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Poems About Regret

Table of Contents

  1. A Song of Regret by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts
  2. Remorse by Emily Dickinson
  3. Conscience and Remorse by Laurence Dunbar
  4. Sometimes by Thomas S. Jones, Jr.
  5. The New Remorse by Oscar Wilde
  6. The Dying Storm by Hannah Flagg Gould
  7. My Birth-Day by Thomas Moore
  8. Regret by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  9. Unsung by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse
  10. The Old Stone Quarry by Ellen P. Allerton
  11. Maud Muller by John Greenleaf Whittier
  12. November by E. C.
  13. Tears, Idle Tears by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  14. Life's Tragedy by Paul Laurence Dunbar

  1. A Song of Regret

    The crisp mists rise
    And my heart falls a-sighing,—
    Sighing, sighing
    That the sweet time dies!

    – Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts
    A Song of Regret
    by Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts

    In the southward sky
    The late swallows fly,
    The low red willows
    In the river quiver;
    From the beeches nigh
    Russet leaves sail by,
    The tawny billows
    In the chill wind shiver;
    The beech-burrs burst,
    And the nuts down-patter;
    The red squirrels chatter
    O'er the wealth disperst.

    Yon carmine glare
    Would the west outdare;—
    'Tis the Fall attire
    Of the maples flaming.
    In the keen late air
    Is an impulse rare,
    A sting like fire,
    A desire past naming.
    But the crisp mists rise
    And my heart falls a-sighing,—
    Sighing, sighing
    That the sweet time dies!

  2. Remorse

    by Emily Dickinson

    Remorse is memory awake,
    Her companies astir, —
    A presence of departed acts
    At window and at door.

    It's past set down before the soul,
    And lighted with a match,
    Perusal to facilitate
    Of its condensed despatch.

    Remorse is cureless, — the disease
    Not even God can heal;
    For 't is his institution, —
    The complement of hell.

  3. Conscience and Remorse

    I cried: "Come back, my conscience;
    I long to see thy face."
    But conscience cried: "I cannot;
    Remorse sits in my place."

    – Laurence Dunbar
    Conscience and Remorse
    by Laurence Dunbar

    "Good-bye," I said to my conscience —
    "Good-bye for aye and aye,"
    And I put her hands off harshly,
    And turned my face away;
    And conscience smitten sorely
    Returned not from that day.

    But a time came when my spirit
    Grew weary of its pace;
    And I cried: "Come back, my conscience;
    I long to see thy face."
    But conscience cried: "I cannot;
    Remorse sits in my place."

  4. Sometimes

    by Thomas S. Jones, Jr.

    Across the fields of yesterday
    He sometimes comes to me,
    A little lad just back from play—
    The lad I used to be.

    And yet he smiles so wistfully
    Once he has crept within,
    I wonder if he hopes to see
    The man I might have been.

  5. The New Remorse

    by Oscar Wilde

    The sin was mine; I did not understand.
    So now is music prisoned in her cave,
    Save where some ebbing desultory wave
    Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
    And in the withered hollow of this land
    Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
    That hardly can the leaden willow crave
    One silver blossom from keen Winter’s hand.

    But who is this who cometh by the shore?
    (Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
    Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
    It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
    The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
    And I shall weep and worship, as before.

  6. The Dying Storm

    I have sunk the brightest treasure;
    I've destroyed the fairest form:
    I have sadly filled my measure,
    And am now a dying storm!

    – Hannah Flagg Gould
    The Dying Storm
    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    I am feeble, pale and weary,
    And my wings are nearly furled!
    I have caused a scene so dreary,
    I am glad to quit the world!
    With bitterness I'm thinking
    On the evil I have done,
    And to my caverns sinking
    From the coming of the sun.

    The heart of man will sicken
    In that pure and holy light,
    When he feels the hopes I've stricken
    With an everlasting blight!
    For widely, in my madness,
    Have I poured abroad my wrath;
    And, changing joy to sadness,
    Scattered ruin on my path.

    Earth shuddered at my motion,
    And my power in silence owns;
    But the deep and troubled ocean
    O'er my deeds of horror moans!
    I have sunk the brightest treasure;
    I've destroyed the fairest form:
    I have sadly filled my measure,
    And am now a dying storm!

