Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE CHILD ON THE BEACH.
MARY, a beautiful, artless child,
Came down on the beach to me,
Where I sat, and a pensive hour beguiled
By watching the restless sea.
I never had seen her face before,
And mine was to her unknown;
But we each rejoiced on that peaceful shore
The other to meet alone.
Her cheek was the rose's opening bud,
Her brow of an ivory white;
Her eyes were bright, as the stars that stud
The sky of a cloudless night.
To reach my side as she gayly sped,
With the step of a bounding fawn,
The pebbles scarce moved beneath her tread
Ere the little light foot was gone.
With the love of a holier world than this,
Her innocent heart seem'd warm;
While the glad young spirit look'd out with bliss
From its shrine in her sylph-like form.
Her soul seem'd spreading the scene to span,
That open'd before her view,
And longing for power to look the plan
Of the universe fairly through.
She climb'd and stood on the rocky steep,
Like a bird that would mount and fly
Far over the waves, where the broad, blue deep
Roll'd up to the bending sky.
She placed her lips to the spiral shell,
And breathed through every fold;
She look'd for the depth of its pearly cell,
As a miser would look for gold.
Her small white fingers were spread to toss
The foam, as it reach'd the strand:
She ran them along in the purple moss,
And over the sparkling sand.
The green sea-egg, by its tenant left,
And form'd to an ocean cup,
She held by its sides, of their spears bereft,
To fill, as the waves roll'd up.
But the hour went round, and she knew the space
Her mother's soft word assign'd;
While she seem'd to look with a saddening face
On all she must leave behind.
She search'd mid the pebbles, and finding one
Smooth, clear, and of amber dye,
She held it up to the morning sun,
And over her own mild eye.
Then, "Here," said she, "I will give you this,
That you may remember me!"
And she seal'd her gift with a parting kiss,
And fled from beside the sea.
Mary, thy token is by me yet.
To me 'tis a dearer gem
Than ever was brought from the mine, or set
In the loftiest diadem.
It carries me back to the far-off deep,
And places me on the shore,
Where the beauteous child, who bade me keep
Her pebble, I meet once more.
And all that is lovely, pure, and bright,
In a soul that is young, and free
From the stain of guile, and the deadly blight
Of sorrow, I find in thee.
I wonder if ever thy tender heart
In memory meets me there,
Where thy soft, quick sigh, as we had to part,
Was caught by the ocean air.