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Alfred Noyes

The Dream-Child's Invitation


Once upon a time!—Ah, now the light is burning dimly.

Peterkin is here again: he wants another tale!

Don't you hear him whispering—The wind is in the chimley,

The ottoman's a treasure-ship, we'll all set sail— ?


All set sail? No, the wind is very loud to-night:

The darkness on the waters is much deeper than of yore.

Yet I wonder—hark, he whispers—if the little streets are still as bright

In old Japan, in old Japan, that happy haunted shore.


I wonder—hush, he whispers—if perhaps the world will wake again

When Christmas brings the stories back from where the skies are blue,

Where clouds are scattering diamonds down on every cottage window-pane,

And every boy's a fairy prince, and every tale is true.


There the sword Excalibur is thrust into the dragon's throat,

Evil there is evil, black is black, and white is white:

There the child triumphant hurls the villain spluttering into the moat;

There the captured princess only waits the peerless knight.


Fairyland is gleaming there beyond the Sherwood Forest trees,

There the City of the Clouds has anchored on the plain

All her misty vistas and slumber-rosy palaces

(Shall we not, ah, shall we not, wander there again?) 


"Happy ever after" there, the lights of home a welcome fling

Softly thro' the darkness as the star that shone of old,

Softly over Bethlehem and o'er the little cradled King

Whom the sages worshipped with their frankincense and gold.


Once upon a time—perhaps a hundred thousand years ago—

Whisper to me, Peterkin, I have forgotten when!

Once upon a time there was a way, a way we used to know

For stealing off at twilight from the weary ways of men.


Whisper it, O whisper it—the way, the way is all I need!

All the heart and will are here and all the deep desire!

Once upon a time—ah, now the light is drawing near indeed,

I see the fairy faces flush to roses round the fire.


Once upon a time—the little lips are on my cheek again,

Little fairy fingers clasped and clinging draw me nigh,

Dreams, no more than dreams, but they unloose the weary prisoner's chain

And lead him from his dungeon! "What's a thousand years?" they cry.


A thousand years, a thousand years, a little drifting dream ago,

All of us were hunting with a band of merry men,

The skies were blue, the boughs were green, the clouds were crisping isles of snow . . .

. . . So Robin blew his bugle, and the Now became the Then.