Poems of Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830-1885

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     01. The Way to Sing
     02. Outward Bound
     03. God's Light-Houses
     04. Morning-Glory
     05. September (The golden-rod is yellow)
     06. October's Bright Blue Weather
     07. Chance
     08. "Down to Sleep"
     09. My Strawberry
     10. Joy
     11. Dedication
     12. "Not As I Will"
     13. Doubt
     14. This Summer
     15. January from Calendar of Sonnets
     16. February from Calendar of Sonnets
     17. March from Calendar of Sonnets
     18. April from Calendar of Sonnets
     19. May from Calendar of Sonnets
     20. June from Calendar of Sonnets
     21. July from Calendar of Sonnets
     22. August from Calendar of Sonnets
     23. September from Calendar of Sonnets
     24. October from Calendar of Sonnets
     25. November from Calendar of Sonnets
     26. December from Calendar of Sonnets
     27. The Prince is Dead
     28. A Christmas Symphony (5 sections)

01. The Way to Sing

The birds must know. Who wisely sings
          Will sing as they;
The common air has generous wings.
          Songs make their way.
No messenger to run before,
          Devising plan;
No mention of the place or hour
          To any man;
No waiting till some sound betrays
          A listening ear;
No different voice, no new delays,
          If steps draw near.

What bird is that? Its song is good.
          And eager eyes
Go peering through the dusky wood,
          In glad surprise.
Then late at night, when by his fire
          The traveller sits,
Watching the flame grow brighter, higher,
          The sweet song flits
By snatches through his weary brain
          To help him rest;
When next he goes that road again,
          An empty nest
On leafless bough will make him sigh,
          Ah me! last spring
Just here I heard, in passing by,
          That rare bird sing!

But while he sighs, remembering
          How sweet the song,
The little bird on tireless wing,
          Is borne along
In other air, and other men
          With weary feet,
On other roads, the simple strain
          Are finding sweet.
The birds must know. Who wisely sings
          Will sing as they;
The common air has generous wings,
          Songs make their way.

2. Outward Bound

The hour has come. Strong hands the anchor raise;
Friends stand and weep along the fading shore,
In sudden fear lest we return no more,
In sudden fancy that he safer stays
Who stays behind; that some new danger lays
New snare in each fresh path untrod before.
Ah, foolish hearts! In fate's mysterious lore
Is written no such choice of plan and days:
Each hour has its own peril and escape;
In most familiar things' familiar shape
New danger comes without or sight or sound;
No sea more foreign rolls than breaks each morn
Across our thresholds when the day is born:
We sail, at sunrise, daily, "outward bound."

03. God's Light-Houses

When night falls on the earth, the sea
     From east to west lies twinkling bright
With shining beams from beacons high
     Which flash afar a friendly light.

The sailor's eyes, like eyes in prayer,
     Turn unto them for guiding ray:
If storms obscure their radiance,
     The great ships helpless grope their way.

When night falls on the earth, the sky
     Looks like a wide, a boundless main.
Who knows what voyagers sail there?
     Who names the ports they seek and gain?

Are not the stars like beacons set
     To guide the argosies that go
From universe to universe,
     Our little world above, below? -

On their great errands solemn bent,
     In their vast journeys unaware
Of our small planet's name or place
     Revolving in the lower air.

O thought too vast! O thought too glad!
     An awe most rapturous it stirs.
From world to world God's beacons shine:
     God means to save his mariners!

04. Morning-Glory

          Wondrous interlacement!
Holding fast to threads by green and silky rings,
With the dawn it spreads its white and purple wings;
Generous in its bloom, and sheltering while it clings
          Sturdy morning-glory.

          Creeping through the casement,
Slanting to the floor in dusty, shining beams,
Dancing on the door in quick, fantastic gleams,
Comes the new day's light, and pours in tideless streams,
          Golden morning-glory.