  7. My Birth-Day

    by Thomas Moore

    "My birth-day"—what a different sound
    That word had in my youthful ears!
    And how, each time the day comes round,
    Less and less white its mark appears!
    When first our scanty years are told,
    It seems like pastime to grow old;
    And, as Youth counts the shining links
    That Time around him binds so fast,
    Pleased with the task, he little thinks
    How hard that chain will press at last.
    Vain was the man, and false as vain,
    Who said—"were he ordained to run
    His long career of life again,
    He would do all that he had done."

    Ah, 'tis not thus the voice, that dwells
    In sober birth-days, speaks to me;
    Far otherwise—of time it tells
    Lavished unwisely, carelessly;
    Of counsel mocked: of talents, made
    Haply for high and pure designs,
    But oft, like Israel's incense, laid
    Upon unholy, earthly shrines;
    Of nursing many a wrong desire;
    Of wandering after Love too far,
    And taking every meteor-fire
    That crossed my pathway, for a star.
    All this it tells, and, could I trace
    The imperfect picture o'er again,
    With power to add, retouch, efface
    The lights and shades, the joy and pain,
    How little of the past would stay!
    How quickly all should melt away—
    All—but that Freedom of the Mind,
    Which hath been more than wealth to me;
    Those friendships, in my boyhood twined,
    And kept till now unchangingly;
    And that dear home, that saving-ark,
    Where Love's true light at last I've found,
    Cheering within, when all grows dark,
    And comfortless, and stormy round!

  8. Regret

    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    There is a haunting phantom called Regret,
    A shadowy creature robed somewhat like Wo,
    But fairer in the face, whom all men know
    By her sad mien, and eyes forever wet.
    No heart would seek her; but once having met,
    All take her by the hand, and to and fro
    They wander through those paths of long ago—
    Those hallowed ways 'twere wiser to forget.

    One day she led me to that lost land's gate
    And bade me enter; but I answered "No!
    I will pass on with my bold comrade Fate;
    I have no tears to waste on thee—no time—
    My strength I hoard for heights I hope to climb,
    No friend art thou, for souls that would be great."

  9. Unsung

    by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse

    The songs I have not sung to you
    Will wake me in the night
    And hover in the dark like birds
    Whose wings are tipped with light.

    Like birds with restless, eager wings
    That quiver for their flight,
    The songs I have not sung to you
    Will wake me in the night.

  10. The Old Stone Quarry

    by Ellen P. Allerton

    Grown with grass and with tangled weeds,
    Where the blind mole hides and the rabbit feeds,
    And, unmolested, the serpent breeds.

    Edged with underwood, newly grown,
    Draped with the cloak that the years have thrown
    Round the broken gaps in the jagged stone.

    It was opened—I know not how long ago—
    Opened, and left half-worked, and so
    In this ragged hollow the rank weeds grow.

    Why lies it idle, this beautiful stone?
    Ho, for the pickaxe! One by one
    Hew out these blocks—here is work undone.

    There are possible towers in this serpent's den—
    Possible homes for homeless men.
    Who shall build them? and where? and when?

    Must they lie here still, unmarked, unsought—
    Turrets and temples, uncarved, unwrought,
    Till the end of time? 'Tis a sorrowful thought!

    All through the heats of the summer hours,
    The wild bee hums in the unplucked flowers
    That creep and bloom over unbuilt towers.

    As I sit here, perched on the grass-grown wall,
    Down to the hollow the brown leaves fall,
    Little by little covering all.

    So month after month, and year after year,
    The rank weeds creep and the leaves turn sere.
    And a thicker mantle is weaving here.

    And a day may come when the passer-by,
    Threading the underwood, then grown high,
    Shall see but a hollow, where dead leaves lie.

    There are human souls that seem to me
    Like this unwrought stone—for all you see—
    Is a shapeless quarry of what might be,

    Lying idle, and overgrown
    With tangled weeds, like this beautiful stone—
    Possible work left undone,
    Possible victories left unwon.

    And that is a waste that is worse than this;
    Sharper the edge of the hidden abyss,
    Deadlier serpents crawl and hiss.

    And a day shall come when the desolate scene,
    Though scanned by eyes that are close and keen,
    Shall show no trace of its "might have been."

