Complete Poetical Works

Grandmother Tenterden

(Massachusetts Shore, 1800)

Bret Harte

    I MIND it was but yesterday:
The sun was dim, the air was chill;
Below the town, below the hill,
The sails of my son’s ship did fill,—
    My Jacob, who was cast away.

    He said, “God keep you, mother dear,”
But did not turn to kiss his wife;
They had some foolish, idle strife;
Her tongue was like a two-edged knife,
    And he was proud as any peer.

    Howbeit that night I took no note
Of sea nor sky, for all was drear;
I marked not that the hills looked near,
Nor that the moon, though curved and clear,
    Through curd-like scud did drive and float.

    For with my darling went the joy
Of autumn woods and meadows brown;
I came to hate the little town;
It seemed as if the sun went down
    With him, my only darling boy.

    It was the middle of the night:
The wind, it shifted west-by-south,—
It piled high up the harbor mouth;
The marshes, black with summer drouth,
    Were all abroad with sea-foam white.

    It was the middle of the night:
The sea upon the garden leapt,
And my son’s wife in quiet slept,
And I, his mother, waked and wept,
    When lo! there came a sudden light.

    And there he stood!    His seaman’s dress
All wet and dripping seemed to be;
The pale blue fires of the sea
Dripped from his garments constantly,—
    I could not speak through cowardness.

    “I come through night and storm,” he said.
“Through storm and night and death,” said he,
“To kiss my wife, if it so be
That strife still holds ’twixt her and me,
    For all beyond is peace,” he said.

    “The sea is His, and He who sent
The wind and wave can soothe their strife
And brief and foolish is our life.”
He stooped and kissed his sleeping wife,
    Then sighed, and like a dream he went.

    Now, when my darling kissed not me,
But her—his wife—who did not wake,
My heart within me seemed to break;
I swore a vow, nor thenceforth spake
    Of what my clearer eyes did see.

    And when the slow weeks brought him not,
Somehow we spake of aught beside:
For she—her hope upheld her pride;
And I—in me all hope had died,
    And my son passed as if forgot.

    It was about the next springtide:
She pined and faded where she stood,
Yet spake no word of ill or good;
She had the hard, cold Edwards’ blood
    In all her veins—and so she died.

    One time I thought, before she passed,
To give her peace; but ere I spake
Methought, “He will be first to break
The news in heaven,” and for his sake
    I held mine back until the last.

    And here I sit, nor care to roam;
I only wait to hear his call.
I doubt not that this day next fall
Shall see me safe in port, where all
    And every ship at last comes home.

    And you have sailed the Spanish Main,
And knew my Jacob? . . . Eh!    Mercy!
Ah! God of wisdom! hath the sea
Yielded its dead to humble me?
    My boy! . . . My Jacob! . . . Turn again!

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