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Poems About the Past

Table of Contents

  1. The Past by Emily Dickinson
  2. Farewell by Ruby Archer
  3. To the Past by William Cullen Bryant
  4. Tear Stains by John Charles McNeill
  5. My Treasure by Arthur Weir
  6. The Water Mill by Sarah Doudney
  7. The Old Home Barn by Edward Henry Elwell
  8. The Present by Adelaide Anne Procter
  9. The Place Where I Was Born by James W. Whilt
  10. The Kansas That Was by Albert Stroud
  11. Quest by Winifred Webb
  12. Forth From Your Past! by Amos Russel Wells
  13. The Deserted Cabin by Ruby Archer
  14. The Antiquary by Ruby Archer
  15. To Yesterday by Ruby Archer
  16. The Old Schoolhouse by Ellwood Roberts
  17. The Prairie-Schooner by Carl Holliday
  18. Dead Leaves by Georgia Douglas Johnson
  19. The Old Apple Tree by Henry Harvey Fuson
  20. Thou Knowest by John Hill Luther
  21. The Bells of San Blas by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  22. A Heart Snare by Peter Burn

  1. The Past

    The past is such a curious creature,
    To look her in the face
    A transport may reward us,
    Or a disgrace.

    - Emily Dickinson
    The Past
    by Emily Dickinson

    The past is such a curious creature,
    To look her in the face
    A transport may reward us,
    Or a disgrace.

    Unarmed if any meet her,
    I charge him, fly!
    Her rusty ammunition
    Might yet reply!

  2. Farewell

    by Ruby Archer

    Farewell, dear fallen petals of past days.
    Your bloom is perished, and ye lie
    Along the windings of once trodden ways,
    Nor stir as memory's breeze flits by.

  3. To the Past

    Thou unrelenting Past!
    Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain,
    And fetters, sure and fast,
    Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign.

    - William Cullen Bryant
    To the Past
    by William Cullen Bryant

    Thou unrelenting Past!
    Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain,
    And fetters, sure and fast,
    Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign.

    Far in thy realm withdrawn
    Old empires sit in sullenness and gloom,
    And glorious ages gone
    Lie deep within the shadow of thy womb.

    Childhood, with all its mirth,
    Youth, Manhood, Age, that draws us to the ground,
    And last, Man's Life on earth,
    Glide to thy dim dominions, and are bound.

    Thou hast my better years,
    Thou hast my earlier friends—the good—the kind,
    Yielded to thee with tears—
    The venerable form—the exalted mind.

    My spirit yearns to bring
    The lost ones back—yearns with desire intense,
    And struggles hard to wring
    Thy bolts apart, and pluck thy captives thence.

    In vain—thy gates deny
    All passage save to those who hence depart;
    Nor to the streaming eye
    Thou giv'st them back—nor to the broken heart.

    In thy abysses hide
    Beauty and excellence unknown—to thee
    Earth's wonder and her pride
    Are gathered, as the waters to the sea;

    Labours of good to man,
    Unpublished charity, unbroken faith,—
    Love, that midst grief began,
    And grew with years, and faltered not in death.

    Full many a mighty name
    Lurks in thy depths, unuttered, unrevered;
    With thee are silent fame,
    Forgotten arts, and wisdom disappeared.

    Thine for a space are they—
    Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last;
    Thy gates shall yet give way,
    Thy bolts shall fall, inexorable Past!

    All that of good and fair
    Has gone into thy womb from earliest time,
    Shall then come forth, to wear
    The glory and the beauty of its prime.

    They have not perished—no!
    Kind words, remembered voices once so sweet,
    Smiles, radiant long ago,
    And features, the great soul's apparent seat;

    All shall come back, each tie
    Of pure affection shall be knit again;
    Alone shall Evil die,
    And Sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.

    And then shall I behold
    Him, by whose kind paternal side I sprung,
    And her, who, still and cold,
    Fills the next grave—the beautiful and young.

  4. Tear Stains

    by John Charles McNeill

    Tear-marks stain from page to page
    This book my fathers left to me,—
    So dull that nothing but its age
    Were worth its freight across the sea.

    But tear stains! When, by whom, and why?
    Thus takes my fancy to its wings;
    For grief is old, and one may cry
    About so many things!