          In the lowly basement,
Rocking in the sun, the baby's cradle stands;
Now the little one thrusts out his rosy hands;
Soon his eyes will open; then in all the lands
          No such morning-glory!

05. September

The golden-rod is yellow;
     The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
     With fruit are bending down.

The gentian's bluest fringes
     Are curling in the sun;
In dusty pods the milkweed
     Its hidden silk has spun.

The sedges flaunt their harvest,
     In every meadow nook;
And asters by the brook-side
     Make asters in the brook,

From dewy lanes at morning
     The grapes' sweet odors rise;
At noon the roads all flutter
     With yellow butterflies.

By all these lovely tokens
     September days are here,
With summer's best of weather,
     And autumn's best of cheer.

But none of all this beauty
     Which floods the earth and air
Is unto me the secret
     Which makes September fair.

‘T is a thing which I remember;
     To name it thrills me yet:
One day of one September
     I never can forget.

06. October's Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
     And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
     October's bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
     Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
     And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
     To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
     Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
     In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
     Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
     Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
     Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
     In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
     Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
     By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
     October's bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
     Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
     October's bright blue weather.

07. Chance

These things I wondering saw beneath the sun:
That never yet the race was to the swift,
The fight unto the mightiest to lift,
Nor favors unto men whose skill had done
Great works, nor riches ever unto one
Wise man of understanding. All is drift
Of time and chance, and none may stay or sift
Or know the end of that which is begun.
Who waits until the wind shall silent keep,
Will never find the ready hour to sow.
Who watcheth clouds will have no time to reap.
At daydawn plant thy seed, and be not slow
At night. God doth not slumber take nor sleep:
Which seed shall prosper thou canst never know.

08. "Down to Sleep."

November woods are bare and still;
November days are clear and bright;
Each noon burns up the morning's chill;
The morning's snow is gone by night;
Each day my steps grow slow, grow light,
As through the woods I reverent creep,
Watching all things lie "down to sleep."

I never knew what beds,
Fragrant to smell, and soft to touch,
The forest sifts and shapes and spreads;
I never knew before how much
Of human sound there is in such
Low tones as through the forest sweep
When all wild things lie "down to sleep."

Each day I find new coverlids
Tucked in, and more sweet eyes shut tight;
Sometimes the viewless mother bids
Her ferns kneel down, full in my sight;
I hear their chorus of "good-night;"
And half I smile, and half I weep,
Listening while they lie "down to sleep."

November woods are bare and still;
November days are bright and good;
Life's noon burns up life's morning chill;
Life's night rests feet which long have stood;
Some warm soft bed, in field or wood,
The mother will not fail to keep,
Where we can "lay us down to sleep."

09. My Strawberry

O marvel, fruit of fruits, I pause
To reckon thee. I ask what cause
Set free so much of red from heats
At core of earth, and mixed such sweets
With sour and spice: what was that strength
Which out of darkness, length by length,
Spun all thy shining thread of vine,
Netting the fields in bond as thine.
I see thy tendrils drink by sips
From grass and clover's smiling lips;
I hear thy roots dig down for wells,
Tapping the meadow's hidden cells;
     Whole generations of green things,
Descended from long lines of springs,
I see make room for thee to bide
A quiet comrade by their side;
I see the creeping peoples go
Mysterious journeys to and fro,
Treading to right and left of thee,
Doing thee homage wonderingly.
I see the wild bees as they fare,
Thy cups of honey drink, but spare.
I mark thee bathe and bathe again
In sweet uncalendared spring rain.
I watch how all May has of sun
Makes haste to have thy ripeness done,
While all her nights let dews escape
To set and cool thy perfect shape.
Ah, fruit of fruits, no more I pause
To dream and seek thy hidden laws!
I stretch my hand and dare to taste,
In instant of delicious waste
On single feast, all things that went
To make the empire thou hast spent.

10. Joy

O Joy, hast thou a shape?
     Hast thou a breath?
How fillest thou the soundless air?
Tell me the pillars of thy house
What rest they on? Do they escape
     The victory of Death?
And are they fair
     Eternally, who enter in thy house?
O Joy, thou viewless spirit, canst thou dare
     To tell the pillars of thy house?

