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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

The Seaside and the Fireside

By the Seaside. The Fire of Drift-Wood

  • Devereux Farm, Near Marblehead
  • “September 29, 1846. A delicious drive with F. through Malden and Lynn to Marblehead, to visit E. W. at the Devereux Farm by the sea-side. Drove across the beautiful sand. What a delicious scene! The ocean in the sunshine changing from the silvery hue of the thin waves upon the beach, through the lighter and the deeper green, to a rich purple in the horizon. We recalled the times past, and the days when we were at Nahant. The Devereux Farm is by the sea, some miles from Lynn. An old-fashioned farm-house, with low rooms, and narrow windows rattling in the sea-breeze.” From this visit sprang the poem that follows. In a letter in 1879 to a correspondent who had raised a matter-of-fact objection, Mr. Longfellow readily admitted that the harbor and lighthouse, which he visited the same day, could not be seen from the windows of the farm-house.

  • WE sat within the farm-house old,

    Whose windows, looking o’er the bay,

    Gave to the sea-breeze damp and cold

    An easy entrance, night and day.

    Not far away we saw the port,

    The strange, old-fashioned, silent town,

    The lighthouse, the dismantled fort,

    The wooden houses, quaint and brown.

    We sat and talked until the night,

    Descending, filled the little room;

    Our faces faded from the sight,

    Our voices only broke the gloom.

    We spake of many a vanished scene,

    Of what we once had thought and said,

    Of what had been, and might have been,

    And who was changed, and who was dead;

    And all that fills the hearts of friends,

    When first they feel, with secret pain,

    Their lives thenceforth have separate ends,

    And never can be one again;

    The first slight swerving of the heart,

    That words are powerless to express,

    And leave it still unsaid in part,

    Or say it in too great excess.

    The very tones in which we spake

    Had something strange, I could but mark;

    The leaves of memory seemed to make

    A mournful rustling in the dark.

    Oft died the words upon our lips,

    As suddenly, from out the fire

    Built of the wreck of stranded ships,

    The flames would leap and then expire.

    And, as their splendor flashed and failed,

    We thought of wrecks upon the main,

    Of ships dismasted, that were hailed

    And sent no answer back again.

    The windows, rattling in their frames,

    The ocean, roaring up the beach,

    The gusty blast, the bickering flames,

    All mingled vaguely in our speech;

    Until they made themselves a part

    Of fancies floating through the brain,

    The long-lost ventures of the heart,

    That send no answers back again.

    O flames that glowed! O hearts that yearned!

    They were indeed too much akin,

    The drift-wood fire without that burned,

    The thoughts that burned and glowed within.