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A Farewell -- Charles Kingsley

(Poem #1191) A Farewell
 My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
 No lark could pipe to skies so dull and grey:
 Yet, ere we part, one lesson I can leave you
       For every day.

 Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
 Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
 And so make life, death, and that vast for-ever
       One grand, sweet song.
-- Charles Kingsley

A prime example of what I call Good Advice to the Younger Generation - what
raises this one above the common herd, I think, is the supreme quotability
of the line "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever" - Kingsley
gets it absolutely right, though ironically the line itself is nothing if
not clever.

Whether one good line is enough to make a poem noteworthy is debatable -
personally, I believe it is, especially in so short a piece. It possibly
helps that I liked the quote long before I knew there was a poem attached to
it. I also belong to the school of poetry criticism that looks for a poem's
good points first, and speaks only later, if at all, of its flaws - this is,
after all, about the enjoyment of poetry far more than it is about its
dissection. (Which is not to say that I don't enjoy tearing into a
particularly bad poem every now and then :)).


  Biography of Kingsley:

  And don't miss the connection to Poem #255

71 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

mgtownsend said...

Dear Martin,

I have been enjoying minstrels for a couple of years and love the range of your
selections. But I think I enjoy your commentaries almost as much as the poetry. This
one re "A Farewell" is particularly disarming in its directness. And you are right.
Thank you for this lovely service which brightens my day in a time when days need
all the light that can be found.

Martin Townsend
Cincinnati, OH

Barbara Charles said...

I don't think my Mother ever knew the title of this poem. Its second verse was written by her father in a book she received for her 10th birthday. Dated 31/8/1917, she never saw him again - a German U boat claimed his ship and crew in May, 1918.

Patricia Keegan said...

Dear Martin
Thanks for this little poem. (how long has it been posted?) "A Farewell "by Charles Kingsley

My father Patrick wrote these lines to me in my autograph book when I was a child.

Finding this today has been like receiving a message from my beloved Father. I have tried to live up to it.


Jennifer Wenstob said...

I was nine years old when my teacher in England wrote "Be good, sweet
maid, and let who will be clever" in my autograph book just before I
emigrated to Canada. It was 54 years ago, and I remember at the time
being perplexed by what it meant. I have carried the phrase in my head
ever since and only now, after reading The Farewell, has the full
import of the meaning touched me. How appropriate, how true, how

Anonymous said...

My beloved Auntie Davina (Davinny) wrote this in my autograph book in the 60s. She was born 1907.
What a wonderful verse for a girl!
I have just written it for my most lovely grand-daughter Hope.

May God richly bless you, Martin, - and everyone else who reads this post!

Barbara Cherry

Viagra Online said...

maybe this is one of the most hard moments in the life of someone, I mean say not a "good bye", rather a "we never meet gain" is so sad, and I know how is this feeling, I lived.

Angy said...

The out of context quote "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever" was used as an admonition by my grandmother and others - a warning not to show other people that you could think for yourself.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother wrote the second verse in my autograph book when I was very young. As I grew up, it irritated me more and more. "Clever" is a pejorative term here; girls should not be clever, but sweet, demure and compliant. And men still find intelligent women threatening!

Anonymous said...

I disagree that the term 'clever' is used pejoratively. I always read it as to be good and honest and to let those who think themselves smart get one with it (ie those msart alecs!)

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greteful granddaughter said...

My Grandfather used to recite this poem to me when I was a little child, I have never forgotten it and used it as a guide to my life. Thank you for publishing it on you page.

wallace daughter said...

My Mother and I have often said goodbye with the second verse but I have only just found out who wrote it! WHAT A LOVELY SITE!I am looking forward to reaing more. Thank you very much , Martin

Anonymous said...

My mother used to say those words "be good sweet maid" etc and for years i felt she was reminding me I was much less clever than my cousins (who were and still are brilliant) - I would hate for my granddaughters to feel like underachievers because of that phrase

Elizabeth said...

My mother wrote this poem in my autograph book when I was very young. Surely "Do noble things not dream them all day long" could not be taken as a put down for women, but good advice. I only found out recently who wrote it, and since he also wrote a book on the Greeks for his children, hecould not have been against educating women. I've just written it on a Valentine's card for my granddaughter.

Margaret said...

My mother quoted this often to me as a very young child. It was certainly intended to be an admonishment, but I wasn't aware it was written by Charles Kingsley, and so widely used at that time. What a comfort to realize all these other people who have obviously grown to be gracious grandmothers also had to listen to these words. These days children are really encouraged and praised, not put down or "put in their place" - yet another unkind observation. Where are the similar recommendations for our brothers?

Anonymous said...

I have recently acquired my great Aunt Sybil's autograph book in which there is an entry for January 9th 1909 from a Kathleen Harris of Waterford who wrote "Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever. Do noble deeds not dream." underneath a tune. Does anyone know whether the poem was also known as a song?


Anonymous said...

I Googled the last four lines of this poem when I found them in my grandmother's autograph book. They were written by her Aunt Vernie, dated August 10, 1888, Scottdale, Pa. My grandmother wrote under Aunt Vernie's name a note, "Died January 17, 1889, Age 23. Chuck Y. Beaufort, SC

Unknown said...

In 1953, just before I went to grammar school I collected autographs from all my friends and teachers. One of them chose to write:
''Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;'' I have always considered it somewhat condescending: let girls be virtuous, good-natured and let others (men?) make all the decisions.
However having now read it in context I feel much less negative about it.

CathyM said...

I found this poem in my mother's autograph book from 1942, written by one of her teachers at the end of the school year. Look how much times have changed when a teacher writes a verse like this in an 8 year old's autograph book.

Tomorrow is my mother's funeral and I thought this verse quite apropos.

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Anonymous said...

I had no idea that this quote was from a poem. I wish I had known that 50 years ago when my mother would repeat it continually. Sadly I always felt that she thought I could only be good and not clever. A real example of 'a little knowledge' being a dangerous thing!

Anonymous said...

When my Grandmother returned from visiting my younger girl cousin, she told me that my cousin was not smart like I was but was very considerate and kind. She sounded like she preferred my cousin. Then she said she told my cousin "Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever". Very clearly her tone was a put down to me and I remember being surprised and hurt. I never liked the poem after that introduction.

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