On adamant of pain,
     Before the earth
Was born of sea, before the sea,
Yea, and before the light, my house
Was built. None know what loss, what gain,
     Attends each travail birth.
No soul could be
     At peace when it had entered in my house,
If the foundations it could touch or see,
     Which stay the pillars of my house!

11. Dedication

When children in the summer weather play,
Flitting like birds through sun and wind and rain
From road to field, from field to road again,
Pathetic reckoning of each mile they stray
They leave in flowers forgotten by the way;
Forgotten, dying, but not all in vain,
Since, finding them, with tender smiles, half pain,
Half joy, we sigh, "Some child passed here to-day."
Dear one, -- whose name I name not lest some tongue
Pronounce it roughly, -- like a little child
Tired out at noon, I left my flowers among
The wayside things. I know how thou hast smiled,
And that the thought of them will always be
One more sweet secret thing 'twixt thee and me.

12. "Not As I Will"

Blindfolded and alone I stand
With unknown thresholds on each hand;
The darkness deepens as I grope,
Afraid to fear, afraid to hope:
Yet this one thing I learn to know
Each day more surely as I go,
That doors are opened, ways are made,
Burdens are lifted or are laid,
By some great law unseen and still,
Unfathomed purpose to fulfil,
          "Not as I will."

Blindfolded and alone I wait;
Loss seems too bitter, gain too late;
Two heavy burdens in the load
And too few helpers on the road;
And joy is weak and grief is strong,
And years and days so long, so long:
Yet this one thing I learn to know
Each day more surely as I go,
That I am glad the good and ill
By changeless law are ordered still,
          "Not as I will."

"Not as I will": the sound grows sweet
Each time my lips the words repeat.
"Not as I will": the darkness feels
More safe than light when this thought steals
Like whispered voice to calm and bless
All unrest and all loneliness.
"Not as I will," because the One
Who loved us first and best has gone
Before us on the road, and still
For us must all his love fulfil,
          "Not as we will."

13. Doubt

     They bade me cast the thing away,
They pointed to my hands all bleeding,
They listened not to all my pleading;
     The thing I meant I could not say;
     I knew that I should rue the day
     If once I cast that thing away.

     I grasped it firm, and bore the pain;
The thorny husks I stripped and scattered;
If I could reach its heart, what mattered
     If other men saw not my gain,
     Or even if I should be slain?
     I knew the risks; I chose the pain.

     Oh, had I cast that thing away,
I had not found what most I cherish,
A faith without which I should perish, -
     The faith which, like a kernel, lay
     Hid in husks which on that day
     My instinct would not throw away!

14. This Summer

I thought I knew all Summer knows,
     So many summers I had been
Wed to Summer. Could I suppose
     One hidden beauty still lurked in
Her days? that she might still disclose
     New secrets, and new homage win?

Could new looks flit across the skies?
     Could water ripple one new sound?
Could stranger bee or bird that flies
     With yet new languages be found,
To bring me, to my glad surprise,
     Message from yet remoter bound?

O sweet "this Summer!" Songs which sang
     Summer before no longer mean
The whole of summer. Bells which rang
     But minutes have marked years between.
Purple the grapes of Autumn hang:
     My sweet "this Summer" still is green.

"This Summer" still, - forgetting all
     Before and since and aye, - I say,
And shall say, when the deep snows fall,
     And cold suns mark their shortest day.
New calendar, my heart will call;
     "This Summer" still! Summer alway!

And when God's next sweet world we reach,
     And the poor words we stammered here
Are fast forgot, while angels teach
     Us spirit language quick and clear,
Perhaps some words of earthly speech
     We still shall speak, and still hold dear.

And if some time in upper air
     One swiftest wings we sudden meet,
And pause with answering smiles which share
     Our joy, I think that we shall greet
Each other thus: "This world is fair;
     But ah! That Summer too was sweet!"

