Rivers to the Sea
Sara Teasdale

Poets' Corner Scripting
© 2000, 2020 S.L. Spanoudis and
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Transcribed for Poets' Corner
July 2000 by S.L.Spanoudis

[This 1915 work is believed to be in the public domain in the US. Please check local restrictions in other geographies.]

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Sara Teasdale


To Ernst


    Part II

    Indian Summer

      LYRIC night of the lingering Indian Summer,
      Shadowy fields that are scentless but full of singing,
      Never a bird, but the passionless chant of insects,
      Ceaseless, insistent.

      The grasshopper's horn, and far off, high in the maples
      The wheel of a locust leisurely grinding the silence,
      Under a moon waning and worn and broken,
      Tired with summer.

      Let me remember you, voices of little insects,
      Weeds in the moonlight, fields that are tangled with asters,
      Let me remember you, soon will the winter be on us,
      Snow-hushed and heartless.

      Over my soul murmur your mute benediction
      While I gaze, oh fields that rest after harvest,
      As those who part look long in the eyes they lean to,
      Lest they forget them.

    The Sea Wind

      I AM a pool in a peaceful place,
      I greet the great sky face to face,
      I know the stars and the stately moon
      And the wind that runs with rippling shoon--
      But why does it always bring to me
      The far-off, beautiful sound of the sea?

      The marsh-grass weaves me a wall of green,
      But the wind comes whispering in between,
      In the dead of night when the sky is deep
      The wind comes waking me out of sleep--
      Why does it always bring to me
      The far-off, terrible call of the sea?

    The Cloud

      I AM a cloud in the heaven's height,
      The stars are lit for my delight,
      Tireless and changeful, swift and free,
      I cast my shadow on hill and sea--
      But why do the pines on the mountain's crest
      Call to me always, "Rest, rest"?

      I throw my mantle over the moon
      And I blind the sun on his throne at noon,
      Nothing can tame me, nothing can bind,
      I am a child of the heartless wind--
      But oh the pines on the mountain's crest
      Whispering always, "Rest, rest."

    The Poor House

      HOPE went by and Peace went by
      And would not enter in;
      Youth went by and Health wnt by
      And Love that is their kin.

      Those within the house shed tears
      On their bitter bread;
      Some were old and some were mad,
      And some were sick a-bed.

      Gray Death saw the wretched house
      And even he passed by--
      "They have never lived," he said,
      "They can wait to die."

    New year's Dawn--Broadway

      WHEN the horns wear thin
      And the noise, like a garment outworn,
      Falls from the night,
      The tattered and shivering night,
      That thinks she is gay;
      When the patient silence comes back,
      And retires,
      And returns,
      Rebuffed by a ribald song,
      Wounded by vehement cries,
      Fleeing again to the stars--
      Ashamed of her sister the night;
      Oh, then they steal home,
      The blinded, the pitiful ones
      With their gew-gaws still in their hands,
      Reeling with odorous breath
      And thick, coarse words on their tongues.
      They get them to bed, somehow,
      And sleep the forgiving,
      Comes thru the scattering tumult
      And closes their eyes.
      The stars sink down ashamed
      And the dawn awakes,
      Like a youth who steals from a brothel,
      Dizzy and sick.

    The Star

      A WHITE star born in the evening glow
      Looked to the round green world below,
      And saw a pool in a wooded place
      That held like a jewel her mirrored face.
      She said to the pool: "Oh, wondrous deep,
      I love you, I give you my light to keep.
      Oh, more profound than the moving sea
      That never has shown myself to me!
      Oh, fathomless as the sky is far,
      Hold forever your tremulous star!"

      But out of the woods as night grew cool
      A brown pig came to the little pool;
      It grunted and splashed and waded in
      And the deepest place but reached its chin.
      The water gurgled with tender glee
      And the mud churned up in it turbidly.

      The star grew pale and hid her face
      In a bit of floating cloud like lace.


      EVERY night I lie awake
      And every day I lie abed
      And hear the doctors, Pain and Death,
      Conferring at my head.

      They speak in scientific tones,
      Professional and low--
      One argues for a speedy cure,
      The other, sure and slow.

