new zealand electronic poetry centre

Lola Ridge

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The Three Little Children

Just three little children, laughing away in the sun;
The oldest one of them toddling and hardly able to run.

Chasing the flame-colored beetles, sighing to hold the bright things
Drowsily whirling above them, glitter of gold on their wings

Till the ‘possum leapt from the gum-tree all in the midst of their play –
Fleeing from three little children that followed and lost their way.

Away from the grass-sown paddocks – away from the home in view;
Far into the grim bush-shadows, and out of the world they knew!

How later were the children playing! “Coo-ee them in to their tea –
They must be there by the wattles, or aswing in the grey gum tree.”

But they came not back for our calling, and slow o’er the broken plain
The black witch, Night, came slouching, in a cloak of drifting rain.

“Muster the hands of the stations, and out with the rising sun,
For the babes of the free selector, lost on the Skeleton run!”

But the rain had blurred the traces, for the Night was leagued with hell,
And the Bush was safe and secret, and she kept her counsel well.

God! Why did the rain fall faster? Why kept not the wind at bay,
For the sake of three little children that had wandered and lost their way?

And why did the morning’s sun beat like flame on the steaming sands?
To burn on the rain-wet faces, and the small, weak, blistered hands?

We watched as the fifth dawn lifted the lids of her slow grey eyes,
And saw a vulture sailing far out o’er a stony rise –

Just a black blot on the sky-line, a-wheel on a circling track:
As we raised a shout to the children, the scream of the hawk came back.

“’Tis but a death-bird gloating o’er a lamb lost out on the plain”;
But rousing the sleeping trackers, we took up the quest again.

We came on a white sun-bonnet caught fast on a bramble edge
Where a vulture rose from the bushes, as we climbed the stony ledge;

And, there – with their wee, cold faces pressed close the the sand, they lay;
But the souls of three little children had long ago passed away.



‘The Three Little Children,’ Bulletin 15 Mar 1902: 36. Lola. April, 1902.
See also Verses 1905: 4-5.

Last updated 29 May, 2013