Celia Thaxter.

The poems of Celia Thaxter online

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The soft breeze freshens, leaps the spray

To kiss our cheeks, with sudden cheer j
Upon the dark edge of the bay

Lighthouses kindle, far and near.
And through the warm deeps of the sky

Steal faint star- clusters, while we rest
In deep refreshment, thou and I,

Wave-cradled thus and wind-caressed.

How like a dream are earth and heaven.

Star-beam and darkness, sky and sea;
Thy face, pale in the shadowy even,

Thy quiet eyes that gaze on me I
Oh, realize the moment's charm,

Thou dearest! we are at life's best,
Folded in God's encircling arm.

Wave-cradled thus and wind- caressed.




From out the desolation of the North

An iceberg took its way,
From its detaining comrades breaking forth,

And traveling uiglit and day.

At whose command 1 Who bade it sail the deep

"With that resistless force 1
Who made the dread appointment it must keepi

Who traced its awful course ?

To the warm airs that stir in the sweet South,

A good ship spread her sails ;
Stately she passed beyond the harbor's mouth.

Chased by the favoring gales;

And on her ample decks a happy crowd

Bade the fair land good-by ;
Clear shone the day, with not a single cloud

In all the peaceful sky.

Brave men, sweet women, little children bright

For all these she made room,
And with her freight of beauty and delight

She went to meet her doom.


Storms buffeted the iceberg, spray was swept

Across its loftiest height;
Guided alike by storm and calm, it kept

Its fatal path aright.

Then warmer waves gnawed at its crumbling base,

As if in piteous plea;
The ardent sun sent slow tears down its face,

Soft flowing to the sea.

Dawn kissed it with her tender rose tints, Eve

Bathed it in violet,
The wistful color o'er it seemed to grieve

With a divine regret.

Whether Day clad its clefts in rainbows dim

And shadowy as a dream,
Or Night through lonely spaces saw it swim

White in the moonlight's gleam.

Ever Death rode upon its solemn heights,

Ever his watch he kept;
Cold at its heart through changing days and nights

Its changeless purpose slept.

And where afar a smiling coast it passed,

Straightway the air grew chill;
Dwellers thereon perceived a bitter blast,

A vague report of ill.


Like some imperial creature, moving slow,

Meanwhile, with matchless grace,
The stately sliip, unconscious of her foe,

Drew near the trysting place.

For still the prosperous breezes followed her.

And lialf the voyage was o'er;
In many a breast glad thoughts began to stir

Of lands that lay before.

And human hearts with longing love were dumb,

That soon should cease to beat,
Thrilled with the hope of meetings soon to come,

And lost in memories sweet.

Was not the weltering waste of water wide

Enough for both to sail ?
What drew the two together o'er the tide,

Fair ship and iceberg pale 1

There came a night with neither moon nor star.

Clouds draped the sky in black;
With fluttering canvas reefed at every spar,

And weird fire in her track.

The ship swept on ; a wild wind gathering fast

Drove her at utmost speed.
Bravely she bent before the fitful blast

That shook her like a reed.


helmsman, turn thy wheel! Will no surmise
Cleave through the midnight drear?

No warning of the horrible surprise
Keach thine unconscious ear?

She rushed upon her ruin. Not a flash

Broke up the waiting dark;
Dully through wind and sea one awful crash

Sounded, with none to mark.

Scarcely her crew had time to clutch despair,

So swift the work was done:
Ere their pale lips could frame a speechless prayer.

They perished, every one!


Lightly she lifts the large, pure, luminous shell,
Poises it in her strong and shapely hand.
"Listen," she says, "it has a tale to tell.

Spoken in language you may understand. "

Smiling, she holds it at my dreaming ear:
The old, delicious murmur of the sea

Steals like enchantment through me, and I hear
Voices like echoes of eternity.


Sho stirs it softly, Lo, another speech!

In one of its dim chambers, shut from sighf^
Is sealed the water that has kissed the beach

Where the far Indian Ocean leaps in light.

Those laughing ripples, hidden evermore
In utter darkness, plaintively repeat

Their lapsing on the glowing tropic shore,
In melancholy whispers low and sweet.

O prisoned wave that may not see the sun 1
voice that never may bo comforted!

You camiot break the web that Fate has spun;
Out of your world are light and gladness fled.

The red dawn nevermore shall tremble far
Across the leagues of radiant brine to you;

You shall not sing to greet the evening star,
Nor dance exulting under heaven's clear blue.