15. January from Calendar of Sonnets

O Winter! frozen pulse and heart of fire,
What loss is theirs who from thy kingdom turn
Dismayed, and think thy snow a sculptured urn
Of death! Far sooner in midsummer tire
The streams than under ice. June could not hire
Her roses to forego the strength they learn
In sleeping on thy breast. No fires can burn
The bridges thou dost lay where men desire
In vain to build. O Heart, when Love's sun goes
To northward, and the sounds of singing cease,
Keep warm by inner fires, and rest in peace.
Sleep on content, as sleeps the patient rose.
Walk boldly on the white untrodden snows,
The winter is the winter's own release.

16. February from Calendar of Sonnets

Still lie the sheltering snows, undimmed and white;
And reigns the winter's pregnant silence still;
No sign of spring, save that the catkins fill,
And willow stems grow daily red and bright.
These are the days when ancients held a rite
Of expiation for the old year's ill,
And prayer to purify the new year's will:
Fit days, ere yet the spring rains blur the sight,
Ere yet the bounding blood grows hot with haste,
And dreaming thoughts grow heavy with a greed
The ardent summer's joy to have and taste;
Fit days, to give to last year's losses heed,
To reckon clear the new life's sterner need;
Fit days, for Feast of Expiation placed!

17. March from Calendar of Sonnets

Month which the warring ancients strangely styled
The month of war, -- as if in their fierce ways
Were any month of peace! -- in thy rough days
I find no war in Nature, though the wild
Winds clash and clang, and broken boughs are piled
At feet of writhing trees. The violets raise
Their heads without affright, without amaze,
And sleep through all the din, as sleeps a child.
And he who watches well may well discern
Sweet expectation in each living thing.
Like pregnant mother the sweet earth doth yearn;
In secret joy makes ready for the spring;
And hidden, sacred, in her breast doth bear
Annunciation lilies for the year.

18. April from Calendar of Sonnets

No days such honored days as these! When yet
Fair Aphrodite reigned, men seeking wide
For some fair thing which should forever bide
On earth, her beauteous memory to set
In fitting frame that no age could forget,
Her name in lovely April's name did hide,
And leave it there, eternally allied
To all the fairest flowers Spring did beget.
And when fair Aphrodite passed from earth,
Her shrines forgotten and her feasts of mirth,
A holier symbol still in seal and sign,
Sweet April took, of kingdom most divine,
When Christ ascended, in the time of birth
Of spring anemones, in Palestine.

19. May from Calendar of Sonnets

Month when they who love must love and wed!
Were one to go to worlds where May is naught,
And seek to tell the memories he had brought
From earth of thee, what were most fitly said?
I know not if the rosy showers shed
From apple-boughs, or if the soft green wrought
In fields, or if the robin's call be fraught
The most with thy delight. Perhaps they read
Thee best who in the ancient time did say
Thou wert the sacred month unto the old:
No blossom blooms upon thy brightest day
So subtly sweet as memories which unfold
In aged hearts which in thy sunshine lie,
To sun themselves once more before they die.

20. June from Calendar of Sonnets

O Month whose promise and fulfilment blend,
And burst in one! it seems the earth can store
In all her roomy house no treasure more;
Of all her wealth no farthing have to spend
On fruit, when once this stintless flowering end.
And yet no tiniest flower shall fall before
It hath made ready at its hidden core
Its tithe of seed, which we may count and tend
Till harvest. Joy of blossomed love, for thee
Seems it no fairer thing can yet have birth?
No room is left for deeper ecstasy?
Watch well if seeds grow strong, to scatter free
Germs for thy future summers on the earth.
A joy which is but joy soon comes to dearth.