      To one so humble as myself
      It should be matter for some pride
      To have such noted fellows here,
      Conferring at my side.

    The Inn of Earth

      I CAME to the crowded Inn of Earth,
      And called for a cup of wine,
      But the Host went by with averted eye
      From a thirst as keen as mine.

      Then I sat down with weariness
      And asked a bit of bread,
      But the Host went by with averted eye
      And never a word he said.

      While always from the outer night
      The waiting souls came in
      With stifled cries of sharp surprise
      At all the light and din.

      "Then give me a bed to sleep," I said,
      "For midnight comes apace"--
      But the Host went by with averted eye
      And I never saw his face.

      "Since there is neither food nor rest,
      I go where I fared before"--
      But the Host went by with averted eye
      And barred the outer door.

    In the Carpenter's Shop

      MARY sat in the corner dreaming,
      Dim was the room and low,
      While in the dusk, the saw went screaming
          To and fro.

      Jesus and Joseph toiled together,
      Mary was watching them,
      Thinking of kings in the wintry weather
          At Bethlehem.

      Mary sat in the corner thinking,
      Jesus had grown a man;
      One by one her hopes were sinking
          As the years ran.

      Jesus and Joseph toiled together,
      Mary's thoughts were far--
      Angels sang in the wintry weather
          Under a star.

      Mary sat in the corner weeping,
      Bitter and hot her tears--
      Little faith were the angels keeping
          All the years.

    The Carpenter's Son

      THE summer dawn came over-soon,
      The earth was like hot iron at noon
          In Nazareth;
      There fell no rain to ease the heat,
      And dusk drew on with tired feet
          And stifled breath.

      The shop was low and hot and square,
      And fresh-cut wood made sharp the air,
          While all day long
      The saw went tearing thru the oak
      That moaned as tho' the tree's heart broke
          Beneath its wrong.

      The narrow street was full of cries,
      Of bickering and snarling lies
          In many keys--
      The tongues of Egypt and of Rome
      And lands beyond the shifting foam
          Of windy seas.

      Sometimes a ruler riding fast
      Scattered the dark crowds as he passed,
          And drove them close
      In doorways, drawing broken breath
      Lest they be trampled to their death
          Where the dust rose.

      There in the gathering night and noise
      A group of Galilean boys
          Crowding to see
      Gray Joseph toiling with his son,
      Saw Jesus, when the task was done,
          Turn wearily.

      He passed them by with hurried tread
      Silently, nor raised his head,
          He who looked up
      Drinking all beauty from his birth
      Out of the heaven and the earth
          As from a cup.

      And Mary, who was growing old,
      Knew that the pottage would be cold
          When he returned;
      He hungered only for the night,
      And westward, bending sharp and bright,
          The thin moon burned.

      He reached the open western gate
      Where whining halt and leper wait,
          And came at last
      To the blue desert, where the deep
      Great seas of twilight lay asleep,
          Windless and vast.

      With shining eyes the stars awoke,
      The dew lay heavy on his cloak,
          The world was dim;
      And in the stillness he could hear
      His secret thoughts draw very near
          And call to him.

      Faint voices lifted shrill with pain
      And multitudinous as rain;
          From all the lands
      And all the villages thereof
      Men crying for the gift of love
          With outstretched hands.

      Voices that called with ceaseless crying,
      The broken and the blind, the dying,
          And those grown dumb
      Beneath oppression, and he heard
      Upon their lips a single word,

      Their cries engulfed him like the night,
      The moon put out her placid light
          And black and low
      Nearer the heavy thunder drew,
      Hushing the voices . . . yet he knew
          That he would go.

      A quick-spun thread of lightning burns,
      And for a flash the day returns--
          He only hears
      Joseph, an old man bent and white
      Toiling alone from morn till night
          Thru all the years.

      Swift clouds make all the heavens blind,
      A storm is running on the wind--
          He only sees
      How Mary will stretch out her hands
      Sobbing, who never understands
          Voices like these.

