Louise Chandler Moulton (1835-1908)

From Poems and Sonnets (1909)

See Moulton's complete works (including over a hundred sonnets) at the University of Michigan's Humanities Text Initiative. See the introduction and biography there.

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The New Day

When the great sun sets the glad East aflame,
The lingering stars are swiftly put to flight;
For Day, triumphant, overthrows the night,
And mocks the lights that twinkled till he came.
The waning moon retires in sudden shame;
And all the air, from roseate height to height,
Quivers with wings of birds, that take the light
To jubilant music of one tender name.

So Thou hast risen,--Thou who art my day;
And every lesser light has ceased to shine.
Pale stars, confronted by this dawn of thine,
Like night and gloom and grief have passed away;
And yet my bliss I fear to call it mine,
Lest fresh foes lurk with unforeseen dismay.

One Dread

No depth, dear Love, for thee is too profound;
There is no farthest height thou mayst not dare,
Nor shall thy wings fail in the upper air:
In funeral robe and wreath my past lies bound;
No old-time voice assails me with its sound
When thine I hear; no former joy seems fair;
And now one only thing could bring despair,
One grief like compassing seas my life surround,
One only terror in my way be met,
One great eclipse change my glad day to night,
One phantom only turn from red to white
The lips whereon thy lips have once been set:
Thou knowest well, dear Love, what that must be,--
The dread of some dark day unshared by thee.


Where Thou art not no day holds light for me,
The brightest noontide turns to midnight deep;
There no bird sings, but awesome shadows creep,--
Persistent ghosts that hold my memory,
And walk where Joy and Hope once walked with thee,
And in thy place their lonesome vigil keep,--
Sad shades that haunt the inmost ways of sleep,
No kindly morning ever bids them flee.

Those tireless footsteps, will they never cease?
Like crownless queens they tread their ancient ways,--
Pale phantoms of old dreams and vanished days,--
And mock my poor endeavors after peace.
Too long this Arctic night, too keen its cold;
Come back, strong sun, and warm me as of old!

Last Year


You thought, O Love, you loved me then, I know;
For that I bless you, now when Love is cold,
Remembering how warm the tale you told,
While winds of autumn fitfully did blow,
And, by the sea's perpetual ebb and flow,
We wandered on together to behold
Noon's radiant splendor, or the sunset's gold,
Or beauty of still nights where moons hung low.

Your voice grew tender when you called my name;
I heard that voice to-day,--was it the same?--
The old-time music trembles in it yet.
Your touch thrilled through me like a sudden flame
And then Love's sweet and subtle madness came,
And glad lips clung that now to kiss forget.


You surely must remember, though to-day
There is no spell to charm you in the past.
So dear the dream was that it could not last:
Too soon our pleasant skies were changed to gray;
The sun turned from our barren land away,
And all the leaves swept by us on the blast,
And all our hopes to that wild wind were cast--
For dead Love's soul there is no place to pray.

But still the old time lingers in our thought;
In our regretful dreams the old suns rise,
And from their shining, memory hath caught
Some lingering glory of that glad surprise
When Love rose on us like the sun, and brought
Our hearts their morning under last year's skies.

First Love

Time was you heard the music of a sigh,
And Love awoke; and with it Song was born,--
Song glad as young birds carol in the morn,
And tender as the blue and brooding sky,
When all the earth feels Spring's warm witchery,
And with fresh flowers her bosom doth adorn;
And lovers love, and cannot love forlorn,
Since Love is of the gods, and may not die.

In after years may come some wildering light,--
Some sweet delusion, followed for a space,--
Such fitful fire-flies flash athwart the night,
But fade before the shining of that face
Which shines upon you still in Death's despite,
Whose steadfast beauty lights till death your days.

Love's Forgiveness

I do forgive you for the pain I bear,
Though bitter pain is mingled with my bliss;
For still I think, while thrilling to your kiss,
"He found that other woman much more fair."
I read your words, and see, immortal there,
Another love--how warm it was to this!
And know that from my face you still must miss
The beauty that another used to wear.

Yet I forgive you, Dear, and bow my head
To Destiny, my master and your own,--
He sets the way wherein my feet must tread;
And if he give me nothing quite mine own,--
I know some day my heart, so sore bested,
Will rest most quietly, and turn to stone.

In Time to Come

The time will come full soon! I shall be gone,
And you sit silent in the silent place,
With the sad autumn sunlight on your face.
Remembering the loves that were your own,
Haunted perchance by some familiar tone,
You will be weary then for the dead days,
And mindful of their sweet and bitter ways,
Though passion into memory shall have grown.

Then will I with your other ghosts draw nigh,
And whisper, as I pass, some former word,--
Some old endearment known in days gone by,
Some tenderness that once your pulses stirred:--
Which was it spoke to you, the wind or I?
I think you, musing, scarcely will have heard.

A Summer's Growth

Fair was the flower which proffers now its fruit;
The bud began to swell 'neath Spring's soft dew,
And tenderly the winds of summer blew
To foster it; and great strong suns were mute,
As through its veins warm life began to shoot,
And it put on each day some beauty new.
And all the fairer, as I think, it grew,
Because the streams were tears about its root.

