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



  • In a letter dated March 20, 1859, Mr. Longfellow says: “For my own part, I am delighted to hear the birds again. Spring always reminds me of the Palingenesis, or re-creation, of the old alchemists, who believed that form is indestructible and that out of the ashes of a rose the rose itself could be reconstructed,—if they could only discover the great secret of Nature. It is done every spring beneath our windows and before our eyes; and is always so wonderful and so beautiful!” The poem, which was printed in the Atlantic for July, 1864, appears to have been written, or at any rate revised, just before publication.

  • I LAY upon the headland-height, and listened

    To the incessant sobbing of the sea

    In caverns under me,

    And watched the waves, that tossed and fled and glistened,

    Until the rolling meadows of amethyst

    Melted away in mist.

    Then suddenly, as one from sleep, I started;

    For round about me all the sunny capes

    Seemed peopled with the shapes

    Of those whom I had known in days departed,

    Apparelled in the loveliness which gleams

    On faces seen in dreams.

    A moment only, and the light and glory

    Faded away, and the disconsolate shore

    Stood lonely as before;

    And the wild-roses of the promontory

    Around me shuddered in the wind, and shed

    Their petals of pale red.

    There was an old belief that in the embers

    Of all things their primordial form exists,

    And cunning alchemists

    Could re-create the rose with all its members

    From its own ashes, but without the bloom,

    Without the lost perfume.

    Ah me! what wonder-working, occult science

    Can from the ashes in our hearts once more

    The rose of youth restore?

    What craft of alchemy can bid defiance

    To time and change, and for a single hour

    Renew this phantom-flower?

    “Oh, give me back,” I cried, “the vanished splendors,

    The breath of morn, and the exultant strife,

    When the swift stream of life

    Bounds o’er its rocky channel, and surrenders

    The pond, with all its lilies, for the leap

    Into the unknown deep!”

    And the sea answered, with a lamentation,

    Like some old prophet wailing, and it said,

    “Alas! thy youth is dead!

    It breathes no more, its heart has no pulsation;

    In the dark places with the dead of old

    It lies forever cold!”

    Then said I, “From its consecrated cerements

    I will not drag this sacred dust again,

    Only to give me pain;

    But, still remembering all the lost endearments,

    Go on my way, like one who looks before,

    And turns to weep no more.”

    Into what land of harvests, what plantations

    Bright with autumnal foliage and the glow

    Of sunsets burning low;

    Beneath what midnight skies, whose constellations

    Light up the spacious avenues between

    This world and the unseen!

    Amid what friendly greetings and caresses,

    What households, though not alien, yet not mine,

    What bowers of rest divine;

    To what temptations in lone wildernesses,

    What famine of the heart, what pain and loss,

    The bearing of what cross!

    I do not know; nor will I vainly question

    Those pages of the mystic book which hold

    The story still untold,

    But without rash conjecture or suggestion

    Turn its last leaves in reverence and good heed,

    Until “The End” I read.