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Read our essay: "Land-locked with Celia Thaxter"
Read rarely seen prose version of "Sandpiper"

About "Land-locked" and "Sandpiper"

Celia and boys Although she wrote about a wide range of topics from the Civil War to fantasies of foreign castles, Celia Thaxter is best known for her work about the sea. Her many poems and two books of prose about the Isles of Shoals are still in print today. These two poems, continuously read, studied and anthologized, remain her best known works today.

"Land-locked" was Celia's first published work. She wrote it "among the pots and kettles" while still a young wife raising three children in a home owned by the family of her husband Levi Thaxter. Having spent most of her childhood on the isolated Isles of Shoals, Celia found the transition to rural mainland life difficult. This poem speaks eloquently of her homesickness for the Isles while living in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Submitted without her knowledge, the poem appeared in the March 1860 "Atlantic Monthly" run by a friend of Celia's husband Levi. It was the kick-off to a lengthy career that would turn Mrs. Thaxter into one of the country's most popular female poets in the 19th century.

Sandpiper According to scholar Jane Vallier, "Land-locked" represents Celia's first phase of writing, a world centered around her husband and his Cambridge society. "Sandpiper" appears at the beginning of Celia's second phase which is more female-centered. It appeared in her 1872 collection simply entitled "Poems." The poem can be read for depth and meaning, or taken simply as verses for children. The book was published with $500 by her husband Levi who sold enough copies to require a second printing soon after. John Greenleaf Whittier, then one of the nation's most popular poets, praised her new small volume of work, most of it reprinted from ten years of submissions to literary magazines. -- JDR

Sources: "Poet On Demand" by Jane Vallier, Peter E. Randall Publisher and "Sandpiper" by Rosamond Thaxter, Peter E. Randall, Publisher. Pictures courtesy of the publisher from the recent reissue of "Sandpiper".

See Celia's Newtonville, MA house
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By Celia Thaxter (1860)

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.

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By Celia Thaxter (1872)

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 lighthouses high.
Almost as far as eye can reach
  I see the close-reefed vessels fly,
As fast we flit along 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:
Staunch friends are we, well tried and strong,
  The little sandpiper and I.

Comrade, where wilt thou be tonight,
  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?

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