But now our fruit hangs well within our reach,
And this indeed is time for gathering.
It hath the bloom of summer-tinted peach,
Each charm it hath that any man could sing;
Yet we, who taste it, whisper each to each,
"Not sweet, but very bitter, is this thing!"

My Birthday

Chide not because I doubt who would believe!
Has not my life been like that April day
Whose dawn awoke us with such proud display
Of mocking glory, kindled to deceive,
While in the distance low winds seemed to grieve,--
Winds sad with prophecy,--then skies grew gray,
And all the morning splendor passed away,
And dark with rain came on the gusty eve?

That was my birthday, symbol of my birth,--
Capricious April's heir, the sport of Fate,
Doomed to be better friends with Grief than Mirth,
To know no love that did not come too late,--
My only hope, sore spent with life's long pain,
In some glad morning to be born again.

Helen's Cup

Give me the potent draught that Helen poured
To lull Telemachus! Make me forget
All present peril, all old sins, and let
Me dream, in peace. Long threat'ning, Fate's sharp sword
Before my eyes has hung--about me roared
The battle's clamor. Sore I am beset--
New fears and ancient pains together met
Assail me, who for peace have long implored:

Give me at last to drink, and let them flee,
The baffled ghosts that watch me sullenly,
To those waste fields that waiting shadows keep;
And down some waveless tide, in quiet deep
As set of day upon a quiet sea,
Oh, let me drift and dream, and fall on sleep!

Silent Sorrow

If she unclosed her lips and made her moan
She would not be so weary with her woe--
A burden shared is lightened: even so
The weight is heavier that we bear alone,
And anguish, pent within, turns hearts to stone.
The fellowship of sorrow to forego--
To suffer and be silent--is to know
The blackest blossom from the black root grown.

And yet great joys and greatest woes are dumb:
Small is the sum that reckoning can compute--
The shallows babble, but the depths are mute--
The great mid-sea our measure may not plumb:
King Love, King Pain, King Death, in silence come;
And, meeting them, we silently salute.

A Cry

O wanderer in unknown lands, what cheer?
How dost thou fare on thy mysterious way?
What strange light breaks upon thy distant day,
Yet leaves me lonely in the darkness here?
Oh, bide no longer in that far-off sphere:
Though all Heaven's cohorts should thy footsteps stay,
Break through their splendid, militant array,
And answer to my call, O dead and dear!

I shall not fear thee, howsoe'er thou come;
Thy coldness will not chill, though Death is cold;
A touch, and I shall know thee,--or a breath;
Speak the old, well-known language, or be dumb;
Only come back! Be near me as of old;
So thou and I shall triumph over Death!

Love's Empty House

O thou long-silent, solitary house,
Where Love once came and went with joyous cries,
Or lingered long, sighing as Summer sighs
When Autumn's breath begins her fear to rouse
With fierce caress that shall make bare her boughs
Her tender boughs, and all her beauty's prize
Deliver, faded, to the winds that rise
And rend her crown from her dishonored brows!--

O solitary house! thine open door
Again shall welcome sweet Love's wingèd tread
His eyes shall light thee, as they lit of yore
In days when Love and Joy were newly wed;
He shall return with myrtle round his head,
And fill thy halls with music as before.

After Death

And very sweet it is

To know he is still warm though I am cold.

--Christina Rossetti

I would not have thee warm when I am cold;
But both together--'neath some sylvan mound,
Amid the pleasant secrets under ground,
Where green things flourish in the embracing mould,
And jealous seeds the souls of blossoms hold--
In some sweet fellowship of silence bound,
Deeper than life, more exquisite than sound,
Rest tranquilly while Love's new tales are told.

We will not grudge the waking world its bliss,
Its joy of speech, its gladness of surprise,
When lovers clasp each others hands and kiss
And earth puts on new glory to their eyes:
We, lying there with Death's deep knowledge wise,
Shall know that we have found Life's best in this.

Voices on the Wind

Far out at sea I hear the wind complain,--
With the old plaint that vexed my childish ear,
And seemed the cry of spirits drawing near
To sob their incommunicable pain.
Whence did they come, and whither go again?
My very heart stood still with sudden fear
When the forlorn approach I used to hear
Of all the shuddering, melancholy train.

And lo, in this night's vigil far at sea,
The same long cry!--Are they unpardoned yet?
Does the old pain still goad them till they come,
Unsheltered souls, to sob once more to me
Of some dead wrong they never can forget
Till there is no more sea, and winds are dumb?

The Cup of Death

For a picture by Elihu Vedder.

She bends her beauteous head to taste thy draught,
O thou stern Angel of the Darker Cup!
With thee to-night in the dim shades to sup,
Where all they be who from that cup have quaffed.
She had been clad with loveliness, and laughed
At Life's strong enemies who lie in wait;
Had kept with golden youth her queenly state,
All unafraid of Sorrow's threat'ning shaft.

