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

In the Harbor

Elegiac Verse

  • Written at various times, mostly between April and July, 1881. In the notes at the end of the volume will be found further examples.

  • I
    PERADVENTURE of old, some bard in Ionian Islands,

    Walking alone by the sea, hearing the wash of the waves,

    Learned the secret from them of the beautiful verse elegiac,

    Breathing into his song motion and sound of the sea.

    For as the wave of the sea, upheaving in long undulations,

    Plunges loud on the sands, pauses, and turns, and retreats,

    So the Hexameter, rising and singing, with cadence sonorous,

    Falls; and in refluent rhythm back the Pentameter flows.

    Not in his youth alone, but in age, may the heart of the poet

    Bloom into song, as the gorse blossoms in autumn and spring.

    Not in tenderness wanting, yet rough are the rhymes of our poet;

    Though it be Jacob’s voice, Esau’s, alas! are the hands.

    Let us be grateful to writers for what is left in the inkstand;

    When to leave off is an art only attained by the few.

    How can the Three be One? you ask me; I answer by asking,

    Hail and snow and rain, are they not three, and yet one?

    By the mirage uplifted, the land floats vague in the ether,

    Ships and the shadows of ships hang in the motionless air;

    So by the art of the poet our common life is uplifted,

    So, transfigured, the world floats in a luminous haze.

    Like a French poem is Life; being only perfect in structure

    When with the masculine rhymes mingled the feminine are.

    Down from the mountain descends the brooklet, rejoicing in freedom;

    Little it dreams of the mill hid in the valley below;

    Glad with the joy of existence, the child goes singing and laughing,

    Little dreaming what toils lie in the future concealed.

    As the ink from our pen, so flow our thoughts and our feelings

    When we begin to write, however sluggish before.

    Like the Kingdom of Heaven, the Fountain of Youth is within us;

    If we seek it elsewhere, old shall we grow in the search.

    If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it;

    Every arrow that flies feels the attraction of earth.

    Wisely the Hebrews admit no Present tense in their language;

    While we are speaking the word, it is already the Past.

    In the twilight of age all things seem strange and phantasmal,

    As between daylight and dark ghost-like the landscape appears.

    Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending;

    Many a poem is marred by a superfluous verse.