Footprints in the Sand

LAZILY, through the warm gray afternoon,
We sailed toward the land ;
Over the long sweep of the billows, soon,
We saw on either hand
Peninsula and cape and silver beach
Unfold before our eyes,
Lighthouse and roof and spire and wooded reach
Grew clear beyond surmise.
Behind us lay the islands that we loved,
Touched by a wandering gleam,
Melting in distance, where the white sails moved
Softly as in a dream.
Drifting past buoy and scarlet beacon slow,
We gained the coast at last,
And up the harbor, where no wind did blow,
We drew, and anchor cast.
The lovely land ! Green, the broad fields came down
Almost into the sea;
Nestled the quiet homesteads warm and brown,
Embraced by many a tree ;
The gray above was streaked with smiling blue,
The snowy gulls sailed o’er ;
The shining golden-rod waved, where it grew,
A welcome to the shore.
Peaceful the whole, and sweet. Beyond the sand,
The dwelling-place I sought
Lay in the sunshine. All the scene I scanned
Full of one wistful thought :
Saw any eyes our vessel near the shore
From vine-draped windows quaint?
Waited my bright, shy darling at the door,
Fairer than words could paint?
I did not see her gleaming golden head,
Nor hear her clear voice call;
As up the beach I went with rapid tread,
Lonely and still was all.
But on the smooth sand printed, far and near,
I saw her footsteps small;
Here had she loitered, here she hastened, here
She climbed the low stone wall.
Such pathos in those little footprints spoke,
I paused and lingered long;
Listening as far away the billows broke
With the old solemn song.
“The infinite hoary spray of the salt sea,”
In yet another tide,
Should wash away these traces utterly;
And in my heart I cried,
“ O thou Creator, when thy waves of Time,
The infinite hoary spray
That sweeps life from the earth at dawn and prime,
Have swept her soul away,
How shall I know it is not even as these
Light footprints in the sand,
That vanish into naught ? For no man sees
Clearly what thou hast planned.”
And sadly musing, up the slope I pressed,
And sought her where she played,
By breeze and sunshine flattered and caressed,
A merry little maid.
And while I clasped her close and held her fast,
And looked into her face,
Half shy, half smiling, wholly glad at last
To rest in my embrace,
From the clear heaven of her innocent eyes
Leaped Love to answer me,—
Divinely through the mortal shape that dies
Shone immortality !
What the winds hinted, what the awful sky
Held in its keeping, — all
The vast sea’s prophesying, suddenly
Grew clear as clarion call.
The secret nature strives to speak, yet hides,
Flashed from those human eyes
To slay my doubt ; I felt that all the tides
Of death and change might rise
And devastate the world, yet I could see
This steady-shining spark
Should live eternally, could never be
Lost in the unfathomed dark !
And when beneath a threatening sunset sky
We trimmed our sails and turned
Seaward again, with many a sweet good-by,
A quiet gladness burned
Within me as I watched her tiny form
Go dancing up and down,
Light as a sandpiper before the storm
Along the beach-edge brown,
Waving her little kerchief to and fro,
Till we were out of sight,
Sped by a wild wind that began to blow
Out of the troubled night.
And while we tossed upon an angry sea,
And round the lightning ran,
And muttering thunder rolled incessantly
As the black storm began,
I knew the fair and peaceful landscape lay
Safe hidden in the gloom,
Waiting the glad returning of the day
To smile again and bloom.
And sure as that the morrow’s sun would rise,
And day again would be,
Shone the sweet promise of those childish eyes
Wherein God answered me.
Celia Thaxter.