Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Aug 31, 1844 - Jan 28, 1911


That Never Was On Sea Or Land

by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

I dreamed that same old dream again last night;
You know I told you of it once, and more:
The sun had risen, and looked upon the sea,
And turned his head and looked upon the shore,
As if he never saw the world before.

What mystic, mythic season could it be?
It was October with the heart of May.
How count they time within love's calendar?
Dreaming or waking, I can only say
It was the morning of our wedding-day.

I only know I heard your happy step,
As I sat working on my wedding-day
Within my usual place, my usual task
You came and took the pen, and laughing, Nay!
You said, no more this morning! Come away!

And I, who had been doing dreamily
Within my dream some fitful thing before,
(My pen and I were both too tired to stop,)
Drew breath, -- dropped all my work upon the floor,
And let you lead me mutely to the door,

And out into a place I never saw,
Where little waves came shyly up and curled
Themselves about our feet; and far beyond
As eye could see, a mighty ocean swirled.
We go, you said, alone into the world.

But yet we did not go, but sat and talked
Of usual things, and in our usual way;
And now and then I stopped myself to think, --
So hard it is for work-worn souls to play,
Why, after all it is our wedding-day!

The fisher-folk came passing up and down,
Hither and thither, and the ships sailed by,
And busy women nodded cheerily;
And one from out a little cottage came,
With quiet porches, where the vines hung high,

And wished us joy, and When you're tired, she said,
I bid you welcome; come and rest with me.
But she was busy like the rest, and left
Us only out of all the world to be
Idle and happy by the idle sea.

And there were colors cast upon the sea
Whose names I know not, and upon the land
The shapes of shadows that I never saw;
And faintly far I felt a strange moon stand, --
Yet still we sat there, hand in clinging hand,

And talked, and talked, and talked, as if it were
Our last long chance to speak, or you to me
Or I to you, for this world or the next;
And still the fisherwomen busily
Passed by, and still the ships sailed to the sea.

But by and by the sea, the earth, the sky,
Took on a sudden color that I knew;
And a wild wind arose and beat at them.
The fisherwomen turned a deadly hue,
And I, in terror, turned me unto you,

And wrung my wretched hands, and hid my face.
O, now I know the reason, Love, I said,
We've talked, and talked, and talked the live-long day,
Like strangers, on the day that we were wed;
For I remember now that you were dead!

I woke afraid: around the half-lit room
The broken darkness seemed to stir and creep;
I thought a spirit passed before my eyes;
The night had grown a thing too dread for sleep,
And human life a lot too sad to weep.

Beneath the moon, across the silent lawn,
The garden paths gleamed white, -- a mighty cross
Cut through the shadowed flowers solemnly:
Like heavenly love escaped from earthly dross,
Or heavenly peace born out of earthly loss.

And wild my uncalmed heart went questioning it:
Can that which never has been ever be?
The solemn symbol told me not, but lay
As dumb before me as Eternity,
As dumb as you are when you look at me.


Poetic Studies
Copyright 1875
James R. Osgood And Company, Boston