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Uncollected Essays

Two Prefaces to Works of Celia Thaxter.

Sarah Orne Jewett


"Preface" to Stories and Poems for Children

I am sure that if Mrs. Thaxter had lived to complete the arrangement of this book of stories and verses for children, she would have dedicated it to her dear grandchildren and to the little nieces so near to her heart. I know that she would like to have me stand in her place and say that this book is made for them first of all, and I am sure that it will help those who cannot well remember her to know something of her beautiful generous kindness and delightful gayety, her gift of teaching young eyes to see the flowers and birds; to know her island of Appledore and its sea and sky.     S.O.J.


Preface to The Poems of Celia Thaxter, pp (v)-viii

     In this new edition of the collected writings of Celia Thaxter, great care has been taken to keep to her own arrangement and to the order in which the poems were originally published. In this way they seem to make something like a journal of her daily life and thought, and to mark the constantly increasing power of observation which was so marked a trait in her character. As her eyes grew quicker to see the blooming of flowers and the flight of birds, the turn of the waves as they broke on the rocks of Appledore, so the eyes of her spirit read more and more clearly the inward significance of things, the mysterious sorrows and joys of human life. In the earliest of her poems there is much to be found of that strange insight and anticipation of experience which comes with such gifts of nature and gifts for writing as hers, but as life went on it seemed as if Sorrow were visible to her eyes, a shrouded figure walking in the daylight. Here I and Sorrow sit was often true to the sad vision of her imagination, yet she oftenest came hand in hand with some invisible dancing Joy to a friend's door.

     Through the long list of these brief poems (beginning in the earliest book with Land-locked and following through the volumes called Driftweed and The Cruise of the Mystery; all reprinted here with some later verses found together among her papers), one walks side by side in intimate companionship with this sometimes sad-hearted but sincerely glad and happy woman and poet, and knows the springs of her life and the power of her great love and hope. In another volume all her delightful verses and stories for children have been gathered; but one poem, The Sandpiper, seemed to belong to one book as much as to the other, and this has been reprinted in both.

     In the volume of her Letters will be found the records of Celia Thaxter's life and so far as it could be told the history of her literary work, while some personal notes by the hand of one of her dearest and oldest friends leave little to be said here. Yet those who have known through her writings alone the islands she loved so much, may care to know how, just before she died, she paid, as if with dim foreboding, a last visit to the old familiar places of the tiny world that was so dear to her. Day after day she called those who were with her to walk or sail; once to spend a long afternoon among the high cliffs of Star Island where we sat in the shade behind the old church, and she spoke of the year that she spent in the Gosport parsonage, and went there with us, to find old memories waiting to surprise her in the worn doorways, and ghosts and fancies of her youth tenanting all the ancient rooms. Once we went to the lighthouse on White Island, where she walked lightly over the rough rocks with wonted feet, and showed us many a trace of her childhood, and sang some quaint old songs, as we sat on the cliff looking seaward, with a touching lovely cadence in her voice, an unforgotten cadence to any one who ever heard her sing. We sat by the Spaniards' graves through a long summer twilight, and she repeated her poem as if its familiar words were new, and we talked of many things as we watched the sea. And on Appledore she showed us all the childish playgrounds dearest to her and her brothers, - the cupboard in a crevice of rock, the old wells and cellars, the tiny stone-walled enclosures, the worn doorsteps of unremembered houses. We crept under the Sheep rock for shelter out of a sudden gust of rain, we found some of the rarer wild flowers in their secret places. In one of these it thrills me now to remember that she saw a new white flower, strange to her and to the island, which seemed to reach up to her hand. "This never bloomed on Appledore before," she said, and looked at it with grave wonder. "It has not quite bloomed yet," she said, standing before the flower; "I shall come here again;" and then we went our unreturning way up the footpath that led over the ledges, and left the new flower growing in its deep windless hollow on the soft green turf.

     It was midsummer, and the bayberry bushes were all a bright and shining green, and we watched a sandpiper, and heard the plaintive cry that begged us not to find and trouble its nest. Under the very rocks and gray ledges, to the far nests of the wild sea birds, her love and knowledge seemed to go. She was made of that very dust, and set about with that sea, islanded indeed in the reserves of her lonely nature with its storms and calmness of high tides, but it seemed as if a little star dust must have been mixed with the ordinary dust of those coasts; there was something bright in her spirit that will forever shine, and light the hearts of those who loved her. It will pass on to a later time in these poems that she wrote of music, of spring and winter, of flower and birds, and of that northern sea which was her friend and fellow.