  5. My Treasure

    "The past is my treasure, friends," I said,
    "Time but adds to my treasury,

    – Arthur Weir
    My Treasure
    by Arthur Weir

    "What do you gather?" the maiden said,
    Shaking her sunlit curls at me—
    "See, these flowers I plucked are dead,
    Ah! misery."

    "What do you gather?" the miser said,
    Clinking his gold, as he spoke to me—
    "I cannot sleep at night for dread
    Of thieves," said he.

    "What do you gather?" the dreamer said,
    "I dream dreams of what is to be;
    Daylight comes, and my dreams are fled,
    Ah! woe is me."

    "What do you gather?" the young man said—
    "I seek fame for eternity,
    Toiling on while the world's abed,
    Alone," said he.

    "What do I gather?" I laughing said,
    "Nothing at all save memory,
    Sweet as flowers, but never dead,
    Like thine, Rosie."

    "I have no fear of thieves," I said,
    "Daylight kills not my reverie,
    Fame will find I am snug abed,
    That comes to me."

    "The past is my treasure, friends," I said,
    "Time but adds to my treasury,
    Happy moments are never fled
    Away from me."

    "All one needs to be rich," I said,
    "Is to live that his past shall be
    Sweet in his thoughts, as a wild rose red,

  6. The Water Mill

    The mill will never grind again with water that is past.

    – Sarah Doudney
    The Water Mill
    by Sarah Doudney

    Oh! listen to the water mill, through all the livelong day,
    As the clicking of the wheels wears hour by hour away;
    How languidly the autumn wind does stir the withered leaves
    As in the fields the reapers sing, while binding up their sheaves!
    A solemn proverb strikes my mind, and as a spell is cast,
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

    The summer winds revive no more leaves strewn o'er earth and main,
    The sickle nevermore will reap the yellow garnered grain;
    The rippling stream flows on—aye, tranquil, deep and still,
    But never glideth back again to busy water mill;
    The solemn proverb speaks to all with meaning deep and vast,
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

    Ah! clasp the proverb to thy soul, dear loving heart and true,
    For golden years are fleeting by and youth is passing too;
    Ah! learn to make the most of life, nor lose one happy day,
    For time will ne'er return sweet joys neglected, thrown away;
    Nor leave one tender word unsaid, thy kindness sow broadcast—
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

    Oh! the wasted hours of life, that have swiftly drifted by,
    Alas! the good we might have done, all gone without a sigh;
    Love that we might once have saved by a single kindly word,
    Thoughts conceived, but ne'er expressed, perishing unpenned, unheard.
    Oh! take the lesson to thy soul, forever clasp it fast—
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

    Work on while yet the sun doth shine, thou man of strength and will,
    The streamlet ne'er doth useless glide by clicking water mill;
    Nor wait until to-morrow's light beams brightly on thy way,
    For all that thou canst call thine own lies in the phrase "to-day."
    Possession, power and blooming health must all be lost at last—
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

    Oh! love thy God and fellowman, thyself consider last,
    For come it will when thou must scan dark errors of the past;
    Soon will this fight of life be o'er and earth recede from view,
    And heaven in all its glory shine, where all is pure and true.
    Ah! then thou'lt see more clearly still the proverb deep and vast,
    "The mill will never grind again with water that is past."

  7. The Old Home Barn

    by Edward Henry Elwell

    On a Painting by Harry Brown

    Yes, 'tis the same! The old home barn!
    Scene of my boyhood plays;
    How many memories, sweet and sad,
    Rise up from those old days.

    Through the open door again I ride
    On hayrack heaped full high,
    And toss to the mow the fragrant store,
    Born of the summer sky.

    I leap from the beam, and, buried deep,
    Emerge with laugh and shout;
    Hunt in the hay the stolen nest,
    The hidden eggs seek out.

    Old Dobbin neighs from behind his crib,
    I hear the oxen's tread,
    The breath of the kine comes sweet to me—
    But where is the colt I fed?

    On the floor the hens are scratching still;
    The stout farm-wagon, too, is there;
    The carryall that carried all
    In state to the county fair.

    How rung the barn with merry glee
    When the husking-bee came round,
    And cheeks were aglow with blushes deep,
    When the bright red ears were found.

    Through the open door, across the road,
    A picture framed I see,
    The fields, the wood, the hills afar,
    That hid the world from me.

    What lay beyond I pondered deep,
    A realm most fair it seemed;
    And much I wished to tread its ways
    Of which I long had dreamed.

