White Head

By Sophie Jewett 1861–1909 Sophie Jewett
Prone on the northern water,   
   That laps him about the breast,   
Like the Sphinx in the sand, forever   
   The giant lies in rest.

The sails drive swift before him,
   And the surf beats at his lip,
But the gray eyes look out seaward
   Noting nor wave nor ship.

The centuries drift over,
   He marks not with smile nor frown,   
Drift over him cloud and sea-gull,   
   Swallow and thistledown.

I, of the race that passes,
   Quick with its hope and its fear,   
Lean on his brow and question,   
   Plead at his senseless ear:

“What of thy past unmeasured?
   And what of the peoples gone?   
What of the sea’s first singing?
   What of the primal dawn?

“What was the weird that bowed thee?
   How did the struggle cease?   
Out of what Titan anguish
   Issued thy hopeless peace?”

Nothing the pale lips utter,
   What hath been, nor what shall be;   
Under the brow’s stern shadow,
   The gray eyes look to sea.

The blue glows round and over,   
   Thin-veiled, as it were God’s face;   
I feel the breath, the spirit,
   That knows nor time nor space.

And my heart grieves for the giant   
   In his pitiful repose,
Mocked by the vagrant gladness   
   Of a laggard brier-rose;

Mocked to his face from seaward
   By the flash and whirl of wings;   
Mocked from the grass above him,
   By life that creeps and sings.

I care not for his wisdom,
   His secret unconfessed;
I yearn toward rose and cricket,   
   Ephemeral and blest.

Ah! if he might, how would he   
   Quicken to love and to tears;   
For my immortal minute
   Barter his endless years!

He rests on the restless water,   
   And I on the grasses brown,
Drift over us cloud and sea-gull,   
   Swallow and thistledown.

Source: The Poems of Sophie Jewett (1910)

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Poet Sophie Jewett 1861–1909

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Time & Brevity, Nature, Living, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Metaphor

Biography

Born in Moravia, New York, poet Sophie Jewett was the daughter of a country doctor. Her childhood was marked by loss and displacement. When she was seven years old, her mother died, and Jewett was summoned from sleep to observe her passing; her father died two years later. After his death, Jewett and her three siblings moved to Buffalo to live with their uncle and grandmother, both of whom died during Jewett’s adolescence.

Jewett . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Nature, Living, Seas, Rivers, & Streams

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Metaphor

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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