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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Gray Swan

By Alice Cary (1820–1871)

[Born in Miami Valley, near Cincinnati, O., 1820. Died in New York, N. Y., 1871. From The Poetical Works of Alice and Phœbe Cary. 1876.]

“OH tell me, sailor, tell me true,

Is my little lad, my Elihu,

A-sailing with your ship?”

The sailor’s eyes were dim with dew,—

“Your little lad, your Elihu?”

He said, with trembling lip,—

“What little lad? what ship?”

“What little lad! as if there could be

Another such an one as he!

What little lad, do you say?

Why, Elihu, that took to the sea

The moment I put him off my knee!

It was just the other day

The Gray Swan sailed away.”

“The other day?” the sailor’s eyes

Stood open with a great surprise,—

“The other day? the Swan?”

His heart began in his throat to rise.

“Aye, aye, sir, here in the cupboard lies

The jacket he had on.”

“And so your lad is gone?”

“Gone with the Swan.” “And did she stand

With her anchor clutching hold of the sand,

For a month, and never stir?”

“Why, to be sure! I’ve seen from the land,

Like a lover kissing his lady’s hand,

The wild sea kissing her,—

A sight to remember, sir.”

“But, my good mother, do you know

All this was twenty years ago?

I stood on the Gray Swan’s deck,

And to that lad I saw you throw,

Taking it off, as it might be, so!

The kerchief from your neck.”

“Aye, and he’ll bring it back!”

“And did the little lawless lad,

That has made you sick and made you sad,

Sail with the Gray Swan’s crew?”

“Lawless! the man is going mad!

The best boy ever mother had,—

Be sure he sailed with the crew!

What would you have him do?”

“And he has never written line,

Nor sent you word, nor made you sign

To say he was alive!”

“Hold! if ’twas wrong, the wrong is mine;

Besides, he may be in the brine,

And could he write from the grave?

Tut, man! what would you have?”

“Gone twenty years,—a long, long cruise,—

’Twas wicked thus your love to abuse;

But if the lad still live,

And come back home, think you you can

Forgive him?”—“Miserable man,

You’re mad as the sea,—you rave,—

What have I to forgive?”

The sailor twitched his shirt so blue,

And from within his bosom drew

The kerchief. She was wild.

“My God! my Father! is it true?

My little lad, my Elihu!

My blessed boy, my child!

My dead, my living child!”