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

A Book of Sonnets

The Two Rivers

SLOWLY the hour-hand of the clock moves round;

So slowly that no human eye hath power

To see it move! Slowly in shine or shower

The painted ship above it, homeward bound,

Sails, but seems motionless, as if aground;

Yet both arrive at last; and in his tower

The slumberous watchman wakes and strikes the hour,

A mellow, measured, melancholy sound.

Midnight! the outpost of advancing day!

The frontier town and citadel of night!

The watershed of Time, from which the streams

Of Yesterday and To-morrow take their way,

One to the land of promise and of light,

One to the land of darkness and of dreams!

O River of Yesterday, with current swift

Through chasms descending, and soon lost to sight,

I do not care to follow in their flight

The faded leaves, that on thy bosom drift!

O River of To-morrow, I uplift

Mine eyes, and thee I follow, as the night

Wanes into morning, and the dawning light

Broadens, and all the shadows fade and shift!

I follow, follow, where thy waters run

Through unfrequented, unfamiliar fields,

Fragrant with flowers and musical with song;

Still follow, follow; sure to meet the sun,

And confident, that what the future yields

Will be the right, unless myself be wrong.

Yet not in vain, O River of Yesterday,

Through chasms of darkness to the deep descending,

I heard thee sobbing in the rain, and blending

Thy voice with other voices far away.

I called to thee, and yet thou wouldst not stay,

But turbulent, and with thyself contending,

And torrent-like thy force on pebbles spending,

Thou wouldst not listen to a poet’s lay.

Thoughts, like a loud and sudden rush of wings,

Regrets and recollections of things past,

With hints and prophecies of things to be,

And inspirations, which, could they be things,

And stay with us, and we could hold them fast,

Were our good angels,—these I owe to thee.

And thou, O River of To-morrow, flowing

Between thy narrow adamantine walls,

But beautiful, and white with waterfalls,

And wreaths of mist, like hands the pathway showing;

I hear the trumpets of the morning blowing,

I hear thy mighty voice, that calls and calls,

And see, as Ossian saw in Morven’s halls,

Mysterious phantoms, coming, beckoning, going!

It is the mystery of the unknown

That fascinates us; we are children still,

Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling

To the familiar things we call our own,

And with the other, resolute of will,

Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.