Inexorably woven is the weft

That shrouds from you all joy but memory;
Only this tender, low lament is left

Of all the sumptuous splendor of the sea.




If, some day, I should seek those eyes
So gentle now, — and find the strange,
Pale shadow of a coming change.

To chill me with a sad surprise;

Shouldst thou recall what thou hast given,
And turn me slowly cold and dumb,
And thou thyself again become

Remote as any star in heaven;

Would the sky ever seem again

Perfectly clear? Would the serene,
Sweet face of nature steal between

This grief and me, to dull its pain J

Oh not for many a weary day
Would sorrow soften to regret.
And many a sun would rise and set

Ere I, with cheerful heart, could say;

All undeserved it came. To-day,
God takes it back again, because
Too beautiful a thing it was

For such aa I to keep for aye."


And ever, through the coming years,

My star, remote in happy skies,

Would seem more heavenly fair through eyes
Yet tremulous with unfallen tears.

midsujVOiee, midnight

The wide, still, moonlit water miles away

Stretches in lonely splendor. Whispers creep

About us from the midnight wind, and play

Among the flowers that breathe so sweet in sleep j

A soft touch sways the milk-white, stately phlox,

And on its slender stem the poppy rocks.

Fair faces turn to watch the dusky sea,

And clear eyes brood upon the path of light

The white moon makes, the while deliciously.
Like some vague, tender memory of delight,

Or like some half remembered, dear regret,

Rises the odor of the mignonette.

Midsummer glories, moonlight, flowers asleep,
And delicate perfume, mystic winds that blow

Soft-breathing, full of balm, and the great deep
In leagues of shadow swaying to and fro;

And loving human thought to mark it all,

And human hearts that to each other call;


Needs the enchantment of the summer night
Another touch to make it perfect 1 Hark !

What sudden shaft of sound, like piercing light,
Strikes on the ear athwart the moonlit dark 1

Like some keen shock of joy is heard within

The wondrous music of the violin.

It is as if dumb Kature found a voice,

And spoke with power, though in an unknown
What kinship has the music with the noise

Of waves, or winds, or with the flowers, slow-swung
Like censers to and fro upon the air.
Or with the shadow, or the moonlight fair?

And yet it seems some subtile link exists.
We know not how. And over every phase

Of thought and feeling wandering as it lists,
Playing upon us as the west-wind plays

Over the wiad-harp, the subduing strain

Sweeps with resistless power of joy and pain.

Slow ebbs the golden tide, and all is still.

Ask the magician at whose touch awoke
That mighty, penetrating, prisoned will,

The matchless voice that so divinely spoke,
Kindling to fresher life the listening soul.
What daring thought such fire from heaven stole?


He cannot tell us how the charm was wrought,
Though in his hand he holds the potent key,

Nor road tlie spell that to the sweet night brought
This crown of rapture and of mystery,

And lifted every heart, and drew away

All trace of worldliness that marred the day.

But every head is bowed. We watch the sea
With other eyes, as if some hint of bliss

Spoke to us, through the yearning melody,

Of gl:id new worlds, of brighter lives than this;

Wliile still the milk-white, stately phlox waves slow,

And drowsily the poppy rocks below.


Oh the sweet, sweet lapsing of the tide.

Through the still hours of the golden afternoon!

Oh the warm, red sunshine, far and wide.
Falling soft as in the crowning days of June!

Calls the gray sandpiper from the quiet shore.

Weave the swallows light and music through the air,

Chants the sparrow all his pleasure o'er and o'er.
Sings and smiles the Spring, and sparkles every-


Well I know that death and pain to all are near,
That, save sorrow, naught is certain this world

Yet my heart stirs with the budding of the year,
And rejoices still with everything that lives.

Fold me then, south-wind ! God is good.

Gladly, gratefully I take thy sweet caress.
Call, sandpiper, from thy solitude.

Every sight and sound has power to bless.

Oh the sweet, sweet lapsing of the tide,

Through the still hours of the golden afternoon!

Nor death, nor pain, nor sorrow shall abide,
For God blesses all his children, late or soon.


In Ipswich town, not far from the sea.

Rises a hill which the people call
Heartbreak Hill, and its history

Is an old, old legend, known to all.

The selfsame dreary, worn-out tale
Told by all peoples in every clime,

Still to be told till the ages fail.

And there comes a pause in the march of Time.


It was a sailor who won the heart

Of an Indian maiden, lithe and young;

And she saw him over tlie sea depart,

"While sweet in her ear his promise rung;

For he cried, as he kissed her wet eyes dry,

"I '11 come back, sweetheart; keep your faith!"