21. July from Calendar of Sonnets

Some flowers are withered and some joys have died;
The garden reeks with an East Indian scent
From beds where gillyflowers stand weak and spent;
The white heat pales the skies from side to side;
But in still lakes and rivers, cool, content,
Like starry blooms on a new firmament,
White lilies float and regally abide.
In vain the cruel skies their hot rays shed;
The lily does not feel their brazen glare.
In vain the pallid clouds refuse to share
Their dews; the lily feels no thirst, no dread.
Unharmed she lifts her queenly face and head;
She drinks of living waters and keeps fair.

22. August from Calendar of Sonnets

Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects' aimless industry.
Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece
A blossom, and lay bare her poverty.
Poor middle-aged summer! Vain this show!
Whole fields of golden-rod cannot offset
One meadow with a single violet;
And well the singing thrush and lily know,
Spite of all artifice which her regret
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!

23. September from Calendar of Sonnets

O golden month! How high thy gold is heaped!
The yellow birch-leaves shine like bright coins strung
On wands; the chestnut's yellow pennons tongue
To every wind its harvest challenge. Steeped
In yellow, still lie fields where wheat was reaped;
And yellow still the corn sheaves, stacked among
The yellow gourds, which from the earth have wrung
Her utmost gold. To highest boughs have leaped
The purple grape, -- last thing to ripen, late
By very reason of its precious cost.
O Heart, remember, vintages are lost
If grapes do not for freezing night-dews wait.
Think, while thou sunnest thyself in Joy's estate,
Mayhap thou canst not ripen without frost!

24. October from Calendar of Sonnets

The month of carnival of all the year,
When Nature lets the wild earth go its way
And spend whole seasons on a single day.
The spring-time holds her white and purple dear;
October, lavish, flaunts them far and near;
The summer charily her reds doth lay
Like jewels on her costliest array;
October, scornful, burns them on a bier.
The winter hoards his pearls of frost in sign
Of kingdom: whiter pearls than winter knew,
Or Empress wore, in Egypt's ancient line,
October, feasting 'neath her dome of blue,
Drinks at a single draught, slow filtered through
Sunshiny air, as in a tingling wine!

25. November from Calendar of Sonnets

This is the treacherous month when autumn days
With summer's voice come bearing summer's gifts.
Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster lifts
Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze
Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways,
And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts,
The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts
Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning's rays
Will idly shine upon and slowly melt,
Too late to bid the violet live again.
The treachery, at last, too late, is plain;
Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt.
What joy sufficient hath November felt?
What profit from the violet's day of pain?

26. December from Calendar of Sonnets

The lakes of ice gleam bluer than the lakes
Of water 'neath the summer sunshine gleamed:
Far fairer than when placidly it streamed,
The brook its frozen architecture makes,
And under bridges white its swift way takes.
Snow comes and goes as messenger who dreamed
Might linger on the road; or one who deemed
His message hostile gently for their sakes
Who listened might reveal it by degrees.
We gird against the cold of winter wind
Our loins now with mighty bands of sleep,
In longest, darkest nights take rest and ease,
And every shortening day, as shadows creep
O'er the brief noontide, fresh surprises find.

27. The Prince is Dead

A room in the palace is shut. The king
And the queen are sitting in black.
All day weeping servants will run and bring,
But the heart of the queen will lack
All things; and the eyes of the king will swim
With tears which must not be shed,
But will make all the air float dark and dim,
As he looks at each gold and silver toy,
And thinks how it gladdened the royal boy,
And dumbly writhes while the courtiers read
How all the nations his sorrow heed.
          The Prince is dead.

The hut has a door, but the hinge is weak,
And to-day the wind blows it back;
There are two sitting there who do not speak;
They have begged a few rags of black.
They are hard at work, though their eyes are wet
With tears which must not be shed
They dare not look where the cradle is set;
They hate the sunbeam which plays on the floor,
But will make the baby laugh out no more;
They feel as if they were turning to stone,
They wish the neighbors would leave them alone.
          The Prince is dead.

