Through Time and Bitter Distance

Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore. 
   The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine, 
May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war, 
   Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine, 
That I have sought, reflected in the blue 
    Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes; 
Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you, 
   But this is all my starving sight descries—

I.
Far out at sea a sail 
    Bends to the freshening breeze, 
Yields to the rising gale, 
    That sweeps the seas; 

II. 
Yields, as a bird wind-tossed, 
    To saltish waves that fling 
Their spray, whose rime and frost
    Like crystals cling

III. 
To canvas, mast and spar, 
   Till, gleaming like a gem, 
She sinks beyond the far
   Horizon’s hem. 

IV. 
Lost to my longing sight, 
    And nothing left to me
Save an oncoming night,—
    An empty sea.

More by Emily Pauline Johnson

Marshlands

A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,
Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,
Sail up the silence with the nearing night.

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,
Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

Related Poems

Songs of the Spavinaw

I am the river of Spavinaw,
    I am the river of pain;
Sadness and gladness must answer my law;
Measure for measure I give, and withdraw
Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,
    Hiding away from the plain.

I am the river of Spavinaw;
    I sing the songs of the world;
Dashing and whirling, swishing and swirling,
Delicate, mystical, silvery spray hurling,
    Sing I the songs of the world,
    The passionate songs of the world.

I sing of laughter and mirth,
    And I laugh in a gurgle of glee
As the myriad joys of the earth
    Trip through the light with me.
Gay shallows dimple, sparkle and ripple.
    Like songs that a lover would sing,
      Skipping in moonlight,
      Tripping in moonlight,
    Whispering echoes of spring.

And again
    I move with the slow sadness of pain.
In my dark blue deep, where the shadows creep,
    I catch up life’s sorrows and mirror them back again.
And my song is a throbbing, pitiful sobbing,
    Choked by an agonized pain.

And then
    I move forth toward the beckoning north,
       And I sing of the power of men.
           As I dash down my falls,
           As I beat at my walls
Frantically fighting, running and righting,
All through the flood, through the snarling and biting,
       I sing of the power of men,
       Of the hurry and power of men.

       I am the river of Spavinaw,
       I am the giver of pain;
Sadness and gladness must answer my law;
Measure for measure I give, and withdraw
Back through the hills of the Spavinaw,
       Hiding away from the plain.

from Stray Birds [233—237]

233

            In heart’s perspective the distance looms large.

234

            The moon has her light all over the sky, her dark spots to herself.

235

            Do not say, “It is morning,” and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a new-born child that has no name.

236

            Smoke boasts to the sky, and Ashes to the earth, that they are brothers to the fire.

237

            The raindrop whispered to the jasmine, “Keep me in your heart for ever.”
            The jasmine sighed, “Alas,” and dropped to the ground.

Regret

I said a thoughtless word one day,
A loved one heard and went away;
I cried: “Forgive me, I was blind;
I would not wound or be unkind.”
I waited long, but all in vain,
To win my loved one back again.
Too late, alas! to weep and pray,
Death came; my loved one passed away.
Then, what a bitter fate was mine;
No language could my grief define;
Tears of deep regret could not unsay
The thoughtless word I spoke that day.