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

New England: Mattapoisett, Mass.

The House of Youth

By Elizabeth Stoddard (1823–1902)

THE ROUGH north-winds have left their icy caves

To growl and group for prey

Upon the murky sea;

The lonely sea-gull skims the sullen waves

All the gray winter day.

The mottled sand-bird runneth up and down,

Amongst the creaking sedge,

Along the crusted beach;

The time-stained houses of the sea-walled town

Are tottering on its edge.

An ancient dwelling, in this ancient place,

Stands in a garden drear,

A wreck with other wrecks;

The past is there, but no one sees a face

Within, from year to year.

The wiry rose-trees scratch the window-pane,

The window rattles loud;

The wind beats at the door,

But never gets an answer back again,

The silence is so proud.

The last that lived there was an evil man;

A child the last that died

Upon the mother’s breast.

It seemed to die by some mysterious ban;

Its grave is by the side

Of an old tree, whose notched and scanty leaves

Repeat the tale of woe,

And quiver day and night,

Till the snow cometh, and a cold shroud weaves,

Whiter than that below.

This time of year a woman wanders there—

They say from distant lands:

She wears a foreign dress,

With jewels on her breast, and her fair hair

In braided coils and bands.

The ancient dwelling and the garden drear

At night know something more:

Without her foreign dress

Or blazing gems, this woman stealeth near

The threshold of the door.

The shadow strikes against the window-pane;

She thrusts the thorns away:

Her eyes peer through the glass,

And down the glass her great tears drip, like rain,

In the gray winter day.

The moon shines down the dismal garden track,

And lights the little mound;

But when she ventures there,

The black and threatening branches wave her back,

And guard the ghastly ground.

What is the story of this buried past?

Were all its doors flung wide,

For us to search its rooms,

And we to see the race, from first to last,

And how they lived and died:—

Still would it baffle and perplex the brain,

But teach this bitter truth:

Man lives not in the past:

None but a woman ever comes again

Back to the house of Youth!