Black lie the hills; swiftly doth daylight flee;
And, catching gleams of sunset’s dying smile,
Through the dusk land for many a changing mile
The river runneth softly to the sea.
O happy river, could I follow thee!
O yearning heart, that never can be still!
O wistful eyes, that watch the steadfast hill,
Longing for level line of solemn sea!
Have patience; here are flowers and songs of birds,
Beauty and fragrance, wealth of sound and sight,
All summer’s glory thine from morn till night,
And life too full of joy for uttered words.
Neither am I ungrateful; but I dream
Deliciously how twilight falls to-night
Over the glimmering water, how the light
Dies blissfully away, until I seem
To feel the wind, sea-scented, on my cheek,
To catch the sound of dusky flapping sail
And dip of oars, and voices on the gale
Afar off, calling low, — my name they speak!
O Earth! thy summer song of joy may soar
Ringing to heaven in triumph. I but crave
The sad, caressing murmur of the wave
That breaks in tender music on the shore.
“Land-locked,” Celia Thaxter’s first published poem, originally appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1861. “Land-locked” then appeared in Poems in 1872.
“Land-locked” was published by Levi Thaxter. At the age of sixteen she married Levi, a twenty-seven year old Harvard graduate. Levi decided to move the couple back to the mainland and into a house in Massachusetts. Celia Thaxter’s separation from the nature on the island made her very unhappy, and that misery settled itself into her marriage with Levi. She wrote “Land-locked” in secret as a way to express her depression and the painful yearning she felt to return to the Isles of Shoals. Levi found Celia’s poem, sent it to his friend who worked as a publisher at The Atlantic Monthly, and it was printed in the next issue.
“Land-locked” is comprised of six four-line stanzas and has an ABBA rhyme scheme. The poem is a lyrical ode to Thaxter’s childhood on the Isles of Shoals, specifically praising the beauty of the ocean surrounding the island at sunset, an experience that could not be compared to any nature Thaxter saw in Massachusetts. Thaxter includes personification and doleful imagery of “the sunset’s dying smile,” “the solemn sea,” “how the light / dies blissfully away,” and “the sad, caressing murmur of the wave.” The beach as a mournful and fading being is a metaphor for Thaxter as she becomes continuously unhappier in her marriage, accentuating her own sadness and “yearning heart.” Thaxter reminds herself to “have patience” since she is unable to return to the island. She appreciates the nature in Massachusetts, such as the “flowers and songs of birds” and their “beauty and fragrance,” but explains that while she is not “ungrateful” to live in New England, nothing can quite compare to “how twilight falls to-night / over the glimmering water.”
Though her first collection of poetry was published more towards the end of Thaxter’s life, she was a popular, well-renowned poet and essayist throughout her career. Considering “Land-locked” was the poem that began her career, its immediate praise and critical success upon publication put Thaxter’s name alongside renowned writers of the time; she was recognized by and became friends with popular literary figures of the nineteenth century including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, becoming particularly close with Jewett. Jewett even edited and wrote the preface for the 1896 collection of poetry The Poems of Celia Thaxter, in which she writes Thaxter had extraordinary “gifts of nature and gifts for writing.”
“Land-locked” is a mournful poem in which Thaxter longs for the beauty of the ocean at sundown. Just as her “wistful eyes” look to the hill in Massachusetts and wish they were seeing the beach, Thaxter looks at her unhappy marriage and longs for the freedom and happiness of her life on the island. “Land-locked,” with its powerful personification of the ocean and beautiful descriptions of nature overall, is the epitome of Thaxter’s poetic style.
Bibliography and Further Reading Ian Lancashire, Notes on Life and Works, Selected Poetry of Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto; Leah Blatt Glasser. “‘The Sandpiper and I’: Landscape and Identity on Celia Thaxter’s Isles of Shoals,” American Literary Realism 36.1 (2003); Maine Women Writers Collection, Celia Thaxter Collection, Abplanalp Library University of New England; Celia Thaxter Collection, Colby College Library Special Collections; Celia Thaxter Collection, The Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature, University of Virginia; Terry Heller; The Poems of Celia Thaxter, ed. by Sarah Orne Jewett, The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.
Credits Composed by Lexi Palmer, Fall 2018. Reading by Lexi Palmer.