks
Lambkins at their pranks;
Woolly sisters, woolly brothers
Jumping off their feet
While their woolly mothers
Watch by them and bleat.
Rushes in a watery place,
And reeds in a hollow;
A soaring skylark in the sky,
A darting swallow;
And where pale blossom used to hang
Ripe fruit to follow.
Heartsease in my garden bed,
With sweetwilliam white and red,
Honeysuckle on my wall:-
Heartsease blossoms in my heart
When sweet William comes to call,
But it withers when we part,
And the honey-trumpets fall.
If I were a Queen,
What would I do?
I'd make you King,
And I'd wait on you.
If I were a King,
What would I do?
I'd make you Queen,
For I'd marry you.
What are heavy? sea-sand and sorrow:
What are brief? to-day and to-morrow:
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth:
What are deep? the ocean and truth.
Stroke a flint, and there is nothing to admire:
Strike a flint, and forthwith flash out sparks of fire.
There is but one May in the year,
And sometimes May is wet and cold;
There is but one May in the year
Before the year grows old.
Yet though it be the chilliest May,
With least of sun and most of showers,
Its wind and dew, its night and day,
Bring up the flowers.
The summer nights are short
Where northern days are long:
For hours and hours lark after lark
Trills out his song.
The summer days are short
Where southern nights are long:
Yet short the night when nightingales
Trill out their song.
Twist me a crown of wind-flowers;
That I may fly away
To hear the singers at their song,
And players at their play.
Put on your crown of wind-flowers:
But whither would you go?
Beyond the surging of the sea
And the storms that blow.
Alas! your crown of wind-flowers
Can never make you fly:
I twist them in a crown to-day,
And to-night they die.
Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry,
Take your walk
To the shady leaf, or stalk,
Or what not,
Which may be the chosen spot.
No toad spy you,
Hovering bird of prey pass by you;
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly.
A pocket handkerchief to hem-
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
How many stitches it will take
Before it's done, I fear.
Yet set a stitch and then a stitch,
And stitch and stitch away,
Till stitch by stitch the hem is done-
And after work is play!
If a pig wore a wig,
What could we say?
Treat him as a gentleman,
And say "Good day."
If his tail chanced to fail,
What could we do? -
Send him to the tailoress
To get one new.
How many seconds in a minute?
Sixty, and no more in it.
How many minutes in an hour?
Sixty for sun and shower.
How many hours in a day?
Twenty-four for work and play.
How many days in a week?
Seven both to hear and speak.
How many weeks in a month?
Four, as the swift moon runn'th.
How many months in a year?
Twelve the almanack makes clear.
How many years in an age?
One hundred says the sage.
How many ages in time?
No one knows the rhyme.
What will you give me for my pound?
Full twenty shillings round.
What will you give me for my shilling?
Twelve pence to give I'm willing.
What will you give me for my penny?
Four farthings, just so many.
January cold desolate;
February all dripping wet;
March wind ranges;
Birds sing in tune
To flowers of May,
And sunny June
Brings longest day;
In scorched July
The storm-clouds fly
August bears corn,
In rough October
Earth must disrobe her;
Stars fall and shoot
In keen November;
And night is long
And cold is strong
In bleak December.
What is pink? a rose is pink
By the fountain's brink.
What is red? a poppy's red
In its barley bed.
What is blue? the sky is blue
Where the clouds float thro'.
What is white? a swan is white
Sailing in the light.
What is yellow? pears are yellow,
Rich and ripe and mellow.
What is green? the grass is green,
With small flowers between.
What is violet? clouds are violet
In the summer twilight.
What is orange? why, an orange,
Just an orange!
Mother shake the cherry-tree,
Susan catch a cherry;
Oh how funny that will be,
Let's be merry!
One for brother, one for sister,
Two for mother more,
Six for father, hot and tired,
Knocking at the door.
A pin has a head, but has no hair;
A clock has a face, but no mouth there;
Needles have eyes, but they cannot see;
A fly has a trunk without lock or key;
A timepiece may lose, but cannot win;
A corn-field dimples without a chin;
A hill has no leg, but has a foot;
A wine-glass a stem, but not a root;
A watch has hands, but no thumb or finger;
A boot has a tongue, but is no singer;
Rivers run, though they have no feet;
A saw has teeth, but it does not eat;
Ash-trees have keys, yet never a lock;
And baby crows, without being a cock.
Hopping frog, hop here and be seen,
I'll not pelt you with stick or stone:
Your cap is laced and your coat is green;
Good bye, we'll let each other alone.
Plodding toad, plod here and be looked at,
You the finger of scorn is crooked at:
But though you're lumpish, you're harmless too;
You won't hurt me, and I won't hurt you.