    I've wandered far; the world so wide,
    That still has lured me on,
    Ne'er gave to me a scene so fair
    As that I gaze upon.

    The old home barn, in boyhood's days,
    A pleasure palace reared;
    To-day it stands a temple filled
    With memories e'er endeared.

    O Artist of the magic wand
    Which thus recalls the past,
    Your work shall hang in memory's hall
    So long as life shall last.

  8. The Present

    Do not crouch to-day, and worship
    The dead Past, whose life is fled
    Hush your voice in tender reverence;
    Crowned he lies, but cold and dead:

    – Adelaide Anne Procter
    The Present
    by Adelaide Anne Procter

    Do not crouch to-day, and worship
    The dead Past, whose life is fled
    Hush your voice in tender reverence;
    Crowned he lies, but cold and dead:
    For the Present reigns, our monarch,
    With an added weight of hours;
    Honor her, for she is mighty!
    Honor her, for she is ours!

    See the shadows of his heroes
    Girt around her cloudy throne;
    Every day the ranks are strengthened
    By great hearts to him unknown;
    Noble things the great Past promised,
    Holy dreams, both strange and new;
    But the Present shall fulfill them;
    What he promised, she shall do.

    She inherits all his treasures,
    She is heir to all his fame,
    And the light that lightens round her
    Is the luster of his name;
    She is wise with all his wisdom,
    Living on his grave she stands,
    On her brow she bears his laurels,
    And his harvest in her hands.

    Coward, can she reign and conquer
    If we thus her glory dim?
    Let us fight for her as nobly
    As our fathers fought for him.
    God, who crowns the dying ages,
    Bids her rule, and us obey,
    Bids us cast our lives before her,
    Bids us serve the great To-day.

  9. The Place Where I Was Born

    by James W. Whilt

    There's a little old log cabin,
    And its walls have fallen down,
    Snow has broken down its rafters,
    Not one log that's left is sound.

    The brush obscures the doorway,
    Everything looks so forlorn,
    'Tis the little old log cabin,
    The place where I was born—

    Briers o'errun the pathway
    Which leads to the crystal spring,
    That cradled the tiny brooklet
    Where the oriole used to sing.

    The hills are fields and pastures
    Where I roamed when but a child;
    It was all unbroken forest,
    And it stretched out far and wild.

    The meadows ran in wavelets,
    When the wind so wild and free
    Blew o'er their level surface
    Like a green and billowy sea.

    There was childhood's shout and laughter
    Within that cabin small;
    But to me it was a palace,
    With wide and stately hall.

    Our pleasures there were sweeter
    Than a rose without a thorn,
    In that little old log cabin,—
    The place where I was born.

    Oh! the little old log cabin!
    Where the air was sweet and cool,
    Where our school-house was the forest,
    And we went to Nature's school;

    Could I but re-trace my footsteps
    Over life's uncertain road,
    Could I go back to that cabin,
    Lighter far would be my load.

  10. Quest

    by Winifred Webb

    Ho all you eager travelers!
    Have you some place to go
    Where you forget the many things
    You wish you did not know?
    Forget your own insistent past
    And feel just fit and free?
    If you have found it, won't you tell
    Its happy name to me?

  11. Forth From Your Past!

    by Amos Russel Wells

    Forth from your lowly Past! In humble wise
    Up to the highest heaven lift your eyes.
    No glories that the heroes ever knew
    But God has placed them waiting there for you.

    Forth from your evil Past! The shame and sin—
    Dare now to live as they had never been.
    In Jesus cleansed and in His sureness sure,
    Know that the years to come are sweet und pure.

    Forth from your troubled Past! How dark the days.
    How dreary and perplexed your wandering waya!
    Forget those fears and tears and scenes abhorred.
    And enter all the joyance of your Lord.

    Forth from your lonely Past! No comrade knew
    Your inner warfare for the good and true;
    But in the time to come till time shall end
    You shall not lack a comrade and a friend.

    Forth from your Past! 'Twas given you to build
    A Future from it all with blessings filled.
    Enter its open gate its liberal door,
    And live its happy lord for evermore.

