Bob [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]


Singer of songs of the hills —
Dreamer, by waters unstirred
Back in a valley of rills,
Home of the leaf and the bird —
Read in this fall of the year
Just the compassionate phrase,
Faded with traces of tear,
Written in far away days!

Gone is the light of my lap
(Lord, at Thy bidding I bow)
Here is my little one’s cap,
He has no need of it now.
Give it to somebody’s boy —
Somebody’s darling
” — she wrote:
Touching was Bob in his joy —
Bob without boots or a coat.

Only a cap; but it gave
Capless and comfortless one
Happiness, bright as the brave
Beautiful light of the sun.
Soft may the sanctified sod
Rest on the father who led
Bob from the gutter unshod —
Covered his cold little head!

Bob, from the foot to the crown,
Measured a yard and no more —
Baby alone in the town,
Homeless, and hungry, and sore!
Child that was never a child,
Hiding away from the rain,
Draggled and dirty and wild,
Down in a pipe of the drain.

Poor little beggar was Bob —
Couldn’t afford to be sick!
Getting a penny a job:
Sometimes a curse and a kick.
Father was killed by the drink,
Mother was driven to shame:
Bob couldn’t manage to think —
He had forgotten their name.

God was in heaven above,
Flowers illumined the ground,
Women of infinite love
Lived in the palaces round —
Saints with the character sweet
Found in the fathers of old,
Laboured in alley and street —
Baby slept out in the cold.

Nobody noticed the child —
Nobody knew of the mite
Creeping about like a wild
Thing in the shadow of night.
Beaten by drunkards and cowed —
Frightened to speak or to sob —
How could he ask you aloud,
Have you a penny for Bob?

Few were the pennies he got —
Seldom could hide them away,
Watched by the ravenous sot
Ever at wait for his prey.
Poor little man! he would weep
Oft for a morsel of bread:
Coppers he wanted to keep,
Went to the tavern instead.

This was his history, friend —
Ragged, unhoused, and alone!
How could the child comprehend
Love that he never had known?
Hunted about in the world,
Crouching in crevices dim,
Crust with a curse at him hurled
Stood for a kindness with him.

Little excited his joy —
Bun after doing a job:
Mother of bright-headed boy,
Think of the motherless Bob!
High in the heavens august
Providence saw him, and said —
Out of the pits of the dust
Lift him and cover his head

Ah, the ineffable grace,
Father of children, in Thee!
Boy in a radiant place,
Fanned by the breeze of the sea —
Child on a lullaby lap
Said, in the pause of his pain,
Mother, don’t bury my cap —
Give it to Bob in the lane

Beautiful bidding of Death!
What could she do but obey,
Even when suffering Faith
Hadn’t the power to pray?
So, in the fall of the year,
Saint with the fatherly head
Hunted for somebody’s dear —
Somebody’s darling” — he said.

Bob who was nobody’s child
Sitting on nobody’s lap,
Draggled and dirty and wild, —
Bob got the little one’s cap.
Strange were compassionate words!
Waif of the alley and lane
Dreamed of the music of birds
Floating about in the rain.

Whiteheaded father in God,
Over thy beautiful grave
Green is the grass of the sod,
Soft is the sound of the wave.
Down by the slopes of the sea
Often and often will sob
Boy who was fostered by thee —
This is the story of Bob.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 96-103

Editor’s notes:
copper = brown coins of low denomination, made from bronze or copper

Lord = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to God or Jesus

oft = often

Providence = (usually capitalized) God, or benevolent care from God; care, guidance, or protection as provided by God, or as provided by coincidental circumstances or Nature

Old spelling in the original text:
thy (your)

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