by Celia Thaxter

Calm is the close of the day,
     All things are quiet and blest;
     Low in the darkening west
The young moon sinks slowly away.

Without, in the twilight, I dream:
     Within it is cheerful and bright
     With faces that bloom in the light,
And the cold keys that silently gleam.

Then a magical touch draws near,
     And a voice like a call of delight
     Cleaves the calm of the beautiful night,
And I turn from my musing to hear.

Lo! the movement too wondrous to name!
     Agitation and rapture, the press
     As of myriad waves that caress,
And break into vanishing flame.

Ah! but the exquisite strain,
     Sinking to pathos so sweet!
     Is life then a lie and a cheat?
Hark to the hopeless refrain!

Comes a shock like the voice of a soul
     Lost to good, to all beauty and joy,
     Led alone by the powers that destroy,
And fighting with fiends for control.

Drops a chord like the grave's first clod.
     Then again toss the waves of caprice,
     Wild, delicate, sweet, with no peace,
No health, and no yielding to God.

O Siren, that charmest the air
     With this potent and passionate spell,
     Sad as songs of the angels that fell,
Thou leadest alone to despair!

What troubles the night? It grows chill --
     Let the weird, wild music be;
     Fronts us the infinite sea
And Nature is holy and still.



Childe Hassam
Celia Thaxter's Garden, Isles of Shoals




Thaxter, Celia





Literary Period:


About the Poet:

Celia Thaxter (1835-1894). A child of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth. She writes: "After winter has fairly set in, the lonely dwellers at the Isles of Shoals find life quite as much as they can manage, being so entirely thrown upon their own resources that it requires all the philosophy at their disposal to answer the demand…. One goes to sleep in the muffled roar of the storm, and wakes to find it still raging with senseless fury…. The weather becomes of the first importance to the dwellers on the rock; the changes of the sky and sea, the flitting of the coasters to and fro, the visits of the sea-fowl, sunrise and sunset, the changing moon, the northern lights, the constellations that wheel in splendor through the winter night,—all are noted with a love and careful scrutiny that is seldom given by people living in populous places…. For these things make our world: there are no lectures, operas, concerts, theatres, no music of any kind, except what the waves may whisper in rarely gentle moods; no galleries of wonders like the Natural History rooms, in which it is so fascinating to wander; no streets, shops, carriages; no postman, no neighbors, not a door-bell within the compass of the place!… The best balanced human mind is prone to lose its elasticity and stagnate, in this isolation. One learns immediately the value of work to keep one's wits clear, cheerful, and steady; just as much real work of the body as it can bear without weariness being always beneficent, but here indispensable…With a bright and cheerful interior, open fires, books and pictures, windows full of thrifty blossoming plants and climbing vines, a family of singing birds, plenty of work, and a clear head and quiet conscience, it would go hard if one could not be happy even in such loneliness. Books, of course, are inestimable. Nowhere does one follow a play of Shakespeare's with greater zest, for it brings the whole world, which you need, about you; doubly precious the deep thoughts which wise men have given to help us, doubly sweet the songs of all the poets; for nothing comes between to distract you."

The family opened a summer hotel on Appledore Island. Celia became the hostess. She drew members of the theater, music and arts communities to the island. Among the regular visitors were Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Wordsworth, the Impressionist Child Hassam, landscapist William Morris Hunt. The latter drowned there in 1879. Though an isolated location it was a popular gathering place for musicians, artists, and writers. In one of his visits Thaxter’s poem Isles of Shoals caught the eye of James Russell Lowell who was then editor of The Atlantic. He published it immediately.

More recently there is a new documentary of Celia Thaxter's beautiful garden on Appledore Island produced by Peter E Randal. It was featured in the 2014 New Hampshire Film Festival.