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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Ipswich, Mass.

Heartbreak Hill

By Celia Thaxter (1835–1894)

IN Ipswich town, not far from the sea,

Rises a hill which the people call

Heartbreak Hill, and its history

Is an old, old legend, known to all.

The selfsame dreary, worn-out tale

Told by all peoples in every clime,

Still to be told till the ages fail,

And there comes a pause in the march of Time.

It was a sailor who won the heart

Of an Indian maiden, lithe and young;

And she saw him over the sea depart,

While sweet in her ear his promise rung;

For he cried, as he kissed her wet eyes dry,

“I ’ll come back, sweetheart; keep your faith!”

She said, “I will watch while the moons go by”:

Her love was stronger than life or death.

So this poor dusk Ariadne kept

Her watch from the hill-top rugged and steep;

Slowly the empty moments crept

While she studied the changing face of the deep,

Fastening her eyes upon every speck

That crossed the ocean within her ken;

Might not her lover be walking the deck,

Surely and swiftly returning again?

The Isles of Shoals loomed, lonely and dim,

In the northeast distance far and gray,

And on the horizon’s uttermost rim

The low rock heap of Boone Island lay.

And north and south and west and east

Stretched sea and land in the blinding light,

Till evening fell, and her vigil ceased,

And many a hearth-glow lit the night,

To mock those set and glittering eyes

Fast growing wild as her hope went out.

Hateful seemed earth, and the hollow skies,

Like her own heart, empty of aught but doubt.

Oh, but the weary, merciless days,

With the sun above, with the sea afar,—

No change in her fixed and wistful gaze

From the morning-red to the evening star!

Oh, the winds that blew, and the birds that sang,

The calms that smiled, and the storms that rolled,

The bells from the town beneath, that rang

Through the summer’s heat and the winter’s cold!

The flash of the plunging surges white,

The soaring gull’s wild boding cry,

She was weary of all; there was no delight

In heaven or earth, and she longed to die.

What was it to her though the Dawn should paint

With delicate beauty skies and seas?

But the sweet, sad sunset splendors faint

Made her soul sick with memories:

Drowning in sorrowful purple a sail

In the distant east, where shadows grew,

Till the twilight shrouded it, cold and pale,

And the tide of her anguish rose anew.

Like a slender statue carved of stone

She sat, with hardly motion or breath.

She wept no tears and she made no moan,

But her love was stronger than life or death.

He never came back! Yet faithful still,

She watched from the hill-top her life away.

And the townsfolk christened it Heartbreak Hill,

And it bears the name to this very day.