Rivers to the Sea
Sara Teasdale

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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 IV

    From the Sea

      ALL beauty calls you to me, and you seem,
      Past twice a thousand miles of shifting sea,
      To reach me. You are as the wind I breathe
      Here on the ship's sun-smitten topmost deck,
      With only light between the heavens and me.
      I feel your spirit and I close my eyes,
      Knowing the bright hair blowing in the sun,
      The eager whisper and the searching eyes.
      Listen, I love you. Do not turn your face
      Nor touch me. Only stand and watch awhile
      The blue unbroken circle of the sea.
      Look far away and let me ease my heart
      Of words that beat in it with broken wing.
      Look far away, and if I say too much,
      Forget that I am speaking. Only watch,
      How like a gull that sparkling sinks to rest,
      The foam-crest drifts along a happy wave
      Toward the bright verge, the boundary of the world.

      I am so weak a thing, praise me for this,
      That in some strange way I was strong enough
      To keep my love unuttered and to stand
      Altho' I longed to kneel to you that night
      You looked at me with ever-calling eyes.
      Was I not calm? And if you guessed my love
      You thought it something delicate and free,
      Soft as the sound of fir-trees in the wind,
      Fleeting as phosphorescent stars in foam.
      Yet in my heart there was a beating storm
      Bending my thoughts before it, and I strove
      To say too little lest I say too much,
      And from my eyes to drive love's happy shame.
      Yet when I heard your name the first far time
      It seemed like other names to me, and I
      Was all unconscious, as a dreaming river
      That nears at last its long predestined sea;
      And when you spoke to me, I did not know
      That to my life's high altar came its priest.
      But now I know between my God and me
      You stand forever, nearer God than I,
      And in your hands with faith and utter joy
      I would that I could lay my woman's soul.

      Oh, my love
      To whom I cannot come with any gift
      Of body or of soul, I pass and go.
      But sometimes when you hear blown back to you
      My wistful, far-off singing touched with tears,
      Know that I sang for you alone to hear,
      And that I wondered if the wind would bring
      To him who tuned my heart its distant song.
      So might a woman who in loneliness
      Had borne a child, dreaming of days to come,
      Wonder if it would please its father's eyes.
      But long before I ever heard your name,
      Always the undertone's unchanging note
      In all my singing had prefigured you,
      Foretold you as a spark foretells a flame.
      Yet I was free as an untethered cloud
      In the great space between the sky and sea,
      And might have blown before the wind of joy
      Like a bright banner woven by the sun.
      I did not know the longing in the night--
      You who have waked me cannot give me sleep.
      All things in all the world can rest, but I,
      Even the smooth brief respite of a wave
      When it gives up its broken crown of foam,
      Even that little rest I may not have.
      And yet all quiet loves of friends, all joy
      In all the piercing beauty of the world
      I would give up--go blind forevermore,
      Rather than have God blot from out my soul
      Remembrance of your voice that said my name.

      For us no starlight stilled the April fields,
      No birds awoke in darkling trees for us,
      Yet where we walked the city's street that night
      Felt in our feet the singing fire of spring,
      And in our path we left a trail of light
      Soft as the phosphorescence of the sea
      When night submerges in the vessel's wake
      A heaven of unborn evanescent stars.

    Vignettes Overseas


      Off Gibraltar

      BEYOND the sleepy hills of Spain,
      The sun goes down in yellow mist,
      The sky is fresh with dewy stars
      Above a sea of amethyst.

      Yet in the city of my love
      High noon burns all the heavens bare--
      For him the happiness of light,
      For me a delicate despair.


      Off Algiers

      Oh give me neither love nor tears,
      Nor dreams that sear the night with fire,
      Go lightly on your pilgrimage
      Unburdened by desire.

      Forget me for a month, a year,
      But, oh, beloved, think of me
      When unexpected beauty burns
      Like sudden sunlight on the sea.



      Nisida and Prosida are laughing in the light,
      Capri is a dewy flower lifting into sight,
      Posilipo kneels and looks in the burnished sea,
      Naples crowds her million roofs close as close can be;
      Round about the mountain's crest a flag of smoke is hung--
      Oh when God made Italy he was gay and young!



      When beauty grows too great to bear
      How shall I ease me of its ache,
      For beauty more than bitterness
      Makes the heart break.

      Now while I watch the dreaming sea
      With isles like flowers against her breast,
      Only one voice in all the world
      Could give me rest.


      Night Song at Amalfi

      I asked the heaven of stars
      What I should give my love--
      It answered me with silence,
      Silence above.

      I asked the darkened sea
      Down where the fishers go--
      It answered me with silence,
      Silence below.

      Oh, I could give him weeping,
      Or I could give him song--
      But how can I give silence
      My whole life long?


      Ruins of Paestum

      On lowlands where the temples lie
      The marsh-grass mingles with the flowers,
      Only the little songs of birds
      Link the unbroken hours.

      So in the end, above my heart
      Once like the city wild and gay,
      The slow white stars will pass by night,
      The swift brown birds by day.



      Oh for the rising moon
      Over the roofs of Rome,
      And swallows in the dusk
      Circling a darkened dome!

      Oh for the measured dawns
      That pass with folded wings--
      How can I let them go
      With unremembered things?



      The bells ring over the Anno,
      Midnight, the long, long chime;
      Here in the quivering darkness
      I am afraid of time.

      Oh, gray bells cease your tolling,
      Time takes too much from me,
      And yet to rock and river
      He gives eternity.


      Villa Serbelloni, Bellaggio

      The fountain shivers lightly in the rain,
      The laurels drip, the fading roses fall,
      The marble satyr plays a mournful strain
      That leaves the rainy fragrance musical.

      Oh dripping laurel, Phoebus sacred tree,
      Would that swift Daphne's lot might come to me,
      Then would I still my soul and for an hour
      Change to a laurel in the glancing shower.



      The moon grows out of the hills
      A yellow flower,
      The lake is a dreamy bride
      Who waits her hour.

      Beauty has filled my heart,
      It can hold no more,
      It is full, as the lake is full,
      From shore to shore.



      The day that I come home,
      What will you find to say,--
      Words as light as foam
      With laughter light as spray?

      Yet say what words you will
      The day that I come home;
      I shall hear the whole deep ocean
      Beating under the foam.

    On to the next poem.

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