    The Mother of a Poet

      SHE is too kind, I think, for mortal things,
      Too gentle for the gusty ways of earth;
      God gave to her a shy and silver mirth,
      And made her soul as clear
      And softly singing as an orchard spring's
      In sheltered hollows all the sunny year--
      A spring that thru the leaning grass looks up
      And holds all heaven in its clarid cup,
      Mirror to holy meadows high and blue
      With stars like drops of dew.

      I love to think that never tears at night
      Have made her eyes less bright;
      That all her girlhood thru
      Never a cry of love made over-tense
      Her voice's innocence;
      That in her hands have lain,
      Flowers beaten by the rain,
      And little birds before they learned to sing
      Drowned in the sudden ecstasy of spring.

      I love to think that with a wistful wonder
      She held her baby warm against her breast;
      That never any fear awoke whereunder
      She shuddered at her gift, or trembled lest
      Thru the great doors of birth
      Here to a windy earth
      She lured from heaven a half-unwilling guest.

      She caught and kept his first vague flickering smile,
      The faint upleaping of his spirit's fire;
      And for a long sweet while
      In her was all he asked of earth or heaven--
      But in the end how far,
      Past every shaken star,
      Should leap at last that arrow-like desire,
      His full-grown manhood's keen
      Ardor toward the unseen
      Dark mystery beyond the Pleiads seven.
      And in her heart she heard
      His first dim-spoken word--
      She only of them all could understand,
      Flushing to feel at last
      The silence over-past,
      Thrilling as tho' her hand had touched God's hand.
      But in the end how many words
      Winged on a flight she could not follow,
      Farther than skyward lark or swallow,
      His lips should free to lands she never knew;
      Braver than white sea-faring birds
      With a fearless melody,
      Flying over a shining sea,
      A star-white song between the blue and blue.

      Oh I have seen a lake as clear and fair
      As it were molten air,
      Lifting a lily upward to the sun.
      How should the water know the glowing heart
      That ever to the heaven lifts its fire,
      A golden and unchangeable desire?
      The water only knows
      The faint and rosy glows
      Of under-petals, opening apart.
      Yet in the soul of earth,
      Deep in the primal ground,
      Its searching roots are wound,
      And centuries have struggled toward its birth.
      So, in the man who sings,
      All of the voiceless horde
      >From the cold dawn of things
      Have their reward;
      All in whose pulses ran
      Blood that is his at last,
      >From the first stooping man
      Far in the winnowed past.
      Out of the tumult of their love and mating
      Each one created, seeing life was good--
      Dumb, till at last the song that they were waiting
      Breaks like brave April thru a wintry wood.

    Rivers to the Sea

      BUT what of her whose heart is troubled by it,
      The mother who would soothe and set him free,
      Fearing the song's storm-shaken ecstasy--
      Oh, as the moon that has no power to quiet
      The strong wind-driven sea.

    In Memoriam F. O. S.

      You go a long and lovely journey,
      For all the stars, like burning dew,
      Are luminous and luring footprints
      Of souls adventurous as you.

      Oh, if you lived on earth elated,
      How is it now that you can run
      Free of the weight of flesh and faring
      Far past the birthplace of the sun?


      THE stately tragedy of dusk
      Drew to its perfect close,
      The virginal white evening star
      Sank, and the red moon rose.

    Swallow Flight

      I LOVE my hour of wind and light,
      I love men's faces and their eyes,
      I love my spirit's veering flight
      Like swallows under evening skies,


      WHEN I can make my thoughts come forth
      To walk like ladies up and down,
      Each one puts on before the glass
      Her most becoming hat and gown.

      But oh, the shy and eager thoughts
      That hide and will not get them dressed,
      Why is it that they always seem
      So much more lovely than the rest?

    To Dick, on His Sixth Birthday

      Tho' I am very old and wise,
      And you are neither wise nor old,
      When I look far into your eyes,
      I know things I was never told:
      I know how flame must strain and fret
      Prisoned in a mortal net;
      How joy with over-eager wings,
      Bruises the small heart where he sings;
      How too much life, like too much gold,
      Is sometimes very hard to hold. . . .
      All that is talking--I know
      This much is true, six years ago
      An angel living near the moon
      Walked thru the sky and sang a tune
      Plucking stars to make his crown--
      And suddenly two stars fell down,
      Two falling arrows made of light.
      Six years ago this very night
      I saw them fall and wondered why
      The angel dropped them from the sky--
      But when I saw your eyes I knew
      The angel sent the stars to you.