She said, "I will watch while the moons go by:"
Her love was stronger than life or death.

So this poor dusk Ariadne kept

Her watch from the hilltop rugged and steep;
Slowly the empty moments crept

While she studied the changing face of the deep,

Fastening her eyes upon every speck
That crossed the ocean within her ken ;

Might not her lover be walking the deck,
Surely and swiftly returning again?

The Isles of Shoals loomed, lonely and dim.
In the northeast distance far and gray,

And on the horizon's uttermost rim
The low rock heap of Boon Island lay.

And north and south and west and oast

Stretched sea and land in the blinding light,

Till evening fell, and her vigil ceased.
And many a hearth-glow lit the night,


To mock those set and glittering eyes
Fast growing wild as her hope went out.

Hateful seemed earth, and the hollow skies,
Like her own heart, empty of aught but doubt.

Oh, but the weary, merciless days,

With the sun above, with the sea afar, —

No change in her fixed and wistful gaze
From the morning-red to the evening star!

Oh, the winds that blew, and the birds that sang,
The calms that smiled, and the storms that rolled,

The bells from the town beneath, that rang

Through the summer's heat and the winter's cold!

The flash of the plunging surges white,
The soaring gull's wild, boding cry, —

She was weary of all; there was no delight
In heaven or earth, and she longed to die.

What was it to her though the Dawn should paint

With delicate beauty skies and seas 1
But the sweet, sad sunset splendors faint

Made her soul sick with memories:

Drowning in sorrowful purple a sail

In the distant east, where shadows grew,

Till the twilight shrouded it, cold and pale,
And the tide of her anguish rose anew.


Like a slender statue carved of stono
She sat, with hardly motion or breath.

She wept no tears and she made no moan,
But her love was stronger than life or death.

He never came back ! Yet faithful still,
She watched from the hilltop her life away.

And the townsfolk christened it Heartbreak Hill,
And it bears the name to this very day.


In this sweet, tranquil afternoon of spring,
WTiile the low sun declines in the clear west,

I sit and hear the blithe song-sparrow sing
His strain of rapture not to bo suppressed ;

Pondering life's problem strange, while death draws

I listen to his dauntless song of cheer.

His shadow flits across the quiet stone:

Like that brief transit is my space of days ;

For, like a flower's faint perfume, youth is flown
Already, and there rests on all life's ways

A dimness; closer my beloved I clasp.

For all dear things seem slipping from my grasp.


Death touches all; the light of loving eyes
Goes out in darkness, comfort is withdrawn;

Lonely, and lonelier still the pathway lies,

Going toward the fading sunset from the dawn:

Yet hark ! while those fine notes the silence break,

As if all trouble were some grave mistake!

Thou little bird, how canst thou thus rejoice,
As if the world had known nor sin nor curse?

God never meant to mock us with that voice I
That is the key-note of the universe.

That song of perfect trust, of perfect cheer,

Courageous, constant, free of doubt or fear.

My little helper, ah, my comrade sweet,
My old companion in that far-off time

When on life's threshold childhood's wingfed feet
Danced in the sunrise! Joy was at its prime

When all my heart responded to thy song,

Unconscious of earth's discords harsh and strong.

Now, grown aweary, sad with change and loss,
With the enigma of myself dismayed;

Poor, save in deep desire to bear the cross
God's hand on his defenseless creatures laid,

With patience, — here I sit this eve of spring.

And listen with bowed head, while thou dost sing.


And slowly all my soul with comfort fills,
And the old hope revives and courage grows ;

TJp the deserted shore a fresh tide thrills,

And like a dream the dark mood melts and goes,

And with thy joy again will I rejoice:

(Jod never meant to mock us with that voice!


•MaiT, wifoof Charles Chauncy, died April 23, 1768, in the 34th
year of her age."

Crushinq the scarlet strawherries in the grass,
I kneel to read the slanting stone. Alas !
How sharp a sorrow speaks ! A hundred years
And more have vanished, with their smiles and teara,
Since here was laid, upon an April day,
Sweet Mary Chauncy in the grave away, —
A hundred years since here her lover stood
Beside her grave in such despairing mood,
And yet from out the vanished past I hear
His cry of anguish sounding deep and clear,
And all my heart with pity melts, as though
To-day's bright sun were looking on his woe.
"Of such a wife, righteous Heaven! bereft,
"What joy for me, what joy on earth is left?
Still from my inmost soul the groans arise.
Still flow the sorrows ceaseless from mine eyes."