S.O.J.


NOTES

Celia Thaxter: (1835-1894) A popular American poet, best remembered perhaps for An Island Garden (1894), with its "pictures and illuminations" by Childe Hassam. For biographical information see: Sandpiper: The Life of Celia Thaxter, written by her granddaughter, Rosamond Thaxter, and published by Wake-Brook House, 1962; Poet on Demand: The Life, Letters and Works of Celia Thaxter by Jane E. Vallier. Camden, Maine, Down East Books, 1982; A Little Book of Friends by Harriet Prescott Spofford. Boston, Little, Brown, and Company, 1917. Pp. 67-86.
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The first text is from Celia Thaxter, Stories and Poems for Children. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1895. The second preface is from The Poems of Celia Thaxter, the Appledore Edition, Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1896. If you see items needing correction or annotation, please contact the site manager.
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Appledore Island: The largest island of a cluster of nine islands 10 miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire known as the Isles of Shoals. Appledore is the island on which Celia Thaxter had a cottage and spent many summers. She buried on the island with her mother and father.
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collected writings: Vallier, p. 121, says: "When in 1935 on Celia Thaxter's centenary her brother Oscar Laighton published The Heavenly Guest, another chapter had to be written on the subject of Thaxter as a poet. Among the papers found after her death were some fine poems that Annie Fields, Rose Lamb and Sarah Orne Jewett chose not to include in the Appledore Edition of Thaxter's poems in 1896."
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Here I and sorrow sit: In Shakespeare's King John, Constance says early in Act 3 (Pelican Shakespeare):

          My grief's so great
     That no supporter but the huge firm earth
     Can hold it up. Here I and sorrows sit.
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Land-locked: Celia Thaxter's first poem, written in 1861 at the age of 26 and published in the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Driftweed. (Drift-Weed) was Thaxter's second book of poems, published by Houghton, Osgood & Co. in 1878; The Cruise of the Mystery: (The Cruise of the Mystery, and other Poems). Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1886.
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The Sandpiper: Celia Thaxter's most famous and remembered poem written in 1872. See below for a copy of "The Sandpiper."
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Letters: (Letters of Celia Thaxter). Edited by Annie Fields and Rose Lamb. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1895.
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Star Island ... Gosport parsonage ... White Island: Celia Thaxter spent 1853 a young wife at the Gosport parsonage on Star Island where her husband Levi Thaxter had accepted a missionary position from the Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians and Others in North America. White Island, also one of the Isles of Shoals, has the lighthouse where Celia Thaxter spent her childhood. See also Jewett's poem, "Star Island" at this site in Poems.
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Spÿniards' graves: This is the title of one of her poems; it is also the site of the graves, still visible today, of sailors shipwrecked on the Shoals in 1813.
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Edited and annotated by Jean-Paul Michaud, New York Public Library.


"The Sandpiper" from Stories and Poems for Children by Celia Thaxter

Across the narrow beach we flit,
   One little sandpiper and I;
And fast I gather, bit by bit,
   The scattered driftwood bleached and dry.
The wild waves reach their hands for it,
   The wild wind raves, the tide runs high,
As up and down the beach we flit, --
   One little sandpiper and I.
Above our heads the sullen clouds
   Scud black and swift, across the sky;
Like silent ghosts in misty shrouds
   Stand out the white light-houses high.
Almost as far as eye can reach
   I see the close-reefed vessels fly,
As fast we flit across the beach,--
   One little sandpiper and I.

I watch him as he skims along
   Uttering his sweet and mournful cry;
He starts not at my fitful song,
   Nor flash of fluttering drapery.
He has no thought of any wrong;
   He scans me with a fearless eye.
Stanch friends are we, well tried and strong,
   The little sandpiper and I.
Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night
   When the loosed storm breaks furiously?
My driftwood fire will burn so bright!
   To what warm shelter canst thou fly?
I do not fear for thee, though wroth
   The tempest rushes through the sky:
For are we not God's children both,
   Thou, little sandpiper, and I?


Main Contents
Uncollected Essays