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The White Cliffs

Alice Duer Miller 1874 (New York) – 1942 (New York)

I
I have loved England, dearly and deeply,
Since that first morning, shining and pure,
The white cliffs of Dover I saw rising steeply
Out of the sea that once made her secure.
I had no thought then of husband or lover,
I was a traveller, the guest of a week;
Yet when they pointed 'the white cliffs of Dover',
Startled I found there were tears on my cheek.
I have loved England, and still as a stranger,
Here is my home and I still am alone.
Now in her hour of trial and danger,
Only the English are really her own.

II
It happened the first evening I was there.
Some one was giving a ball in Belgrave Square.
At Belgrave Square, that most Victorian spot.—
Lives there a novel-reader who has not
At some time wept for those delightful girls,
Daughters of dukes, prime ministers and earls,
In bonnets, berthas, bustles, buttoned basques,
Hiding behind their pure Victorian masks
Hearts just as hot - hotter perhaps than those
Whose owners now abandon hats and hose?
Who has not wept for Lady Joan or Jill
Loving against her noble parent's will
A handsome guardsman, who to her alarm
Feels her hand kissed behind a potted palm
At Lady Ivry's ball the dreadful night
Before his regiment goes off to fight;
And see him the next morning, in the park,
Complete in busbee, marching to embark.
I had read freely, even as a child,
Not only Meredith and Oscar Wilde
But many novels of an earlier day—
Ravenshoe, Can You Forgive Her?, Vivien Grey,
Ouida, The Duchess, Broughton's Red As a Rose,
Guy Livingstone, Whyte-Melville— Heaven knows
What others. Now, I thought, I was to see
Their habitat, though like the Miller of Dee,
I cared for none and no one cared for me.

III
A light blue carpet on the stair
And tall young footmen everywhere,
Tall young men with English faces
Standing rigidly in their places,
Rows and rows of them stiff and staid
In powder and breeches and bright gold braid;
And high above them on the wall
Hung other English faces-all
Part of the pattern of English life—
General Sir Charles, and his pretty wife,
Admirals, Lords-Lieutenant of Shires,
Men who were served by these footmen's sires
At their great parties-none of them knowing
How soon or late they would all be going
In plainer dress to a sterner strife-
Another pattern of English life.

I went up the stairs between them all,
Strange and frightened and shy and small,
And as I entered the ballroom door,
Saw something I had never seen before
Except in portraits— a stout old guest
With a broad blue ribbon across his breast—
That blue as deep as the southern sea,
Bluer than skies can ever be—
The Countess of Salisbury—Edward the Third—
No damn merit— the Duke— I heard
My own voice saying; 'Upon my word,
The garter!' and clapped my hands like a child.

Some one beside me turned and smiled,
And looking down at me said: 'I fancy,
You're Bertie's Australian cousin Nancy.
He toId me to tell you that he'd be late
At the Foreign Office and not to wait
Supper for him, but to go with me,
And try to behave as if I were he.'
I should have told him on the spot
That I had no cousin—that I was not
Australian Nancy—that my name
Was Susan Dunne, and that I came
From a small white town on a deep-cut bay
In the smallest state in the U.S.A.
I meant to tell him, but changed my mind—
I needed a friend, and he seemed kind;
So I put my gloved hand into his glove,
And we danced together— and fell in love.

IV
Young and in love-how magical the phrase!
How magical the fact! Who has not yearned
Over young lovers when to their amaze
They fall in love and find their love returned,
And the lights brighten, and their eyes are clear
To see God's image in their common clay.
Is it the music of the spheres they hear?
Is it the prelude to that noble play,
The drama of Joined Lives? Ah, they forget
They cannot write their parts; the bell has rung,
The curtain rises and the stage is set
For tragedy-they were in love and young.

V
We went to the Tower,
We went to the Zoo,
We saw every flower
In the gardens at Kew.
We saw King Charles a-prancing
On his long-tailed horse,
And thought him more entrancing
Than better kings, of course.
At a strange early hour,
In St. James's palace yard,
We watched in a shower
The changing of the guard.
And I said, what a pity,
To have just a week to spend,
When London is a city
Whose beauties never end!
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:05 min read
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Alice Duer Miller

Alice Duer Miller was a writer from the U.S. whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses made an impact on the suffrage issue, and her verse novel The White Cliffs encouraged U.S. entry into World War II. She also wrote novels and screenplays. more…

All Alice Duer Miller poems | Alice Duer Miller Books

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