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

Ballads and Other Poems

The Goblet of Life

  • Mr. Longfellow, writing to Mr. Ward, November 3, 1841, says: “I shall send him [Mr. Benjamin] a new poem, called simply Fennel, which I do not copy here on account of its length. It is as good, perhaps, as Excelsior. Hawthorne, who is passing the night with me, likes it better.” He afterward changed the title to that which the poem now bears.

  • FILLED is Life’s goblet to the brim;

    And though my eyes with tears are dim,

    I see its sparkling bubbles swim,

    And chant a melancholy hymn

    With solemn voice and slow.

    No purple flowers,—no garlands green,

    Conceal the goblet’s shade or sheen,

    Nor maddening draughts of Hippocrene,

    Like gleams of sunshine, flash between

    Thick leaves of mistletoe.

    This goblet, wrought with curious art,

    Is filled with waters, that upstart,

    When the deep fountains of the heart,

    By strong convulsions rent apart,

    Are running all to waste.

    And as it mantling passes round,

    With fennel is it wreathed and crowned,

    Whose seed and foliage sun-imbrowned

    Are in its waters steeped and drowned,

    And give a bitter taste.

    Above the lowly plants it towers,

    The fennel, with its yellow flowers,

    And in an earlier age than ours

    Was gifted with the wondrous powers,

    Lost vision to restore.

    It gave new strength, and fearless mood;

    And gladiators, fierce and rude,

    Mingled it in their daily food;

    And he who battled and subdued,

    A wreath of fennel wore.

    Then in Life’s goblet freely press

    The leaves that give it bitterness,

    Nor prize the colored waters less,

    For in thy darkness and distress

    New light and strength they give!

    And he who has not learned to know

    How false its sparkling bubbles show,

    How bitter are the drops of woe,

    With which its brim may overflow,

    He has not learned to live.

    The prayer of Ajax was for light;

    Through all that dark and desperate fight,

    The blackness of that noonday night,

    He asked but the return of sight,

    To see his foeman’s face.

    Let our unceasing, earnest prayer

    Be, too, for light,—for strength to bear

    Our portion of the weight of care,

    That crushes into dumb despair

    One half the human race.

    O suffering, sad humanity!

    O ye afflicted ones, who lie

    Steeped to the lips in misery,

    Longing, and yet afraid to die,

    Patient, though sorely tried!

    I pledge you in this cup of grief,

    Where floats the fennel’s bitter leaf!

    The Battle of our Life is brief,

    The alarm,—the struggle,—the relief,

    Then sleep we side by side.