Biography of Celia Thaxter
Celia Laighton Thaxter was an American writer of poetry and stories. She was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Life and work
Thaxter grew up in the Isles of Shoals, first on White Island, where her father, Thomas Laighton, was a lighthouse keeper, and then on Smuttynose and Appledore Islands.
When she was sixteen, she married Levi Thaxter and moved to the mainland, residing first in Watertown, Massachusetts at a property his father owned. In 1854, they accepted an offer to use a house in Newburyport. The couple then acquired their own home, today called the Celia Thaxter House, built in 1856 near the Charles River at Newtonville. She had a son, Roland, born August 28, 1858, who would later become a prominent plant pathologist. Her first published poem, Landlocked, was written during this time on the mainland. Her life with Levi was not harmonious and she missed her islands, and so after 10 years away, she moved back to Appledore Island.
Celia became the hostess of her father's hotel, the Appledore House, and welcomed many New England literary and artistic notables to the island and to her parlor, including writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Whitteir, Sarah Orne Jewett, and the artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam, who painted several pictures of her. She was present at the time of the infamous murders on Smuttynose Island, about which she wrote the essay, A Memorable Murder. In 2008, The Library of America selected "A Memorable Murder" for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime.
William Morris Hunt, a close family friend, spent the last months of his life on Appledore Island, trying to recover from a crippling depression. He drowned in late summer 1879, three days after finishing his last sketch. Celia Thaxter discovered the painter's body, an apparent suicide. That same year, the Thaxters bought 186 acres (75 hectares) along Seapoint Beach on Cutts Island, Kittery Point, where they built a grand Shingle Style "cottage" called Champernowne Farm. In 1880, they auctioned the Newtonville house, and by 1881, moved to the new home. It stayed in the family until the 1989 death of her granddaughter and biographer, Rosamond Thaxter.
Her poems first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and she became one of America's favorite authors in the late 19th century. Among her best-known poems are The Burgomaster Gull, Landlocked, Milking, The Great White Owl, The Kingfisher, and especially The Sandpiper.
Celia Thaxter died suddenly while on Appledore Island. She was buried not far from her cottage, which unfortunately burned in the 1914 fire that destroyed The Appledore House hotel.
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Celia Thaxter Poems
Across the lonely beach we flit, One little sandpiper and I, And fast I gather, but by bit, The scattered drift-wood, bleached and dry.
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.
Rock, little boat, beneath the quiet sky, Only the stars behod us where we lie, - Only the stars and yonder brightening moon
Sunflower tall and hollyhock, that wave in the wind together, Corn-flower, poppy, and marigold, blossoming fair and fine,
From out the desolation of the North An iceberg took it away, From its detaining comrades breaking forth, And traveling night and day.
Thou little child, with tender, clinging arms, Drop thy sweet head, my darling, down and rest Upon my shoulder, rest with all thy charms; Be soothed and comforted, be loved and blessed.
In that new world toward which our feet are set, Shall we find aught to make our hearts forget Earth's homely joys and her bright hours of bliss? Has heaven a spell divine enough for this?
"Tell us a story of these Isles," they said, The daughters of the West, whose eyes had seen For the first time the circling sea, instead Of the blown prairie's waves of grassy green:
O look at the horses and people! How they hurry and trample and fight! And the smoke blowing over the steeple,-- O look, how the guns shine bright!
Come under my cloak, my darling! Thou little Norwegian main! Nor wind, nor rain, nor rolling sea Shall chill or make thee afraid.
The Spaniards' Graves
O sailors, did sweet eyes look after you The day you sailed away from sunny Spain? Bright eyes that followed fading ship and crew, Melting in tender rain?
Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see. Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand! This is a magic surprising, a mystery Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.
At her low quaint wheel she sits to spin, Deftly drawing the long, light rolls Of carded wool through her finders thin, By the fireside at the Isles of Shoals.
"What is that great bird, sister, tell me, Perched high on the top of the crag?" "'T is the cormorant, dear little brother; The fishermen call it the shag."
Here is a problem, a wonder for all to see.
Look at this marvelous thing I hold in my hand!
This is a magic surprising, a mystery
Strange as a miracle, harder to understand.
What is it? Only a handful of earth: to your touch
A dry rough powder you trample beneath your feet,
Dark and lifeless; but think for a moment, how much
It hides and holds that is beautiful, bitter, or sweet.