Robert Graves

(1895 - 1985 / London / England)

A Ballad Of Nursery Rhyme


Strawberries that in gardens grow
Are plump and juicy fine,
But sweeter far as wise men know
Spring from the woodland vine.

No need for bowl or silver spoon,
Sugar or spice or cream,
Has the wild berry plucked in June
Beside the trickling stream.

One such to melt at the tongue's root,
Confounding taste with scent,
Beats a full peck of garden fruit:
Which points my argument.

May sudden justice overtake
And snap the froward pen,
That old and palsied poets shake
Against the minds of men;

Blasphemers trusting to hold caught
In far-flung webs of ink
The utmost ends of human thought,
Till nothing's left to think.

But may the gift of heavenly peace
And glory for all time
Keep the boy Tom who tending geese
First made the nursery rhyme.

By the brookside one August day,
Using the sun for clock,
Tom whiled the languid hours away
Beside his scattering flock,

Carving with a sharp pointed stone
On a broad slab of slate
The famous lives of Jumping Joan,
Dan Fox and Greedy Kate;

Rhyming of wolves and bears and birds,
Spain, Scotland, Babylon,
That sister Kate might learn the words
To tell to Toddling John.

But Kate, who could not stay content
To learn her lesson pat,
New beauty to the rough lines lent
By changing this or that;

And she herself set fresh things down
In corners of her slate,
Of lambs and lanes and London Town.
God's blessing fall on Kate!

The baby loved the simple sound,
With jolly glee he shook,
And soon the lines grew smooth and round
Like pebbles in Tom's brook,

From mouth to mouth told and retold
By children sprawled at ease
Before the fire in winter's cold,
In June beneath tall trees;

Till though long lost are stone and slate,
Though the brook no more runs,
And dead long time are Tom, John, Kate,
Their sons and their sons' sons;

Yet, as when Time with stealthy tread
Lays the rich garden waste,
The woodland berry ripe and red
Fails not in scent or taste,

So these same rhymes shall still be told
To children yet unborn,
While false philosophy growing old
Fades and is killed by scorn.

Submitted: Thursday, April 01, 2010

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