    To Rose

      ROSE, when I remember you,
      Little lady, scarcely two,
      I am suddenly aware
      Of the angels in the air.
      All your softly gracious ways
      Make an island in my days
      Where my thoughts fly back to be
      Sheltered from too strong a sea.
      All your luminous delight
      Shines before me in the night
      When I grope for sleep and find
      Only shadows in my mind.

      Rose, when I remember you,
      White and glowing, pink and new,
      With so swift a sense of fun
      Altho' life has just begun;
      With so sure a pride of place
      In your very infant face,
      I should like to make a prayer
      To the angels in the air:
      "If an angel ever brings
      Me a baby in her wings,
      Please be certain that it grows
      Very, very much like Rose."

    The Fountain

      ON in the deep blue night
      The fountain sang alone;
      It sang to the drowsy heart
      Of the satyr carved in stone.

      The fountain sang and sang
      But the satyr never stirred--
      Only the great white moon
      In the empty heaven heard.

      The fountain sang and sang
      And on the marble rim
      The milk-white peacocks slept,
      Their dreams were strange and dim.

      Bright dew was on the grass,
      And on the ilex dew,
      The dreamy milk-white birds
      Were all a-glisten too.

      The fountain sang and sang
      The things one cannot tell,
      The dreaming peacocks stirred
      And the gleaming dew-drops fell.

    The Rose

      BENEATH my chamber window
      Pierrot was singing, singing;
      I heard his lute the whole night thru
          Until the east was red.
      Alas, alas, Pierrot,
      I had no rose for flinging
      Save one that drank my tears for dew
          Before its leaves were dead.

      I found it in the darkness,
      I kissed it once and threw it,
      The petals scattered over him,
          His song was turned to joy;
      And he will never know--
      Alas, the one who knew it!--
      The rose was plucked when dusk was dim
          Beside a laughing boy.


      I GAVE my life to another lover,
      I gave my love, and all, and all--
      But over a dream the past will hover,
      Out of a dream the past will call.

      I tear myself from sleep with a shiver
      But on my breast a kiss is hot,
      And by my bed the ghostly giver
      Is waiting tho' I see him not.

    "I am not yours"

      I AM not yours, not lost in you,
      Not lost, altho' I long to be
      Lost as a candle lit at noon,
      Lost as a snow-flake in the sea.

      You love me, and I find you still
      A spirit beautiful and bright,
      Yet I am I, who long to be
      Lost as a light is lost in light.

      Oh plunge me deep in love--put out
      My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
      Swept by the tempest of your love,
      A taper in a rushing wind.

    Pierrot's Song

      (For a picture by Dugald Walker)

      LADY, light in the east hangs low,
      Draw your veils of dream apart,
      Under the casement stands Pierrot
      Making a song to ease his heart.
      (Yet do not break the song too soon--
      I love to sing in the paling moon.)

      The petals are falling, heavy with dew,
      The stars have fainted out of the sky,
      Come to me, come, or else I too,
      Faint with the weight of love will die.
      (She comes--alas, I hoped to make
      Another stanza for her sake!)

    Night in Arizona

      THE moon is a charring ember
      Dying into the dark;
      Off in the crouching mountains
          Coyotes bark.

      The stars are heavy in heaven,
      Too great for the sky to hold--
      What if they fell and shattered
          The earth with gold?

      No lights are over the mesa,
      The wind is hard and wild,
      I stand at the darkened window
          And cry like a child.

    Dusk in War Time

      A HALF-HOUR more and you will lean
      To gather me close in the old sweet way--
      But oh, to the woman over the sea
      Who will come at the close of day?

      A half-hour more and I will hear
      The key in the latch and the strong quick tread--
      But oh, the woman over the sea
      Waiting at dusk for one who is dead!

    Spring in War Time

      I FEEL the Spring far off, far off,
      The faint far scent of bud and leaf--
      Oh how can Spring take heart to come
      To a world in grief,
          Deep grief?

