THE SECRET CHILD
Hyde’s first child, Christopher Robin Hyde, was born
clandestinely in Sydney in 1926 and died at birth. Hyde subsequently took part
of his name as her nomme de guerre (1934 Auto Ch 19 ‘The Secret Child’)
and used it as a memorial and signature. Poems for and about Robin are present
in the archive from 1926 onward. In her autobiographical fiction, Hyde later
identified the birth and death of Eliza Hannay’s baby in Sydney as the
catalyst for Eliza’s poetry (Godwits 210). Hyde’s dead child was
commemorated several times by poems published near the springtime anniversary
of his birth.
A Daughter to her Mother
I don’t quite understand: I’ve played with dolls,
And mothered them, like other little girls,
And almost loved their smiling painted lips,
Unanswering eyes, and wealth of ordered curls.
Perhaps, if those curved lips had laughed aloud,
The little fingers tightened in my hand,
The little feet walked – and away from me –
Then I might understand.
And you don’t understand. You’ve played with dreams –
Soft, wistful things, from your true world apart –
And never felt the crystal starlight swords
Pierce, venom-tipped with longing, through your heart.
You’ve blown a kiss to the white road outside
And turned back to your knitting and the fire,
Smiling to think of it – the road which runs
To the wild purple hills of my desire.
And all poor shadows of the dreams I love
Fall from you at a careless child’s caress –
A child whose eyes look past you. Did we know,
We two, each other’s bitter loneliness?
Soft firelight, glowing in your little room,
Shines on your face, that pleads with me to stay –
And outside, in the starlight-scattered gloom,
My lost road wanders half the world away.
Does night come to a strange little wood
Where grey leaves rustle, talking together,
And winds steal in from the end of the world,
Bringing the scents of dying heather?
Is lost happiness hiding there,
In a little brown house, where scarlet shells
Line the grey of the garden’s paths,
Lit with blossoming foxglove bells?
Is it there, with the gold dawn’s breaking,
Old sad folk grow happy again
And silver ripples of song are waking
Where the sweet brown thrush, his nest forsaking,
Sings away the shadows of pain?
Is it there, in the dear still gloaming,
Far in the land of Heart’s Desire,
Little bare feet, all cold with roaming,
Tiptoe up to the nursery fire?
And the dreams come back to empty hearts,
Old hard sorrows are cried away –
Lips find lips – ‘Dear heart!’ ‘Dear heart!’
And the ways of life, that stumbled apart,
Meet, and are one, in the gold of day.
‘Dare you? Dare you?’ the blackbird sings,
‘Dare you?’ the wild notes ring again,
Come back to the land of forgotten things,
To the land of forgotten pain –
To the golden land of the broken dreams,
Land o’ the light of youth that gleams
Over your path again.
Oh, the white rose bends in a rapture of prayer
And the red in a crimson rapture of pain,
Golden roses are passing fair,
And their perfume, spilled on the wine-sweet air,
Welcomes you home again.
Life said ‘No blossom could eclipse
The white bud of his tiny lips
And so I love these flower-hands
Whose petals never shall enclose
I shall not tint their palms with rose.
In gardens of the lovelier lands
My snowdrop-child shall find the sun,
His little feet shall learn to run
On rose-white ways, where by no thorn
May baby-tenderness be torn.’
‘You must have a marriage, and a death, and a birth
Then your house will be a home’ you said to me;
And I wondered – folded hands, sword-agony and mirth
Ere my doves of dream could nest in sanctuary.
All the roses in my garden coloured red,
Old-fashioned! ‘See! He kissed her! She’ll be wed –
And her house will always listen for the shy steps of a bride,
Her tall young lover walking by her side!’
In my little room at evening-blue I’d sit –
But the silken things I made were never worn,
Tiny frocks and bonnets, scarlet shoes, I used to knit
For the roseleaf baby waiting to be born.
And the shadows gathered close, and seemed to talk
Of the day when first he’d stand, and try to walk.
He had darkling curls, and eyes of darkest blue –
The baby dream that followed after you!
All the schoolboy winds are hushed at eventide –
A quietness has kissed the lips of pain
In the little scented chamber where you died –
You who forgot – but came to me again!
Oh, the things I might have told you long ago!
Twenty years – twenty years, walking slow!
Do you think our house will make believe they’re true,
Those restless dreams of dream – the child, and you?
Only one gleaming year ago –
Birth of daffodils, flight of snow!
You who are quiet, can you guess
How spring’s awakening loveliness
Startles like golden sudden song
Boughs that were leafless overlong?
Darkly in the dew-soaked earth
Small forgotten seeds give birth
To slender-poisèd radiant things,
Petals light as lifted wings
And the linnet in the nest
Has little wings against her breast
Opening to sunshot rain
Wild hyacinths are blue again –
Dear, somewhere your dark tree of Death
Has little leaves, and blossometh –
Petals born in Paradise
Brush dewy lips against my eyes
(Such their perfume, spike-nard rare,
Who finds it shall forget despair).
Dear, not alone the spring-fires burn
Through sapling trees and soft-curled fern
Quickened with longings, stirred by pain,
The soul bears purple bloom again!
A face has haunted me tonight,
Not with any sorrow, nor aught
Written therein by laughter or tears
Or the pale radiance of thought.
A child’s face pressed against the arm
Of one who wore a tattered dress
A woman whose undreaming eyes
Had learned no more than weariness.
Old hands, brown fingers, touched a face
Soft as new petals. Tired eyes
Seemed scarce to see the tiny smile
At some remembered Paradise.
No ways of destiny flamed before
The tenderness of little feet –
Only the furtive houses crouched
Like panthers in an evil street.
Footsteps hurrying by. The night
Had freed the jungle from its bars
A hot miasmic perfume wrapped
Houses huddled against the stars.
Old hands, old eyes, that only knew
Bewilderment, wrongs coldly done,
They held a child as fair in sleep
As Lady Mary’s little one .
Feet shapely for a wilderness!
I knew why Christ of Heaven did please
To dwell with burdened folk, and be
Highway himself, for such as these.