Then human Grief found out her human heart,
And she was fain to go where pain is dumb;
So Thou wert welcome, Angel dread to see,
And she fares onward with thee, willingly,
To dwell where no man loves, no lovers part,--
Thus Grief that is, makes welcome Death to come.

To a Modern Poet

With a copy of "Shakespeare's Sonnets."

Take thou these words thine elder brother writ,--
Thou, to whom Song is as thy native speech!
Across the swift-flown centuries thou canst reach
To him, thy kinsman, reverent hands and sit--
While shadows of the Past about ye flit--
With him, "in sessions of sweet, silent thought,"
And share with him those halcyon days that brought
Music's sweet charm, and sparkle keen of wit.

So shalt thou learn the secret of his song,--
Those minor chords; since Life is as the leaf,
And gladdest love and brightest day are brief;
Those clear, bold notes that told his soul was strong,
Brave to endure, and swift to smite the wrong,
Until Death healed thine elder brother's grief.

The Last Good-by

How shall we know it is the last good-by?
The skies will not be darkened in that hour,
No sudden blight will fall on leaf or flower,
No single bird will hush its careless cry,
And you will hold my hands, and smile or sigh
Just as before. Perchance the sudden tears
In your dear eyes will answer to my fears;
But there will come no voice of prophecy, --

No voice to whisper, "Now, and not again,
Space for last words, last kisses, and last prayer
For all the wild, unmitigated pain
Of those who, parting, clasp hands with despair,"
"Who knows?" we say, but doubt and fear remain.
Would any choose to part thus unaware?

Love Is Dead

I heard one cry out strongly, "Love is dead!"
And then we went and looked upon his face,
Turned into marble by Death's final grace:
His silent lips, that once so vainly pled,
Smile now, as men smile being newly wed;
Since some strange joy Life's sorrows did efface
When Death's arms clasped him in supreme embrace,
All his long pain of living comforted.

And you would wake him? Dare you him recall
From Death's enamouring to Life's stern pain;
Make him again the old grief's hopeless thrall;
Bind him once more with the old clanking chain,
And goad him on his weary way again?--
Nay! let him rest with Death, the lord of all.

Hic Jacet

So Love is dead that has been quick so long!
Close, then, his eyes, and bear him to his rest,
With eglantine and myrtle on his breast,
And leave him there, their pleasant scents among;
And chant a sweet and melancholy song
About the charms whereof he was possessed,
And how of all things he was loveliest,
And to compare with aught were him to wrong.

Leave him beneath the still and solemn stars,
That gather and look down from their far place
With their long calm our brief woes to deride,
Until the Sun the Morning's gate unbars
And mocks, in turn, our sorrows with his face;--
And yet, had Love been Love, he had not died.

Left Behind

Wilt thou forget me in that other sphere,--
Thou who hast shared my life so long in this,--
And straight grown dizzy with that greater bliss,
Fronting heaven's splendor strong and full and clear,
No longer hold the old embraces dear
When some sweet seraph crowns thee with her kiss?
Nay, surely from that rapture thou wouldst miss
Some slight, small thing that thou hast cared for here.

I do not dream that from those ultimate heights
Thou wilt come back to seek me where I bide;
But if I follow, patient of thy slights,
And if I stand there, waiting by thy side,
Surely thy heart with some old thrill will stir,
And turn thy face toward me, even from her.

Future Forgiveness

How long wilt thou be silent, lying there?
I grieved thee once, and now my heart makes moan,
Cries, and thou wilt not answer, turned to stone,
And pitiless as stone to my despair:
My tears fall on thee, and thou dost not care:
Oh! art thou cruel now who wast so kind;
Or only to my sorrow deaf and blind--
Gone on beyond the hearing of my prayer?

Shall it not be that in thy brighter life
I find thee, move thee to some pitying thrill,
And win thee by my pleading to forgive?
Thou couldst forget past folly and past strife,
Seeing, in that new sphere, I love thee still;
And thou--didst thou not love thou wouldst not live.

In Pace

When I am dead, with mockery of praise
Thou shalt not vex the stillness of my sleep:
Leave me to long tranquillity and deep,
Who, through such weary nights and lonesome days,
Such hopeless stretch of uncompanioned ways,
Have come at length my quiet rest to keep
Where nettles thrive, and careless brambles creep,
And things that love the dark their dull brood raise.

After my restless years I would have rest,--
Long rest after so many restless years,--
Unmocked by hope, set free from haunting fears;
Since some old pain might waken at thy tread,
Do thou for once in this my heart's behest,
Come thou not nigh when I am lying dead.

A Woman's Knowledge

A rose to smell a moment, then to leave,
Chance strain of song you smile at as you pass,
Bubble that breaks before you lip the glass,
Chain frail as the frail thread that spiders weave;
Oh, do not think that I myself deceive!
Thus, and not otherwise, to you am I,--
A moment's pleasure as you pass me by,
Powerless, at best, to make you joy or grieve.

And you, to me, my sun-god and my sun,
Who warmed my heart to life with careless ray!
Forever will that burning memory stay
And warm me in the grave when life is done:--
What farther grace has any woman won?
Since your chance gift you cannot take away.