Alas, poor tortured soul ! I look away

From the dark stone, — how hrilliant shines the day I

A low wall, over which the roses shed

Their perfumed petals, shuts the quiet dead

Apart a little, and the tiny square

Stands in the broad and laughing field so fair,

And gay green vines climb o'er the rough stone wall,

And all about the wild birds flit and call.

And but a stone's throw southward, the blue sea

E.olls sparkling in and sings incessantly.

Lovely as any dream the peaceful place.

And scarcely changed since on her gentle face

For the last time on that sad April day

He gazed, and felt, for him, all beauty lay

Buried with her forever. Dull to him

Looked the bright world through eyes ivith tears so

" I soon shall follow the same dreary way
That leads and opens to the coasts of day. "
His only hope ! But when slow time had dealt
Firmly with him and kindly, and he felt
The storm and stress of strong and piercing pain
Yielding at last, and he grew calm again,
Doubtless he found another mate before
He followed Mary to the happy shore!
But none the less his grief appeals to me
Who sit and listen to the singing sea
This matchless summer day, beside the stone


He made to echo with his bitter moan,
And in my eyes I feel the foolish tears
For buried sorrow, dead a hundred years!


Through the wide sky thy north wind's thunder

Resistless, till no cloud is left to flee,
And down the clear, cold heaven unliindered pours

Thine awful moonlight on the winter sea.

The vast, black, raging spaces, torn and wild.

With an insensate fury answer back
To the gale's challenge; hurrying breakers, piled

Each over each, roll through the glittering track.

I shudder in the terror of thy cold.

As buffeted by the fierce bhist I stand,

Watching that shining path of bronzed gold.
With solemn, shadowy rocks on either hand;

While at their feet, ghastly and white as death,
The cruel, foaming billows plunge and rave.

Father ! where art Thou 1 My feeble breath

Cries to Thee through the storm of wind and wava


The cry of all thy children since the first

That walked thy planets' myriad paths among;

The cry of all mankind whom doubt has cursed,
In every clime, in every age and tongue.

Thou art the cold, the swift fire that consumes;

Thy vast, unerring forces never fail;
And Thou art in the frailest flower that blooms,

As in the breath of this tremendous gale.

Yet, though thy laws are clear as light, and prove
Thee changeless, ever human weakness craves

Some deeper knowledge for our human love

That looks with sad eyes o'er its wastes of graves,

And hungers for the dear hands softly drawn,
One after one, from out our longing grasp.

Dost Thou reach out for them 1 In the sweet dawn
Of some new world thrill they within thy clasp 1

Ah ! what am I, thine atom, standing here

In presence of thy pitiless elements,
Daring to question thy great silence drear,

No voice may break to lighten our suspense 1

Thou only, infinite Patience, that endures
Forever ! Blind and dumb I cling to Thee.

Slow glides the bitter night, and silent pours
Thine awful moonlight on the winter sea.

"FOR thoughts" 68


A PANSY on his breast she laid,

Splendid, and dark with Tyrian dyea;
" Take it, 't is like your tender eyes.

Deep as the midnight heaven," she said.

The rich rose mantling in her cheek.
Before him like the dawn she stood.
Pausing upon Life's height, subdued.

Yet triumphing, both proud and meek.

And white as winter stars, intense
With steadfast fire, his brilliant face
Bent toward her with an eager grace,

Pale with a rapture half suspense.

« You give me then a thought, Sweet ! "
Ho cried, and kissed the purple flower.
And bowed by Love's resistless poweii
Trembling he sank before her feet.

She crowned his beautiful bowed head
With one caress of her white hand;
" Rise up, my flower of all the land.

For all my thoughts are yours," she said.



Black sea, black sky ! A ponderous steamship driv-

Between them, laboring westward on her way,
And in her path a trap of Death's contriving

Waiting remorseless for its easy prey.

Hundreds of souls within her frame lie dreaming,
Hoping and fearing, longing for the light:

With human life and thought and feeling teeming,
She struggles onward through the starless night.

Upon her furnace fires fresh fuel flinging.
The swarthy firemen grumble at the dust

Mixed with the coal — when suddenly upspringing.
Swift through the smoke-stack like a signal thrust^

Flares a red flame, a dread illumination !

A cry, — a tumult ! Slowly to her helm
The vessel yields, 'mid shouts of acclamation,

And joy and terror all her crew o'erwhelm;

For looming from the blackness drear before them
Discovered is the iceberg — hardly seen.

