Shells (Carryl)

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Where the long waves put cool, caressing hands
        Upon the fevered temples of the shore,
        And with their eager lips are telling o’er
Their strange, unspoken secrets to the sands,
Along the shining rim of cape and cove
        The shells in fair, unplanned mosaic lie;
        And there the children, keen of heart and eye,
Gather their harvest in of treasure-trove.
Yet this is one of ocean’s mysteries—
        That, while the humbler shells the breakers brave,
        The fairest are most fragile, and the wave,
Ruthless, has crushed and mutilated these!

Ah, sea of life, we, too, like children, stand
        Through youth and age, expectant, at thy rim,
        To pray for golden argosies from Him
Who holds thee in the hollow of His hand.
Capricious tides delude us, veer and turn,
        And flash our dreams to view, again to hide;
        A moment on the breaker’s crest they ride,
The while we watch, their destiny to learn.
Poor, fragile dreams! Our humbler hopes befall;
        But crushed and shattered, tempest-tossed and torn,
        These come to shore, the dreams of youthful morn—
Most fair, most frail, and best beloved of all!

New York, 1897.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.