THAT was a curlew calling overhead,
That fine, clear whistle shaken from the clouds:
See ! hovering o’er the swamp with wings outspread,
He sinks where at its edge the shining crowds
Of yellow violets dance in green and gold,
Stirred by the spring wind blowing blithe and bold.
Blithe south wind, spreading bloom upon the sea,
Drawing about the world this band of haze
So softly delicate, and bringing me
A breath of balm that like a blessing stays.
Though beauty like a dream bathes sea and land,
For the first time Death holds me by the hand.
Yet none the less the swallows weave above
Through the bright air a web of light and song,
And crying clear and sweet from cove to cove
The sandpiper the lonely rocks among
Makes wistful music, and the singing sea
Sends its strong chorus upward solemnly.
O mother Nature, infinitely dear!
Vainly I search the beauty of thy face,
Vainly thy myriad voices charm my ear;
I cannot gather from thee any trace
Of God’s intent. Help me to understand
Why this sweet morn Death holds me by the hand.
I watch the waves, shoulder to shoulder set,
That strive and vanish and are seen no more ;
The earth is sown with graves that we forget,
And races of mankind the wide world o’er
Rise, strive, and vanish, leaving naught behind,
Like changing waves swept by the changing wind.
“Hard-hearted, cold, and blind!” she answers me,
“Vexing thy soul with riddles hard to guess!
No waste of any atom canst thou see,
Nor make I any gesture purposeless.
Lift thy dim eyes up to the conscious sky!
God meant the rapture in the curlew’s cry.
“ He holds his whirling worlds in check, not one
May from its awful orbit swerve aside ;
Yet breathes he in this south wind, bids the sun
Wake the fair flowers he fashioned, far and wide,
And this strong pain thou canst not understand
Is but his grasp on thy reluctant hand.”
Celia Thaxter.