A word is ringing in my brain,
It was not meant to give me pain;
It had no tone to bid it stay,
When other things had pass’d away;
It had no meaning more than all
Which in an idle hour fall:
It was, when first the sound I heard,
A lightly utter’d, careless word.
When in the laughing crowd some tone,
Like those whose joyous sound is gone,
Strikes on my ear, I shrink--for then
The careless word comes back again.
When all alone I sit and gaze
Upon the cheerful home-fire blaze,
Lo! freshly as when first 'twas heard,
Returns that lightly uttered word.
When dreams bring back the days of old;
With all that wishes could not hold;
And from my feverish couch I start
To press a shadow to my heart --
Amid its beating echoes, clear
That little word I seem to hear:
In vain I say, while it is heard,
Why weep?--'twas but a foolish word.
It comes--and with it come the tears,
The hopes, the joys of former years;
Forgotten smiles, forgotten looks,
Thick as dead leaves on autumn brooks,
And all as joyless, though they were
The brightest things life's spring could share.
Oh! would. . . I ne'er had heard
That lightly uttered, careless word!
That word--oh! it doth haunt me now,
In scenes of joy, in scenes of woe;
By night, by day, in sun or shade,
With the half smile that gently played
Reproachfully, and gave the sound
Eternal power through life to wound.
There is no voice I ever heard,
So deeply fix'd as that one word.
It was the first, the only one
Of those which lips for ever gone
Breathed in their love--which had for me
Rebuke of harshness at my glee:
And if those lips were here to say,
'Beloved, let it pass away,'
Ah! then, perchance--but I have heard
The last dear tone--the careless word!
Oh ye who, meeting, sigh to part,
Whose words are treasures to some heart,
Deal gently, ere the dark days come,
When earth hath but for one a home;
Lest, musing o’er the past, like me,
They feel their hearts wrung bitterly,
And, heeding not what else they heard,
Dwell weeping on a careless word.
- Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton