Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Little Red Riding Hood
By James N. Barker (1784–1858)
 
SHE was, indeed, a pretty little creature,
So meek, so modest: what a pity, madam,
That one so young and innocent, should fall
A prey to the ravenous wolf.
      ——— The wolf, indeed!        5
You ’ve left the nursery to but little purpose,
If you believe a wolf could ever speak,
Though, in the time of Æsop, or before.
—Was ’t not a wolf, then? I have read the story
A hundred times; and heard it told: nay, told it        10
Myself, to my younger sisters, when we ’ve shrank
Together in the sheets, from very terror,
And, with protecting arms, each round the other,
E’en sobb’d ourselves to sleep. But I remember,
I saw the story acted on the stage,        15
Last winter in the city, I and my school-mates,
With our most kind preceptress Mrs Bazely,
And so it was a robber, not a wolf
That met poor little Riding Hood i’ the wood?
—Nor wolf nor robber, child: this nursery tale        20
Contains a hidden moral.
      ——— Hidden: nay,
I ’m not so young, but I can spell it out,
And thus it is: children, when sent on errands,
Must never stop by the way to talk with wolves.        25
—Tut! wolves again: wilt listen to me, child?
—Say on, dear grandma.
      ——— Thus then, dear my daughter:
In this young person, culling idle flowers,
You see the peril that attends the maiden        30
Who, in her walk through life, yields to temptation,
And quits the onward path to stray aside,
Allured by gaudy weeds.
      ——— Nay, none but children,
Could gather butter-cups and May-weed, mother.        35
But violets, dear violets—methinks
I could live ever on a bank of violets,
Or die most happy there.
      ——— You die, indeed,
At your years die!        40
      ——— Then sleep, ma’am, if you please,
As you did yesterday in that sweet spot
Down by the fountain; where you seated you
To read the last new novel—what d’ye call’t—
The Prairie, was it not?        45
      ——— It was, my love,
And there, as I remember, your kind arm
Pillow’d my aged head: ’t was irksome sure,
To your young limbs and spirit.
      ——— No, believe me,        50
To keep the insects from disturbing you
Was sweet employment, or to fan your cheek
When the breeze lull’d.
      ——— You’re a dear child!
            ——— And then,        55
To gaze on such a scene! the grassy bank,
So gently sloping to the rivulet,
All purple with my own dear violet,
And sprinkled o’er with spring flowers of each tint.
There was that pale and humble little blossom,        60
Looking so like its namesake Innocence;
The fairy-form’d, flesh-hued anemone,
With its fair sisters, call’d by country people
Fair maids o’ the spring. The lowly cinquefoil too,
And statelier marigold. The violet sorrel        65
Blushing so rosy red in bashfulness,
And her companion of the season, dress’d
In varied pink. The partridge ever-green,
Hanging its fragrant wax-work on each stem,
And studding the green sod with scarlet berries—        70
—Did you see all those flowers? I mark’d them not.
—O many more, whose names I have not learn’d.
And then to see the light blue butterfly
Roaming about, like an enchanted thing,
From flower to flower, and the bright honey-bee—        75
And there too was the fountain, overhung
With bush and tree, draped by the graceful vine,
Where the white blossoms of the dogwood, met
The crimson red-bud, and the sweet birds sang
Their madrigals; while the fresh springing waters,        80
Just stirring the green fern that bathed within them,
Leapt joyful o’er their fairy mound of rock,
And fell in music—then pass’d prattling on,
Between the flowery banks that bent to kiss them.
      ——— I dream’d not of these sights or sounds.        85
            ——— Then just
Beyond the brook there lay a narrow strip,
Like a rich riband, of enamel’d meadow,
Girt by a pretty precipice, whose top
Was crown’d with rose-bay. Half-way down there stood        90
Sylph-like, the light fantastic columbine
As ready to leap down unto her lover
Harlequin Bartsia, in his painted vest
Of green and crimson.
      ——— Tut! enough, enough,        95
Your madcap fancy runs too riot, girl.
We must shut up your books of Botany,
And give you graver studies.
      ——— Will you shut
The book of nature, too?—for it is that        100
I love and study. Do not take me back
To the cold, heartless city, with its forms
And dull routine; its artificial manners
And arbitrary rules; its cheerless pleasures
And mirthless masquing. Yet a little longer        105
O let me hold communion here with nature.
—Well, well, we ’ll see. But we neglect our lecture
Upon this picture—
      ——— Poor Red Riding Hood!
We had forgotten her; yet mark, dear madam,        110
How patiently the poor thing waits our leisure.
And now the hidden moral.
      ——— Thus it is:
Mere children read such stories literally,
But the more elderly and wise, deduce        115
A moral from the fiction. In a word,
The wolf that you must guard against is—LOVE.
—I thought love was an infant; “toujours enfant.”
—The world and love were young together, child,
And innocent—alas! time changes all things.        120
—True, I remember, love is now a man.
And, the song says, “a very saucy one”—
But how a wolf?
      ——— In ravenous appetite,
Unpitying and unsparing, passion is oft        125
A beast of prey. As the wolf to the lamb,
Is he to innocence.
      ——— I shall remember,
For now I see the moral. Trust me, madam,
Should I e’er meet this wolf-love in my way,        130
Be he a boy or man, I ’ll take good heed,
And hold no converse with him.
      ——— You ’ll do wisely.
—Nor e’er in field or forest, plain or pathway,
Shall he from me know whither I am going,        135
Or whisper that he ’ll meet me.
      ——— That ’s my child.
—Nor, in my grandam’s cottage, nor elsewhere,
Will I e’er lift the latch for him myself,
Or bid him pull the bobbin.        140
      ——— Well, my dear,
You ’ve learn’d your lesson.
      ——— Yet one thing, my mother,
Somewhat perplexes me.
      ——— Say what, my love,        145
I will explain.
      ——— This wolf, the story goes,
Deceived poor grandam first, and ate her up:
What is the moral here? Have all our grandmas
Been first devour’d by love?        150
      ——— Let us go in;
The air grows cool—you are a forward chit.
 
 
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