Little Lettice is dead, by Michael Field

Post mortem of a young girl lying on a blanket
Post mortem of a young girl lying on a blanket – from user oakenroad on Flickr

From “The Second Book of Songs” of Underneath the Bough, here is a poem devoted to a deceased little girl.

LITTLE Lettice is dead, they say,
The brown sweet child that rolled in the hay;
Ah, where shall we find her?
For the neighbours pass
To the pretty lass,
In a linen cere-cloth to wind her.

If her sister were set to search
The nettle-green nook beside the church,
And the way were shown her
Through the coffin-gate
To her dead playmate,
She would fly too frighted to own her.

Should she come at a noonday call,
Ah, stealthy, stealthy, with no footfall,
And no laughing chatter.
To her mother ’twere worse
Than a barren curse
That her own little wench should pat her.

Little Lettice is dead and gone!
The stream by her garden wanders on
Through the rushes wider;
She fretted to know
How its bright drops grow
On the hills, but no hand would guide her.

Little Lattice is dead and lost!
Her willow-tree boughs by storm are tossed—
O the swimming sallows!—
Where she crouched to find
The nest of the wind
Like a water-fowl’s in the shallows.

Little Lettice is out of sight!
The river-bed and the breeze are bright:
Ay me, were it sinning
To dream that she knows
Where the soft wind rose
That her willow-branches is thinning?

Little Lettice has lost her name,
Slipt away from our praise and our blame;
Let not love pursue her,
But conceive her free
Where the bright drops be
On the hills, and no longer rue her!

Sources of the poem: Underneath the Bough, A Book of Verses by Michael Field (American edition), Thomas B. Mosher, Portland, Maine (1898). A transcription of the English edition of 1893 has been given by Dickinson College, but it was not thoroughly checked; the poem can be seen here. The poem has also been transcribed on Bartleby.com.

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