Stolen Waters

Author: Lewis Carroll  | Date: 1862


THE light was faint, and soft the air

That breathed around the place;

And she was lithe, and tall, and fair,

And with a wayward grace

Her queenly head she bare.

With glowing cheek, with gleaming eye,

She met me on the way:

My spirit owned the witchery

Within her smile that lay:

I followed her, I know not why.

The trees were thick with many a fruit,

The grass with many a flower:

My soul was dead, my tongue was mute,

In that accursed hour.

And, in my dream, with silvery voice,

She said, or seemed to say,

"Youth is the season to rejoice"-

I could not choose but stay:

I could not say her nay.

She plucked a branch above her head;

With rarest fruitage laden:

"Drink of the juice, Sir Knight," she said:

"’Tis good for knight and maiden."

Oh, blind mine eye that would not trace-

Oh, deaf mine ear that would not heed-

The mocking smile upon her face,

The mocking voice of greed!

I drank the juice; and straightway felt

A fire within my brain:

My soul within me seemed to melt

In sweet delirious pain.

"Sweet is the stolen draught," she said:

"Hath sweetness stint or measure?

Pleasant the secret hoard of bread:

What bars us from our pleasure?"

"Yea, take we pleasure while we may,"

I heard myself replying.

In the red sunset, far away,

My happier life was dying:

My heart was sad, my voice was gay.

And unawares, I knew not how,

I kissed her dainty finger-tips,

I kissed her on the lily brow,

I kissed her on the false, false lips-

That burning kiss, I feel it now!

"True love gives true love of the best:

Then take", I cried, "my heart to thee!"

The very heart from out my breast

I plucked, I gave it willingly:

Her very heart she gave to me-

Then died the glory from the west.

In the gray light I saw her face,

And it was withered, old, and gray;

The flowers were fading in their place,

Were fading with the fading day.

Forth from her, like a hunted deer,

Through all that ghastly night I fled,

And still behind me seemed to hear

Her fierce unflagging tread;

And scarce drew breath for fear.

Yet marked I well how strangely seemed

The heart within my breast to sleep:

Silent it lay, or so I dreamed,

With never a throb or leap.

For hers was now my heart, she said,

The heart that once had been mine own:

And in my breast I bore instead

A cold, cold heart of stone.

So grew the morning overhead.

The sun shot downward through the trees

His old familiar flame:

All ancient sounds upon the breeze

From copse and meadow came-

But I was not the same.

They call me mad: I smile, I weep,

Uncaring how or why:

Yea, when one’s heart is laid asleep,

What better than to die?

So that the grave be dark and deep.

To die! To die? And yet, methinks,

I drink of life, to-day,

Deep as the thirsty traveler drinks

Of fountain by the way:

My voice is sad, my heart is gay.

When yestereve was on the wane,

I heard a clear voice singing

So sweetly that, like summer-rain,

My happy tears came springing:

My human heart returned again.

"A rosy child,

Sitting and singing, in a garden fair,

The joy of hearing, seeing,

The simple joy of being-

Or twining rosebuds in the golden hair

That ripples free and wild.

"A sweet pale child-

Wearily looking to the purple West-

Waiting the great For-ever

That suddenly shall sever

The cruel chains that hold her from her rest-

By earth-joys unbeguiled.

"An angel-child-

Gazing with living eyes on a dead face:

The mortal form forsaken,

That none may now awaken,

That lieth painless, moveless in her place,

As though in death she smiled!

"Be as a child-

So shalt thou sing for very joy of breath-

So shalt thou wait thy dying,

In holy transport lying-

So Pass rejoicing through the gate of death,

In garment undefiled."

Then call me what they will, I know

That now my soul is glad:

If this be madness, better so,

Far better to be mad,

Weeping or smiling as I go.

For if I weep, it is that now

I see how deep a loss is mine,

And feel how brightly round my brow

The coronal might shine,

Had I but kept mine early vow:

And if I smile, it is that now

I see the promise of the years-

The garland waiting for my brow,

That must be won with tears,

With pain- with death- I care not how.

May 9, 1862.

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Chicago: Lewis Carroll, Stolen Waters Original Sources, accessed May 19, 2024,

MLA: Carroll, Lewis. Stolen Waters, Original Sources. 19 May. 2024.

Harvard: Carroll, L, Stolen Waters. Original Sources, retrieved 19 May 2024, from