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

New England: Nahant, Mass.


By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

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?

“O, 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.