  12. The Deserted Cabin

    by Ruby Archer

    Lone, it lingers on the mountain
    With no sign or sound of life;
    No sweet, happy, household cadence,
    Laugh of child or song of wife.
    How it stares adown the valley
    With those hard and hollow eyes,
    As if waiting, empty-hearted,
    Hopeless, for some sweet surprise.
    All the doors have broken hinges,
    Rails have fallen from the fence;
    High the dove-cote leans, abandoned,
    Lonely birds have wandered hence.
    Mosses creep through every crevice,
    Sunshine bars the vacant floor,
    And a yellow ox-eyed daisy
    Peeps in wonder through the door.
    Yonder windmill turning, turning,
    In the old accustomed way,
    Feels a sympathy in moving
    With the winds that sigh alway:
    "We have lost the waving tresses
    Of a little golden head.
    We can find no touch responsive.—
    All but memory is dead."

  13. The Antiquary

    by Ruby Archer

    The Muse of Poetry loves all things quaint
    And rare and old,—that faded, mellow paint
    That only time-worn use on words bestows.
    Conservative she is, far more than those
    Who say, "Whatever is, is right," for she
    Declares, "Whatever was, is right for me."

  14. To Yesterday

    by Ruby Archer

    O Yesterday, you saw him. In your warm
    Sweet light we wandered idly, happily.
    Unto your deep of blue his eyes were lent,
    And through your moments lingered yet his voice.
    Bide near me, Yesterday. You know of him;
    And I may turn to you—now he is gone—
    Remind you of a glance, a word, a touch,
    A thousand glints of soul revealed to soul
    And thus defer the thought of poor To-day.

  15. The Old Schoolhouse

    by Ellwood Roberts

    Amid the trials of the changeful Present,
    The hghts and shadows that around us play,
    A retrospective glance is often pleasant,
    Along life's way.

    In fancy once again youth's sunlight golden
    We feel; we tread the old delightful ways
    We've trodden oft, while on the landscape olden
    We fondly gaze.

    So down the well-remembered path I wander,
    Each step with some bright recollection fraught:
    And all the changes, as I go, I ponder,
    That Time has wrought.

    I reach the bridge and cross the sunny meadow,
    Ascend the slope, and, just beside the door,
    The lofty chestnuts see; now in their shadow
    I stand, once more.

    I enter, and behold, around, before me,
    Each once familiar object, as of old;
    And, for a moment, I forget that o'er me
    Swift years have rolled.

    A boy again, I strive to change the places
    Of Past and Present; for a moment seem
    To live again amid the dear old faces,
    As in a dream.

    Life's troubles, changes, toils, seem but a vision,
    As, sitting in the old, accustomed place,
    Upon the world beyond, the fields Elysian,
    I turn my face.

    How different reality from seeming,
    Since I have tasted what life had to give;
    Can I have been for all these long years dreaming?
    Or, did I live?

    The same, and yet how changed, the scene before me!
    The comrades of my youth have passed away;
    I find myself—the thought comes stealing o'er me—
    Alone, to-day.

    How few old friends survive the thousand changes
    Of half a lifetime! Thirty years have passed;
    The mind down Time's long vista, busy ranges,
    With grief o'ercast.

    The dear old friends have gone and left me lonely;
    Teachers and schoolmates—all have passed away;
    Of most a recollection lingers only;
    Oh, where are they?

    Alone! and all the eager aspiration
    I felt in bygone years, is mine no more;
    I turn away in silent meditation.
    And leave the door.

    I go my way, to present time returning,
    While sunset's fitful shadows hover near;
    Within my heart the thought—I have been learning
    A lesson here.

    We cannot feel again the sunlight golden,
    Although we tread the well-remembered ways;
    We may not live again the moments olden
    In later days.

  16. The Prairie-Schooner

    Carl Holliday

    All day the creeping caravan
    Wound on its serpent-trailing way;
    A thousand miles of wind-swept tan,
    A thousand miles of cloudless gray.

    Beneath the quivering summer-heat
    The prairie-schooner creaked afar;
    Some day, some time, the trail would meet
    The Setting Sun, the Golden Bar.

    The course is done; the servant old
    Long stood in shivering rags, and gazed
    Upon the mansions built of gold;
    All wondering, by their splendor dazed.

    The course is done; yet on and on
    Beyond Time's wavering shadow-line
    The prairie-schooner long has gone,
    Forsaken, lost, with ne'er a shrine.

  17. Dead Leaves

    by Georgia Douglas Johnson

    The breaking dead leaves 'neath my feet
    A plaintive melody repeat,
    Recalling shattered hopes that lie
    As relics of a bygone sky.

