Kingdom Poets: Charles Kingsley

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Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) was an English priest known for such novels as Westward Ho!, for his political essays, for his poetry, and for his collections of sermons. Kingsley was involved in the Christian Socialist movement, and often wrote his novels to expose injustice.

Kingsley is best known for his children’s novel, The Water-Babies (1863), which he wrote to teach Christian values. The main character is a ten-year-old chimneysweep named Tom. Due to mistreatment, Tom is chased out of town where he drowns in a river. Fairies turn him into a creature called a water-baby, and assign him a task. This book helped lead to an act of Parliament which prevented children being forced to climb chimneys.

He was appointed the Queen’s chaplain in 1859, and became a professor at Cambridge University in 1860. Kingsley was also friends with the Scottish novelist George MacDonald.

A LAMENT

The merry merry lark was up and singing,
And the hare was out and feeding on the lea;
And the merry merry bells below were ringing,
When my child’s laugh rang through me.

Now the hare is snared and dead beside the snow-yard,
And the lark beside the dreary winter sea;
And the baby in his cradle in the churchyard
Sleeps sound till the bell brings me.

And here’s another:

THE DEAD CHURCH

Wild wild wind, wilt thou never cease thy sighing?
Dark dark night, wilt thou never wear away?
Cold cold church, in thy death sleep lying,
The Lent is past, thy Passion here, but not thine Easter-day.

Peace, faint heart, though the night be dark and sighing;
Rest, fair corpse, where thy Lord himself hath lain.
Weep, dear Lord, above thy bride low lying;
Thy tears shall wake her frozen limbs to life and health again.


5 Comments

  1. Loren

    I feel like I’ve read or heard of The Water Babies; it’s creating faint glimmerings of memory….

    But that lament makes me cry; nothing like reading those of previous centuries to realize how death is really not so distant and must be faced. How do we help our current culture face it? Because if it doesn’t, it won’t see the need for Christ. In so many ways we believers are caught in the truth of “The Dead Church.” Thanks for sharing this–good for opening eyes.

  2. Kirsten

    THE WATER BABIES!! Some friends recently found a copy of The Water Babies in the attic of their apartment and, thinking it was maybe the weirdest book ever, they gave it to my husband and I as a funny gift (since we like quirky, old books). We’d never heard of it, and we had NO idea the author was writing it with any serious purpose! But we did watch part of the movie (or television show?) which was SUPER weird. We’ll totally have to read it now…

    His poetry is beautiful. But I do wish there had been a disclaimer that read “New mommies are advised against reading ‘A Lament.'” Terribly sad…

  3. Justin

    Fortunately, Project Gutenberg has quite a lot of his stuff (over 45 works!) available for free download in multiple formats. You can get Water Babies at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1018

    The digitization of public domain works has made it incredibly easy to delve into a lot of classic material. I have so much stuff downloaded on my Kindle that it will take me years to get through it all. I hope that this ease of access revitalizes interest in guys like Kingsley.

  4. Nan

    The Dead Church hurts to read. Thank you for sharing this. Poetry is a lifelong love of mine. I always love more inspiration.

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