      The sun turns north, the days grow long,
      Later the evening star grows bright--
      How can the daylight linger on
      For men to fight,
          Still fight?

      The grass is waking in the ground,
      Soon it will rise and blow in waves--
      How can it have the heart to sway
      Over the graves,
          New graves?

      Under the boughs where lovers walked
      The apple-blooms will shed their breath--
      But what of all the lovers now
      Parted by death,
          Gray Death?

    While I May

      WIND and hail and veering rain,
      Driven mist that veils the day,
      Soul's distress and body's pain,
      I would bear you while I may.

      I would love you if I might,
      For so soon my life will be
      Buried in a lasting night,
      Even pain denied to me.


      WHAT do I owe to you
      Who loved me deep and long?
      You never gave my spirit wings
      Or gave my heart a song.

      But oh, to him I loved
      Who loved me not at all,
      I owe the little open gate
      That led thru heaven's wall.

    From the North

      THE northern woods are delicately sweet,
      The lake is folded softly by the shore,
      But I am restless for the subway's roar,
      The thunder and the hurrying of feet.
      I try to sleep, but still my eyelids beat
      Against the image of the tower that bore
      Me high aloft, as if thru heaven's door
      I watched the world from God's unshaken seat.
      I would go back and breathe with quickened sense
      The tunnel's strong hot breath of powdered steel;
      But at the ferries I should leave the tense
          Dark air behind, and I should mount and be
      One among many who are thrilled to feel
          The first keen sea-breath from the open sea.

    The Lights of New York

      THE lightning spun your garment for the night
      Of silver filaments with fire shot thru,
      A broidery of lamps that lit for you
      The steadfast splendor of enduring light.
      The moon drifts dimly in the heaven's height,
      Watching with wonder how the earth she knew
      That lay so long wrapped deep in dark and dew,
      Should wear upon her breast a star so white.
      The festivals of Babylon were dark
      With flaring flambeaux that the wind blew down;
      The Saturnalia were a wild boy's lark
      With rain-quenched torches dripping thru the town--
      But you have found a god and filched from him
      A fire that neither wind nor rain can dim.

    Sea Longing

      A THOUSAND miles beyond this sun-steeped wall
      Somewhere the waves creep cool along the sand,
      The ebbing tide forsakes the listless land
      With the old murmur, long and musical;
      The windy waves mount up and curve and fall,
      And round the rocks the foam blows up like snow,--
      Tho' I am inland far, I hear and know,
      For I was born the sea's eternal thrall.
      I would that I were there and over me
      The cold insistence of the tide would roll,
      Quenching this burning thing men call the soul,--
      Then with the ebbing I should drift and be
      Less than the smallest shell along the shoal,
      Less than the sea-gulls calling to the sea.

    The River

      I CAME from the sunny valleys
      And sought for the open sea,
      For I thought in its gray expanses
      My peace would come to me.

      I came at last to the ocean
      And found it wild and black,
      And I cried to the windless valleys,
      "Be kind and take me back!"

      But the thirsty tide ran inland,
      And the salt waves drank of me,
      And I who was fresh as the rainfall
      Am bitter as the sea.


      ONE by one, like leaves from a tree,
      All my faiths have forsaken me;
      But the stars above my head
      Burn in white and delicate red,
      And beneath my feet the earth
      Brings the sturdy grass to birth.
      I who was content to be
      But a silken-singing tree,
      But a rustle of delight
      In the wistful heart of night--
      I have lost the leaves that knew
      Touch of rain and weight of dew.
      Blinded by a leafy crown
      I looked neither up nor down--
      But the little leaves that die
      Have left me room to see the sky;
      Now for the first time I know
      Stars above and earth below.

    The Answer

      WHEN I go back to earth
      And all my joyous body
      Puts off the red and white
      That once had been so proud,
      If men should pass above
      With false and feeble pity,
      My dust will find a voice
      To answer them aloud:

      "Be still, I am content,
      Take back your poor compassion,
      Joy was a flame in me
      Too steady to destroy;
      Lithe as a bending reed
      Loving the storm that sways her--
      I found more joy in sorrow
      Than you could find in joy."

    On to the next poem.

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