    Again I thread the mazy past,
    Back where the mounds are scattered fast-
    Oh! foolish tears, why do you start,
    To break of dead leaves in the heart?

  18. The Old Apple Tree

    by Henry Harvey Fuson

    Just beside the forest great,
    Close to a path traveled a generation ago,
    Stands the old apple tree to wait
    The final summons to go.
    Amid a new grown forest, with vines
    Entwined about his stooping form,
    He ever clings to life, but pines
    For the good old days that are gone.
    Like an old man who has spent
    His allotted time in service true,
    With the ranks of his generation rent
    By death, in a generation that is new,
    He holds to life that to him is dear
    And approaches the end without fear.

  19. Thou Knowest

    by John Hill Luther

    Thou knowest all, O Teacher,
    My future as well as my past;
    The clouds may be drifting toward me,
    The shadows gathering fast,
    But with thee there is no danger:
    Sunshine must come at last.

    Thou knowest all, O Teacher,
    How in weariness and fears
    I have sought Thee, found The, heard Thee
    Utter words that dried my tears,
    O 'twere sin to doubt Thy goodness
    After all the proofs of years.

    Thou knowest all, O Teacher,
    Better than my lips can tell,
    How the world allures and mocks me,
    And what foes within me dwell—
    Knowest all; yet in my weakness
    Comes the message, All is well.

    Thou Knowest all, O Teacher;
    Knowest when my weary feet
    Shall reach the pearly gates on high;
    When loved ones gone before shall greet
    The chastened spirit, longing most
    Thee, Oh my Prince, my Love, to meet.

    Then I can wait, and waiting, watch,
    And as I watch toil while I may;
    For well I know He waits for me—
    Nay, often meets me in the way,
    Foreshadowing, as he passes by,
    The glories of the latter day.

  20. The Bells of San Blas

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    What say the Bells of San Blas
    To the ships that southward pass
    From the harbor of Mazatlan?
    To them it is nothing more
    Than the sound of surf on the shore,—
    Nothing more to master or man.

    But to me, a dreamer of dreams,
    To whom what is and what seems
    Are often one and the same,—
    The Bells of San Blas to me
    Have a strange, wild melody,
    And are something more than a name.

    For bells are the voice of the church;
    They have tones that touch and search
    The hearts of young and old;
    One sound to all, yet each
    Lends a meaning to their speech,
    And the meaning is manifold.

    They are a voice of the Past,
    Of an age that is fading fast,
    Of a power austere and grand;
    When the flag of Spain unfurled
    Its folds o'er this western world,
    And the Priest was lord of the land.

    The chapel that once looked down
    On the little seaport town
    Has crumbled into the dust;
    And on oaken beams below
    The bells swing to and fro,
    And are green with mould and rust.

    "Is, then, the old faith dead,"
    They say, "and in its stead
    Is some new faith proclaimed,
    That we are forced to remain
    Naked to sun and rain,
    Unsheltered and ashamed?

    "Once in our tower aloof
    We rang over wall and roof
    Our warnings and our complaints;
    And round about us there
    The white doves filled the air,
    Like the white souls of the saints.

    "The saints! Ah, have they grown
    Forgetful of their own?
    Are they asleep, or dead,
    That open to the sky
    Their ruined Missions lie,
    No longer tenanted?

    "Oh, bring us back once more
    The vanished days of yore,
    When the world with faith was filled;
    Bring back the fervid zeal,
    The hearts of fire and steel,
    The hands that believe and build.

    "Then from our tower again
    We will send over land and main
    Our voices of command,
    Like exiled kings who return
    To their thrones, and the people learn
    That the Priest is lord of the land!"

    O Bells of San Blas, in vain
    Ye call back the Past again!
    The Past is deaf to your prayer;
    Out of the shadows of night
    The world rolls into light;
    It is daybreak everywhere.

  21. A Heart Snare

    by Peter Burn

    Why doth the heart brood o'er the past—
    The past of many sorrows?
    Why doth it looks of fondness cast
    O'er scenes where mem'ries rise and blast
    To-days, and coming morrows?

    It fondly seeks for balm and joy,
    But thorns grow with our flowers;
    There's nought on earth without alloy,
    The ways of life perplex—annoy—
    The breeze unrobes our bowers.

    Behind the clouds are sunny rays,
    Behind our griefs are pleasures;
    Pleasures which live, while life decays,
    The heart to these a visit pays,
    And proves them precious treasures.

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