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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

To an Italian Beggar-Boy

By Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810–1889)

[Born in New York, N. Y., 1810. Died 1889. From Poems. 1867.]

THOU miniature of Woe!

I see thy meagre form

Along the highway go,

Starvation’s spectre! Storm

And sun alike

Unheeded strike

That head which doth no covering know.

Thy ravenous gray eyes glare

Like a young wolf’s, dread boy!

Fearful is childhood’s stare,

Bereft of childhood’s joy:

It makes me wild

To see a child

Who never gladdened at a toy.

Oh, hard must be the lot

That makes a child a dread!

Where children’s smiles are not,

Thorns grow in flowerets’ stead;

A child’s glad face

Is Heaven’s own grace

Round manhood’s stern existence shed.

Turn off that hungry eye,

It gnaws at Pity’s heart!

Here’s bread; but come not nigh—

Thy look makes agues start!

There, take the whole;

To thy starved soul

No crumb of joy will bread impart.

Thine is the famished cry

Of a young heart unfed,

The hollow spirit’s sigh

For something more than bread.

“Give! give!” it says:

Ah, vain he prays

To man, who prayer to God ne’er said!

Wert thou of woman born?

Did human mother’s breast

Nourish thee, thing forlorn?

Hath any love carest

Thine infant cheek?

Didst ever speak,

Or hear, the name of father blest?

No, no, it cannot be!

Thou art the birth of Want;

Thy sire was Misery,

Thy mother Famine gaunt:

Thou hadst no home,—

The naked dome

Was all the covering Earth could grant.

See! here a happy troop

Of real children come,

Their lips the fond names group

Of Father, Mother, Home!

They go not far—

Love is the star

That draws them back whene’er they roam.

But wherefore, with mock grin,

Dost thou pursue these now?

Hath childhood any kin

Or kith with such as thou?

One hand did form

The bird and worm—

No other kinship these allow.

Hark! there rings Nature’s laugh

Fresh from those well-fed throats;

Old age leans on his staff

To listen to its notes:

The gush of joy

Makes him a boy,—

How glad remembrance o’er it gloats!

Does that spasmodic scream,

Jerked from thy shrunken chest,

A human effort seem

To laugh among the rest?

It shocks the ear,

O God! to hear

Woe, through a child’s false laugh, confest!

And have these children all

One Father, each who owns?

How partial blessings fall

Upon his little ones!

Why, outcast boy,

Must thou mock joy,

While these pour out its natural tones?

Ah! why indeed? Be hushed,

Short-sighted soul, and wait,

To learn why worms are crushed

While birds sing at heaven’s gate;

Why pools infect,

While lakes reflect

The pure sky, and bear Fortune’s freight.