  11. Maud Muller

    by John Greenleaf Whittier

    Maud Muller, on a summer's day,
    Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

    Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
    Of simple beauty and rustic health.

    Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
    The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

    But when she glanced to the far-off town,
    White from its hill-slope looking down,

    The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
    And a nameless longing filled her breast,—

    A wish that she hardly dared to own,
    For something better than she had known.

    The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
    Smoothing his horse's chestnut mane.

    He drew his bridle in the shade
    Of the apple-trees to greet the maid,

    And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
    Through the meadow across the road.

    She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
    And filled for him her small tin cup,

    And blushed as she gave it, looking down
    On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

    "Thanks!" said the Judge; "a sweeter draught
    From a fairer hand was never quaffed."

    He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
    Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

    Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
    The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

    And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown
    And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

    And listened, while a pleased surprise
    Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

    At last, like one who for delay
    Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

    Maud Muller looked and sighed: "Ah me!
    That I the Judge's bride might be!

    "He would dress me up in silks so fine,
    And praise and toast me at his wine.

    "My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
    My brother should sail a painted boat.

    "I'd dress my mother so grand and gay,
    And the baby should have a new toy each day.

    "And I'd feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
    And all should bless me who left our door."

    The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
    And saw Maud Muller standing still.

    "A form more fair, a face more sweet,
    Ne'er hath it been my lot to meet.

    "And her modest answer and graceful air
    Show her wise and good as she is fair.

    "And her modest answer and graceful air
    Show her wise and good as she is fair.

    "No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
    Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

    "But low of cattle and song of birds,
    And health and quiet and loving words."

    But he thought of his sisters proud and cold,
    And his mother vain of her rank and gold.

    So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
    And Maud was left in the field alone.

    But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
    When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

    And the young girl mused beside the well,
    Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

    He wedded a wife of richest dower,
    Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

    Yet oft, in his marble hearth's bright glow,
    He watched a picture come and go;

    And sweet Maud Muller's hazel eyes
    Looked out in their innocent surprise.

    Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,
    He longed for the wayside well instead;

    And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms
    To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

    And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
    "Ah, that I were free again!

    "Free as when I rode that day,
    Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay."

    She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
    And many children played round her door.

    But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain, Left their traces on heart and brain.

    And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
    On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

    And she heard the little spring brook fall
    Over the roadside, through the wall,

    In the shade of the apple-tree again
    She saw a rider draw his rein.

    And, gazing down with timid grace,
    She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

    Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
    Stretched away into stately halls;

    The weary wheel to a spinet turned,
    The tallow candle an astral burned,

    And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
    Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

    A manly form at her side she saw,
    And joy was duty and love was law.

    Then she took up her burden of life again,
    Saying only, "It might have been."

    Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
    For rich repiner and household drudge!

    God pity them both! and pity us all, Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

    For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
    The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

    Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
    Deeply buried from human eyes;

    And, in the hereafter, angels may
    Roll the stone from its grave away!

  12. November

    by E. C.

    I would forget so many things;
    The moaning wind, and rain,
    Uncanny sounds of ghostly hands
    At door and window pane.

    I would forget the perished leaves
    And grass, dismantled trees—
    Old loves and hopes, the youth of me
    That passed away with these.

    But when I see November come,
    How shall I then forget;
    The other years return with her—
    Remembrance and regret.

  13. Tears, Idle Tears

    by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
    Tears from the depth of some divine despair
    Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
    In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
    And thinking of the days that are no more.

    Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
    That brings our friends up from the underworld,
    Sad as the last which reddens over one
    That sinks with all we love below the verge;
    So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

    Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
    The earliest pipe of half-awaken'd birds
    To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
    The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
    So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

    Dear as remember'd kisses after death,
    And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feign'd
    On lips that are for others; deep as love,
    Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
    O Death in Life, the days that are no more!

  14. Life's Tragedy

    by Paul Laurence Dunbar

    It may be misery not to sing at all,
    And to go silent through the brimming day;
    It may be misery never to be loved,
    But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

    To sing the perfect song,
    And by a half-tone lost the key,
    There the potent sorrow, there the grief,
    The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.

    To have come near to the perfect love,
    Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
    But that which lies aside its vanity,
    And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.

    This, this indeed is to be accursed,
    For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
    We count our joys not by what we have,
    But by what kept us from that perfect thing.

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