Regret, by Celia Thaxter


Softly Death touched her and she passed away
Out of this glad, bright world she made more fair,
Sweet as the apple-blossoms, when in May
The orchards flush, of summer grown aware.

All that fresh delicate beauty gone from sight,
That gentle, gracious presence felt no more!
How must the house be emptied of delight,
What shadows on the threshold she passed o’er!

She loved me. Surely I was grateful, yet
I could not give her back all she gave me, —
Ever I think of it with vain regret,
Musing upon a summer by the sea;

Remembering troops of merry girls who pressed
About me, — clinging arms and tender eyes,
And love, like scent of roses. With the rest
She came to fill my heart with new surprise.

The day I left them all and sailed away,
While o’er the calm sea, ‘neath the soft gray sky
They waved farewell, she followed me, to say
Yet once again her wistful, sweet “good by.”

At the boat’s bow she drooped; her light green dress
Swept o’er the skiff in many a graceful fold,
Her glowing face, bright with a mute caress,
Crowned with her lovely hair of shadowy gold:

And tears she dropped into the crystal brine
For me, unworthy, as we slowly swung
Free of the mooring. Her last look was mine,
Seeking me still the motley crowd among.

O tender memory of the dead I hold
So precious through the fret and change of years
Were I to live till Time itself grew old,
The sad sea would be sadder for those tears.

*

“Regret” was published in the October 1870 (volume 26, issue 156) of the Atlantic Monthly. Written in iambic pentameter, the eight, four-line stanzas of the poem uses a variable rhyme scheme. The first two stanzas describe how the speaker’s love is dead and how her spirit is now gone over into the next life. The speaker describes love as sweet as the apple-blossoms and fairer than the world itself. The speaker describes how the house is now empty without her being in it bringing in life and light. In the third and fourth stanzas, the speaker recounts her love for and his gratefulness for her loving him. The speaker explains that his regret is never being able to pay her back in kind for her love. The fifth and six stanzas recall as he left the island and she is the only that came and said goodbye. The speakers describe her in awe as the boat leaves and she is standing at the shore. The last two stanzas talk about how the speaker feels when he is leaving her and the regret for not coming back sooner for her. Her tears, he felt were unworthy for him and he will hold on to her memory for eternity.

“Regret” speaks of lost love and regrets about leaving. As in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there is a tragedy in this poem and the joy of finding love but only to lose  love. Instead of killing himself to join her like Romeo did when he thought Juliet was dead, he hangs on to her memory and living in the regret of never being able to make it up to her.

Writers since the nineteenth century have praised Thazter’s work. In Celia Thaxter’s: Selected Writings, John Greenleaf Whittier writes, “Never before have all the wonders of our rocky New England seacoast been so musically and tenderly sung about.” Sarah Orne Jewett comments, “The poems seem to make something of a journal of her daily life and thought to mark her constantly increasing the power of observation.”Josephine Donovan remarks, “At times her austere harsh imagery anticipates poets such as Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath…trying to play the many conflicting roles of wife, mother, and artist.”.And Elizabeth Winslow writes,  “Her verse differs from other regional writers in that it deals chiefly with the sea, the rocks, flowers…Her poetry nevertheless expresses authentic content and emotion”.

Bibliography and Further Readings Julia Older, Celia Thaxter: Selected Writings (1997); Celia Thaxter,  Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto

Credits Composed by Patricia Poitras, Fall 2018. Reading by Patricia Poitras.

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American Poetry and Poetics by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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