Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907)

Read a biography of Aldrich.

Read two sonnets by William Braithwaite, On the Death of Thomas Bailey Aldrich.

Read XXXVI Lyrics and XII Sonnets. (University of Michigan)

return to sonnet central return to 19th century Americans


While men pay reverence to mighty things,
They must revere thee, thou blue-cinctured isle
Of England—not to-day, but this long while
In front of nations, Mother of great kings,
Soldiers, and poets. Round thee the sea flings
His steel-bright arm, and shields thee from the guile
And hurt of France. Secure, with august smile,
Thou sittest, and the East its tribute brings.
Some say thy old-time power is on the wane,
Thy moon of grandeur, filled, contracts at length—
They see it darkening down from less to less.
Let but a hostile hand make threat again,
And they shall see thee in thy ancient strength,
Each iron sinew quivering, lioness!


Fantastic Sleep is busy with my eyes:
I seem in some waste solitude to stand
Once ruled of Cheops: upon either hand
A dark illimitable desert lies,
Sultry and still—a realm of mysteries;
A wide-browed Sphinx, half-buried in the sand,
With orbless sockets stares across the land,
The woefulest thing beneath these brooding skies,
Where all is woeful, weird-lit vacancy.
'Tis neither midnight, twilight, nor moonrise.
Lo! while I gaze, beyond the vast sand sea
The nebulous clouds are downward slowly drawn,
And one bleared star, faint-glimmering like a bee,
Is shut in the rosy outstretched hand of Dawn.

(See Shelley's Ozymandius.)

Enamoured Architect of Airy Rhyme

Enamoured architect of airy rhyme,
Build as thou wilt; heed not what each man says.
Good souls, but innocent of dreamers' ways,
Will come, and marvel why thou wastest time;
Others, beholding how thy turrets climb
'Twixt theirs and heaven, will hate thee all their days;
But most beware of those who come to praise.
O Wondersmith, O worker in sublime
And heaven-sent dreams, let art be all in all;
Build as thou wilt, unspoiled by praise or blame,
Build as thou wilt, and as thy light is given;
Then, if at last the airy structure fall,
Dissolve, and vanish—take thyself no shame.
They fail, and they alone, who have not striven.


Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
'Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
For some unnatural symbol of His might:—
Would'st see a miracle as grand as those
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?
Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset-seas.


The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
And on the churchyard by the road, I know,
It falls as white and noiselessly as snow.
'Twas such a night two weary summers fled;
The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
Where the swift currents of the river flow
Past Fredericksburg,—far off the heavens are red
With sudden conflagration: on yon height,
Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath:
A signal-rocket pierces the dense night,
Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath:
Hark!—the artillery massing on the right;
Hark!—the black squadrons wheeling down to Death!

"Even This Will Pass Away"

Touched with the delicate green of early May,
Or later, when the rose unveils her face,
The world hangs glittering in star-strown space,
Fresh as a jewel found but yesterday.
And yet 'tis very old; what tongue may say
How old it is? Race follows upon race,
Forgetting and forgotten; in their place
Sink tower and temple; nothing long may stay.
We build on tombs, and live our day, and die;
From out our dust new towers and temples start;
Our very name becomes a mystery.
What cities no man ever heard of lie
Under the glacier, in the mountain's heart,
In violet glooms beneath the moaning sea!

Pursuit and Possession

When I behold what pleasure is Pursuit,
What life, what glorious eagerness, it is;
Then mark how full Possession falls from this,
How fairer seems the blossom than the fruit,—
I am perplexed, and often stricken mute,
Wondering which attained the higher bliss,
The wingéd insect, or the chrysalis
It thrust aside with unreluctant foot.
Spirit of verse, which still eludes my art,
You shapes of loveliness that still do haunt me,
O never, never rest upon my heart,
If when I have thee I shall little want thee!
Still flit away in moonlight, rain, and dew,
Will-o'-the-wisp, that I may still pursue!

(See Shakespeare's Sonnet 129.)


When to soft Sleep we give ourselves away,
And in a dream as in a fairy bark
Drift on and on through the enchanted dark
To purple daybreak, little thought we pay
To that sweet, bitter world we know by day.
We are clean quit of it, as is a lark
So high in heaven no human eye may mark
The thin swift pinion cleaving through the gray.
Till we awake ill fate can do no ill,
The resting heart shall not take up again
The heavy load that yet must make it bleed;
For this brief space the loud world's voice is still,
No faintest echo of it brings us pain.
How will it be when we shall sleep indeed?