Its ghastly precipices hanging o'er them.

Its reddened peaks, with dreadful chasms between,


Ere darkness swallows it again I and veering
Out of its track the brave ship onward steers,

Just grazing ruin. Trembling still, and fearing,
Her grattiful people melt in prayers and tears.

Is it a mockery, their profound thanksgiving t
Another ship goes shuddering to her doom

Unwarned, that very night, with hopes as living
"With freight as precious, lost amid the gloom,

With not a ray to show the apparition

Waiting to slay her, none to cry "Beware!"

Bushing straight onward headlong to perdition,
And for her crew no time vouchsafed for prayer.

Could they have stormed Heaven's gate with anguished

It would not have availed a feather's weight
Against their doom. Yet were they disobeying

No law of God, to beckon such a fate.

And do not tell me the Almighty Master
Would work a miracle to save the one,

And yield the other up to dire disaster,
By merely human justice thus outdone!

Vainly we weep and wrestle with our sorrow —
We cannot see his roads, they lie so broad:


But his eternal day knows no to-morrow,

And life and death are all the same with God.


She is so fair, I tliought, so dear and fair!
Maidenly beautiful from head to feet.
With pensive profile delicate and sweet,

And Titian's color in her sunny hair.

So fair, I thought, rejoicing even to note
The little flexible, transparent wrist.
The purple of the gold-clasped amethyst

That glittered at her white and slender throat;

The tiny ear, curled like a rosy shell;

The gentle splendor of the wide brown eyes,
Deep, lustrous, tender, clear as morning skies;

The full, sad lips, — the voice that like a bell

Eang thrilling with a music sweet and wild,
High, airy-pure as fluting of the fays.
Or bird-notes in the early summer da3's,

And joyous as the laughter of a child.

Dearest, has Heaven aught to give thee more J

I thought, tlie while I watched her changing face, ■


Hoard her fino tones, and marked licr gestures'
grace, —
Yea, one more gift is left, all gifts before.

We go our separate ways on earth, and pain,
God's shaping chisel, waits us as the rest,
"With nobler charm thy beauty to invest,

And make thee lovelier ere we meet again.


They crossed the lonely and lamenting sea;

Its moaning seemed but singing. "Wilt thoU
He asked her, " brave the loneliness with me 1 "

"What loneliness," she said, "if thou art there 1"

Afar and cold on the horizon's rim

Loomed the tall lighthouse, like a ghostly sign;
They sighed not as the shore behind grew dim,

A rose of joy they bore across the brine.

They gained the barren rock, and made their home
Among the wild waves and the sea-birds wild;

The wintry winds blew fierce across the foam,
But iu each other's eyes they looked and smiled.


Aloft the lighthouse sent its warnings wide,

Fed by their faithful hands, and ships in sight

With joy beheld it, and on land men cried,

"Look, clear and steady burns Boon Island light 1"

And, while they trimmed the lamp with busy hands,
"Shine far and through the dark, sweet light!"
they cried;

"Bring safely back the sailors from all lands

To waiting love, — wife, mother, sister, bride ! "

No tempest shook their calm, though many a storm
Tore the vexed ocean into furious spray;

No chill could find them in their Eden warm.
And gently Time lapsed onward day by day.

Said I no chill could find them ? There is one
Whose awful footfalls everywhere are known,

With echoing sobs, who chills the summer sun,
And turns the happy heart of youth to stone;

Inexorable Death, a silent guest

At every heartli, before whose footsteps flee
All joys, who rules the earth, and, without rest,

Roams the vast shuddering spaces of the sea.

Death found them ; turned his face and passed her by,
But laid a linger on her lover's lips.


And there was silence. Then the storm ran high,
And tossed and troubled sore the distant ships.

Nay, who shall speak the terrors of the night,
The speechless sorrow, the supreme despair?

Still like a ghost she trimmed the waning light.
Dragging her slow weight up the winding stair.

"With more than oil the saving lamp she fed,

■While lashed to madness the wild sea she heard.

She kept her awful vigil with the dead.
And God's sweet pity still she ministered.

sailors, hailing loud the cheerful beam,

Piercing so far the tumult of the dark,
A radiant star of hope, you could not dream

WTiat misery there sat cherishing that spark I

Three times the night, too terrible to bear.
Descended, shrouded in the storm. At last

The sun rose clear and still on her despair.

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Online LibraryCelia ThaxterThe poems of Celia Thaxter → online text (page 3 of 11)