28. A Christmas Symphony


Christmas stars! your pregnant silentness,
Mute syllabled in rhythmic light,
          Leads on to-night,
And beckons, as three thousand years ago
It beckoning led. We, simple shepherds, know
          Little we can confess,
Beyond that we are poor, and creep
And wander with our sheep,
     Who love and follow us. We hear,
If we attend, a singing in the sky;
     But feel no fear,
Knowing that God is always nigh,
And none pass by,
Except His Sons, who cannot bring
Tidings of evil, since they sing.
Wise men with gifts are hurrying,
In haste to seek the meaning of the Star,
In search of worship which is new and far.
          We are but humble, so we keep
          On through the night, contented with our sheep,
And with the stars. Between us and the east,
     No wall, no tree, no cloud, lifts bar.
We know the sunrise. Not one least
          Of all its tokens can escape
Our eyes that watch. But all days are
As nights, and nights as days,
In our still ways.
     We have no dread of any shape
          Which darkness can assume or fill;
     We are not weary; we can wait;
     God's hours are never late.
The wise men say they will return,
Revealing unto us the things they learn.
          Mayhap! Meantime the Star stands still;
And, having that, we have the Sign.
If we mistake, God is divine!


Oh, not alone because His name is Christ,
          Oh, not alone because Judea waits
     This man-child for her King, the Star stands still.
          Its glory reinstates,
     Beyond humiliation's utmost ill,
     On peerless throne, which she alone can fill,
Each earthly woman. Motherhood is priced
          Of God, at price no man may dare
     To lessen, or misunderstand.
          The motherhood which came
          To virgin sets in vestal flame,
     Fed by each new-born infant's hand,
          With Heaven's air,
     With Heaven's food,
The crown of purest purity revealed,
Virginity eternal signed and sealed
     Upon all motherhood!


Oh, not alone because His name is Christ,
          Oh, not alone because Judea waits
     This man-child for her King, the Star stands still.
          The Babe has mates.
     Childhood shall be forever on the earth;
And no man who has hurt or lightly priced
          So much as one sweet hair
               On one sweet infant's head,
     But shall be cursed! Henceforth all things fulfil
Protection to each sacred birth.
          No spot shall dare
               Refuse a shelter. Beasts shall tread
     More lightly; and distress,
     And poverty, and loneliness,
Yea, and all darkness, shall devise
To shield each place wherein an infant lies.
     And wisdom shall come seeking it with gift,
And worship it with myrrh and frankincense;

     And kings shall tremble if it lift
          Its hand against a throne.
          But mighty in its own
Great feebleness, and safe in God's defence,
     No harm can touch it, and no death can kill,
     Without its Father's will!


Oh, not alone because His name is Christ,
          Oh, not alone because Judea waits
     This man-child for her King, the Star stands still.
     The universe must utter, and fulfil
          The mighty voice which states,
     The mighty destiny which holds,
          Its key-note and its ultimate design.
     Waste places and the deserts must perceive
That they are priced,
          No less than gardens in the Heart Divine.
Sorrow her sorrowing must leave,
     And learn one sign
          With joy. And Loss and Gain
          Must be no more.
     And all things which have gone before,
          And all things which remain,
          And all of Life, and all of Death be slain
          In mighty birth, whose name
     Is called Redemption! Praise!
          Praise to God! The same
     To-day and yesterday, and in all days
          Forever! Praise!


Oh, Christmas stars! Your pregnant silentness,
          Mute syllabled in rhythmic light,
          Fills all the night.
     No doubt, on all your golden shores,
          Full music rings
          Of Happiness
          As sweet as ours.
Midway in that great tideless stream which pours,
     And builds its shining road through trackless space,
From you to us, and us to you, must be
     Some mystic place,
Where all our voices meet, and melt
Into this solemn silence which is felt,
          And sense of sound mysterious brings
Where sound is not. This is God's secret. He
     Sits centred in his myriads of skies,
     Where seas of sound and seas of silence rise,
And break together in one note and key,
     Divinely limitless in harmony!

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
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