Ella Wheeler Wilcox

(5 November 1850 - 30 October 1919 / Johnstown Center / Rock County / Wisconsin)

Memory's River - Poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

In Nature's bright blossoms not always reposes
That strange subtle essence more rare than their bloom,
Which lies in the hearts of carnations and roses,
That unexplained something by men called perfume.
Though modest the flower, yet great is its power
And pregnant with meaning each pistil and leaf,
If only it hides there, if only abides there,
The fragrance suggestive of love, joy and grief.

Not always the air that a master composes
Can stir human heart-strings with pleasure or pain.
But strange, subtle chords, like the scent of the roses,
Breathe out of some measures, though simple the strain.
And lo! when you hear them, you love them and fear them,
You tremble with anguish, you thrill with delight,
For back of them slumber old dreams without number,
And faces long vanished peer out into sight.

Those dear foolish days when the earth seemed all beauty,
Before you had knowledge enough to be sad;
When youth held no higher ideal of duty
Than just to lilt on through the world and be glad.
On harmony's river they seemed to float hither
With all the sweet fancies that hung round that time-
Life's burdens and troubles turn into air-bubbles
And break on the music's swift current of rhyme.

Fair Folly comes back with her spell while you listen
And points to the paths where she led you of old.
You gaze on past sunsets, you see dead stars glisten,
You bathe in life's glory, you swoon in death's cold.
All pains and all pleasures surge up through those measures,
Your heart is wrenched open with earthquakes of sound;
From ashes and embers rise Junes and Decembers,
Lost islands in fathoms of feeling refound.

Some airs are like outlets of memory's oceans,
They rise in the past and flow into the heart;
And down them float shipwrecks of mighty emotions,
All sea-soaked and storm-tossed and drifting apart:
Their fair timbers battered, their lordly sails tattered,
Their skeleton crew of dead days on their decks;
Then a crash of chords blending, a crisis, an ending-
The music is over, and vanished the wrecks.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 2, 2010

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