The city mouse lives in a house;-
The garden mouse lives in a bower,
He's friendly with the frogs and toads,
And sees the pretty plants in flower.
The city mouse eats bread and cheese;-
The garden mouse eats what he can;
We will not grudge him seeds and stalks,
Poor little timid furry man.
A motherless soft lambkin
Along upon a hill;
No mother's fleece to shelter him
And wrap him from the cold:-
I'll run to him and comfort him,
I'll fetch him, that I will;
I'll care for him and feed him
Until he's strong and bold.
When fishes set umbrellas up
If the rain-drops run,
Lizards will want their parasols
To shade them from the sun.
The peacock has a score of eyes,
With which he cannot see;
The cod-fish has a silent sound,
However that may be;
No dandelions tell the time,
Although they turn to clocks;
Cat's-cradle does not hold the cat,
Nor foxglove fit the fox.
Pussy has a whiskered face,
Kitty has such pretty ways;
Doggie scampers when I call,
And has a heart to love us all.
In the meadow - what in the meadow?
Bluebells, buttercups, meadowsweet,
And fairy rings for the children's feet
In the meadow.
In the garden - what in the garden?
Jacob's-ladder and Solomon's-seal,
And Love-lies-bleeding beside All-heal
In the garden.
A frisky lamb
And a frisky child
Playing their pranks
In a cowslip meadow:
The sky all blue
And the air all mild
And the fields all sun
And the lanes half shadow.
Fly away, fly away over the sea,
Sun-loving swallow, for summer is done;
Come again, come again, come back to me,
Bringing the summer and bringing the sun.
When the cows come home the milk is coming,
Honey's made while the bees are humming;
Duck and drake on the rushy lake,
And the deer live safe in the breezy brake;
And timid, funny, brisk little bunny,
Winks his nose and sits all sunny.
"Ferry me across the water,
Do, boatman, do."
"If you've a penny in your purse
I'll ferry you."
"I have a penny in my purse,
And my eyes are blue;
So ferry me across the water,
Do, boatman, do."
"Step into my ferry-boat,
Be they black or blue,
And for the penny in your purse
I'll ferry you."
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing thro'.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.
The horses of the sea
Rear a foaming crest,
But the horses of the land
Serve us the best.
The horses of the land
Munch corn and clover,
While the foaming sea-horses
Toss and turn over.
O sailor, come ashore,
What have you brought for me?
Red coral, white coral,
Coral from the sea.
I did not dig it from the ground,
Nor pluck it from a tree;
Feeble insects made it
In the stormy sea.
A diamond or a coal?
A diamond, if you please:
Who cares about a clumsy coal
Beneath the summer trees?
A diamond or a coal?
A coal, sir, if you please:
One comes to care about the coal
What time the waters freeze.
Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier far than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her briar
Is lady of the land.
There's sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.
When with moss and honey
She tips her bending briar,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.
Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.
I caught a little ladybird
That flies far away;
I caught a little lady wife
That is both staid and gay.
Come back, my scarlet ladybird,
Back from far away;
I weary of my dolly wife,
My wife that cannot play.
She's such a senseless wooden thing
She stares the livelong day;
Her wig of gold is stiff and cold
And cannot change to grey.
A house of cards
Is neat and small:
Shake the table,
It must fall.
Find the Court cards
One by one;
Raise it, roof it,-
Now it's done:-
Shake the table!
That's the fun.
The rose with such a bonny blush,
What has the rose to blush about?
If it's the sun that makes her flush,
What's in the sun to flush about?
The peach tree on the southern wall
Has basked so long beneath the sun,
Her score of peaches great and small
Bloom rosy, every one.
A peach for brothers, one for each,
A peach for you and a peach for me;
But the biggest, rosiest, downiest peach
For Grandmamma with her tea.
Is the moon tired? she looks so pale
Within her misty veil:
She scales the sky from east to west,
And takes no rest.
Before the coming of the night
The moon shows papery white;
Before the dawning of the day
She fades away.
If stars dropped out of heaven,
And if flowers took their place,
The sky would still look very fair,
And fair earth's face.
Winged angels might fly down to us
To pluck the stars,
Be we could only long for flowers
Beyond the cloudy bars.
If the sun could tell us half
That he hears and sees,
Sometimes he would make us laugh,
Sometimes make us cry:
Think of all the birds that make
Homes among the trees;
Think of cruel boys who take
Birds that cannot fly.
What do the stars do
Up in the sky,
Higher than the wind can blow,
Or the clouds can fly?
Each star in its own glory
Circles, circles still;
As it was lit to shine and set,
And do its Maker's will.
poems selected by Leslie Laurio
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