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

A Book of Sonnets

Three Friends of Mine

WHEN I remember them, those friends of mine,

Who are no longer here, the noble three,

Who half my life were more than friends to me,

And whose discourse was like a generous wine,

I most of all remember the divine

Something, that shone in them, and made us see

The archetypal man, and what might be

The amplitude of Nature’s first design.

In vain I stretch my hands to clasp their hands;

I cannot find them. Nothing now is left

But a majestic memory. They meanwhile

Wander together in Elysian lands,

Perchance remembering me, who am bereft

Of their dear presence, and, remembering, smile.

In Attica thy birthplace should have been,

Or the Ionian Isles, or where the seas

Encircle in their arms the Cyclades,

So wholly Greek wast thou in thy serene

And childlike joy of life, O Philhellene!

Around thee would have swarmed the Attic bees;

Homer had been thy friend, or Socrates,

And Plato welcomed thee to his demesne.

For thee old legends breathed historic breath;

Thou sawest Poseidon in the purple sea,

And in the sunset Jason’s fleece of gold!

Oh, what hadst thou to do with cruel Death,

Who wast so full of life, or Death with thee,

That thou shouldst die before thou hadst grown old!

I stand again on the familiar shore,

And hear the waves of the distracted sea

Piteously calling and lamenting thee,

And waiting restless at thy cottage door.

The rocks, the sea-weed on the ocean floor,

The willows in the meadow, and the free

Wild winds of the Atlantic welcome me;

Then why shouldst thou be dead, and come no more?

Ah, why shouldst thou be dead, when common men

Are busy with their trivial affairs,

Having and holding? Why, when thou hadst read

Nature’s mysterious manuscript, and then

Wast ready to reveal the truth it bears,

Why art thou silent? Why shouldst thou be dead?

River, that stealest with such silent pace

Around the City of the Dead, where lies

A friend who bore thy name, and whom these eyes

Shall see no more in his accustomed place,

Linger and fold him in thy soft embrace,

And say good night, for now the western skies

Are red with sunset, and gray mists arise

Like damps that gather on a dead man’s face.

Good night! good night! as we so oft have said

Beneath this roof at midnight, in the days

That are no more, and shall no more return.

Thou hast but taken thy lamp and gone to bed;

I stay a little longer, as one stays

To cover up the embers that still burn.

The doors are all wide open; at the gate

The blossomed lilacs counterfeit a blaze,

And seem to warm the air; a dreamy haze

Hangs o’er the Brighton meadows like a fate,

And on their margin, with sea-tides elate,

The flooded Charles, as in the happier days,

Writes the last letter of his name, and stays

His restless steps, as if compelled to wait.

I also wait; but they will come no more,

Those friends of mine, whose presence satisfied

The thirst and hunger of my heart. Ah me!

They have forgotten the pathway to my door!

Something is gone from nature since they died,

And summer is not summer, nor can be.