Three Flowers

Herewith I send you three pressed withered flowers:
This one was white, with golden star; this, blue
As Capri's wave; that, purple and shot through
With sunset-orange.  Where the Duomo towers
In diamond air, and under hanging bowers
The Arno glides, this faded violet grew
On Landors grave; from Landor's heart it drew
Its magic azure in the long spring hours.
Within the shadow of the Pyrimid
Of Caius Cestius was the daisy found,
White as the soul of Keats in Paradise.
The pansy,—there were hundreds of them, hid
In the thick grass that folded Shelley's mound,
Guarding his ashes with most lovely eyes.

Invita Minerva

Not of Desire alone is music born,
Not till the Muse wills is our passion crowned;
Unsought she comes; if sought but seldom found,
Repaying thus our longing with her scorn.
Hence is it poets often are forlorn,
In super-subtle chains of silence bound,
And mid the crowds that compass them around
Still dwell in isolation night and morn,
With knitted brow and cheek all passion-pale
Showing the baffled purpose of the mind.
Hence is it I, that find no prayers avail
To move my Lyric Mistress to be kind,
Have stolen away into this leafy dale,
Drawn by the flutings of the silvery wind.


Not in the fabled influence of some star,
Benign or evil, do our fortunes lie:
We are the arbiters of destiny,
Lords of the life we either make or mar.
We are our own impediment and bar
To noble issues.  With averted eye
We let the golden moment pass us by,
Time's foolish spendthrifts, searching wide and far
For what lies close at hand.  To serve our turn
We ask fair wind and favorable tide.
From the dead Danish sculptor let us learn
To make Occasion, not to be denied:
Against the sheer precipitous mountainside
Thorwaldsen carved his Lion at Lucerne.

Outward Bound

I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane's ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
'Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun:
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!

Books and Seasons

Because the sky is blue; because blithe May
Masks in the wren's note and the lilac's hue;
Because—in fine, because the sky is blue
I will read none but piteous tales to-day.
Keep happy laughter till the skies be gray,
And the sad season cypress wears, and rue;
Then, when the wind is moaning in the flue,
And ways are dark, bid Chaucer make us gay.
But now a little sadness!  All too sweet
This springtide riot, this most poignant air,
This sensuous sphere of color and perfume!
So listen, love, while I the woes repeat
Of Hamlet and Ophelia, and that pair
Whose bridal bed was builded in a tomb.


The smooth-worn coin and threadbare classic phrase
Of Grecian myths that did beguile my youth,
Beguile me not as in the olden days:
I think more grief and beauty dwell with truth.
Andromeda, in fetters by the sea,
Star-pale with anguish till young Perseus came,
Less moves me with her suffering than she,
The slim girl figure fettered to dark shame,
That nightly haunts the park, there, like a shade,
Trailing her wretchedness from street to street.
See where she passes—neither wife nor maid.
How all mere fiction crumbles at her feet!
Here is woe's self, and not the mask of woe:
A legend's shadow shall not move you so!

"I vex me not with brooding on the years"

I vex me not with brooding on the years
That were ere I drew breath:  why should I then
Distrust the darkness that may fall again
When life is done?  Perchance in other spheres—
Dead planets—I once tasted mortal tears,
And walked as now among a throng of men,
Pondering things that lay beyond my ken,
Questioning death, and solacing my fears.
Oftimes indeed strange sense have I of this,
Vague memories that hold me with a spell,
Touches of unseen lips upon my brow,
Breathing some incommunicable bliss!
In years foregone, O Soul, was all not well?
Still lovelier life awaits thee.  Fear not thou!


Though I am native to this frozen zone
That half the twelvemonth torpid lies, or dead;
Though the cold azure arching overhead
And the Atlantic's never-ending moan
Are mine by heritage, I must have known
Life otherwhere in epochs long since fled;
For in my veins some Orient blood is red,
And through my thought are lotus blossoms blown.
I do remember. . . it was just at dusk,
Near a walled garden at the river's turn
(A thousand summers seem but yesterday!)
A Nubian girl, more sweet than Khorja musk,
Came to the water-tank to fill her urn,
And, with the urn, she bore my heart away!