Published Date“To feel the wind, sea-scented, on my cheek,/To catch the sound of dusky flapping sail/and dip of oars, and voices on the gale/Afar off, calling low, - my name they speak!”
The year is 1860. A woman, longing for the beloved islands on which she had spent most of her childhood, writes a poem expressing the yearning for them that lies deep within her soul. Her husband finds the poem and shows it to his friend, James Russell Lowell, the editor of “The Atlantic Monthly.” Lowell is so impressed that he publishes the poem in his magazine’s very next issue. It causes a sensation, and 25-year old Celia Thaxter is launched on a career that will make her one of the most acclaimed authors of the late Nineteenth Century.
Celia Laighton Thaxter was born in 1835, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When she was four, her father, Thomas Laighton, became the lighthouse keeper on White Island, one of the nine islands comprising the Isles of Shoals, and the family moved there. Lying ten out to sea, between Maine and New Hampshire, the Isles would seem to be lonely places for a four-year old child, but young Celia fell in love with their wild, yet haunting beauty. The love affair lasted a lifetime.
But when she was sixteen, a man named Levi Thaxter came into her life. He was eleven years older than she and Harvard-educated. For a time, he served as tutor to the Laighton children, and Celia was taken by his education and sophistication. They married, but life on the lonely, isolated islands was not for Levi Thaxter. Celia and Levi moved on land to Newtonville, Massachusetts. There, it was Celia’s turn to be unhappy. City life was not for her. She said that she felt as if she were imprisoned, and longed for the freedom of the islands and the sea. She expressed her yearnings in a poem called “Land-Locked,” a verse of which was used to introduce this story.
Her fame as a poet and writer of stories and books spread rapidly, and she soon became one of the leading literary figures of her day. When Levi Thaxter died, in 1866, Celia began to spend more and more of her time back on her beloved islands. By this time, her family had built a large hotel on Appledore Island, and Celia Thaxter began hosting artistic events there during the summer months. Appledore became a Mecca for the artistic community of the region.
In addition to her writing, she was considered to be an expert on gardening and on birds. She was a gifted seamstress and cook. At her death in 1894, at the age of fifty-nine, friends honored her request to have the flowers of her garden adorn her coffin.
Another verse from “Land-Locked” serves well as her own epitaph: “Have patience; here are flowers and songs of birds,/ Beauty and fragrance, wealth of sound and sight,/All summer’s glory thine from morn till night,/And life too full of joy for uttered words.”