When the stupid people were not looking
– They sat in shadow of the sail –
I softly slid down the plunging boat-bow
To the trembling waters, glimmering pale.
I said to myself, "Now I will follow
The long white track of this summer moon;
Since a little child I have burned and longed to,
And this sweet night is never too soon."
How the waters danced 'neath my light, swift footsteps,
How cool they seemed to my eager feet!
I gathered my white things closely about me,
But my hair was caught by the breezes sweet,
And they loosened and spread it and held it flowing;
I looked before and never behind:
I Hurried on in the lustrous pathway
Where light was the moon and shadow the wind.
O the sweet long path of silver and diamond!
O the joyous splendour I travelled o'er!
I said to myself, "No – I never, never,
Trod such a beautiful path before!"
I seemed alone on the whole great ocean:
The sky bent down to the water's rim
On every side, and kissed it so closely
It trembled as if with deep love for him.
I stooped to gather the white foam-flowers
Till my hands were full of the creamy things,
Then I bound them with a long sea-ribbon –
I understood what the old sea sings,
Just for a while; I listened intently,
And all at once it occurred to me,
And it was something very important –
But has escaped my memory.
The dolphins rose and stared at my passing.
I waved my gathered flowers to them;
They must have wondered that I could wander
So far without wetting my garment's hem.
How far I went and I was not tired!
How far I went in the moon's white way! –
But all at once aught came against me
That made my footsteps falter and stay:
A white face 'neath a veil of water,
With golden loose hair streaming round –
I stooped to kiss it and sighed unto it,
"I am so sorry you were drowned!"
Now the moon approached the low sea-level,
I thought "I must hurry all I can" –
I gathered the white folds closer and higher
And over the swelling billows ran.
The moon was half way down the water
When panting I reached the silvern gate –
How great it was, and white and fulgent! –
I knocked, and hoped it was not too late.
The guardian came and looked and pondered,
Then asked, "Little maid, have you ever died?"
And I said, "Nay." And he said sadly,
"Little maid, in vain then you have tried."
So I was forced to turn and leave it;
The beautiful guardian said, "Some day" . . .
And I came home with saddened footsteps
Over a moonless darkling way.
from Verses, 1890
[Poem is in the public domain in Canada and the United States]