Monday, September 3, 2012

Time marches on

Three of my six grandchildren are now taller than I am, and a fourth nearly is. The oldest one has an after-school job (bagging groceries at a supermarket) and a car (2002 red Jeep Cherokee). The one girl out of the lot is beginning to have curves and attract boys. I wouldn’t trade these years for anything in the world. And yet, and yet....

“Backward, turn backward, O time, in thy flight. Make me a child again just for tonight.”

The author of those words was Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen (1832 — 1911) in an 1882 poem entitled “Rock Me to Sleep”:


Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen


Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears, —
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain, —
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay, —
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I to-night for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures, —
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead to-night,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!


In the cold light of day, one has to admit that womanhood’s years (and manhood’s, too) have not been a dream. Sometimes they have bordered on being a nightmare. Some years have been extremely happy. Some years have been anything but.

Not everyone’s childhood was idyllic. Not all mothers are good mothers. Not all fathers exhibit exemplary behavior. People have flaws. No one is perfect. From some parents, children learn exactly what not to do.

We cannot go back and live our lives over again. The past is over and gone. In many ways, the Victorian-era poem is a bit maudlin and even a little creepy. And yet, and yet....

Here is a portion of the poem set to music (4:11)

This post was probably inspired by the fact that yesterday would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary (she died in 1957 and he in 1967) and I am filled with nostalgia.

1 comment:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thank you for sharing this evocative poem with your loyal readership. It made me recall both my own dear mother and the character of my boyhood - safe and secure in the bosom of my family with limited horizons and carefree expectations of what tomorrow might bring.