My mother would recite this poem when we were traveling in the car.

by Sarah Doudney 1841-1926 English

Listen to the water-mill
Through the livelong day,
How the clicking of its wheell
Wears the hours away!
Languidly the autumn wind,
stirs the forest leaves,
From the field the reapers sing,
Binding up their sheaves;
And the proverb haunts my mind
As a spell is cast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Autumn winds revive no more
Leaves that once are shed,
And the sickle cannot reap
Corn once gatheres;
Flows the ruffled streamlet on,
Tranquil, deep, and still;
Never gliding back again
To the water-mill
Truly speaks the proverb old
With meaning vast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Take the lesson to thyself,
True and loving heart;
Golden youth is fleeting by,
Summer hours depart;
Learn to make the most of life,
Lose no happy day;
Time will never bring thee back
Chances swept away!
Leave no tender word unsaid
Love while love shall last–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Work while yet the daylight shines,
Man of strength and will!
Never does the streamlet glide
Useless by the mill;
Wait not till to-morrrow’s sun
Beams upon thy way
All that thou canst call thine own
Lies in thy “To-day”‘
Power, intellect and health
May not always last–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Oh, the wasted hours of life
That have drifted by!
Oh, the good that might have been–
Lost, without a sigh!
Love that we once have saved
By a single word,
Thoughts conceived, but never penned,
Perishing unheard;–
Take the proverb to thine heart,
Take, and hold it fast–
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that has past.”

Sarah Doudney wrote this when she was 15 years old.

92 Responses to “The Lesson of the Water-Mill”


  1. 1 Alasdair Baxter June 8, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    There is a tearoom in Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, England where they have an actual working water wheel and the poem, slightly modified, is on display there.

  2. 2 dew November 12, 2009 at 8:14 am

    I Bought a scroll with this poem on from the Isle of white, but it was not signed. Glad to know the name of this poet..
    What a lovely thought provoking piece.Live today and move on.
    Time is short. Thanks Sarah.

    • 3 Jon-Pierre January 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

      i got part of this as a present from a friend for my 16th birthday. its nice to see the rest of it and it always rings true with me. i am now 20 and have lived life the way the poem says.

  3. 4 Susan Baker February 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

    I am reading Katherines Keyes by Sarah which was presented to a great Aunt of mine as a Sunday School prize in 1898. A lovely story,telling us that we should wait for the keyes to be put before us then we have our answers. A lovely calming and peacful story. Thankyou Sarah

  4. 5 Ladron Thomas May 12, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    This is a very powerful poem, it wets your eyes and chills you skin, all the will speaking to the heart. For such a young poet she sure had a lot of wisdom, matched with eloquence of expression.

  5. 6 ponder February 1, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    actualy the poem in itself is simply called the watermill

  6. 7 Jonathan Flaccus February 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I have two original copperplates 9 1/2 x 6 1/4 inches, one depicting the first four lines below an illustration of the mill behind a leaning tree and the second the lines “and the sickle / cannot reap / corn once gathered” below a large sickle encircling the mill in the distance. I think the plate is signed at the base of the tree.

    I have not yet attempted to find out in which edition of her poem it was used, or who the engraver was.

    • 8 Thelma Brook Marple Nr Stockport November 2, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I was taughght part of this poem by my mother when I was seven I am now 81 years old and I still recite it to all will hear I love it.

  7. 9 Marcy May 19, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    My Dad is celebrating his 75th B’day and often recalls this poem as one he learned as a child. We’ll be using part of it in the celebration.

  8. 10 Dr Bob Griffin, Teaching Elder September 20, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    In 1871 (age 30) Sarah wrote these lyrics to the lilting folk song “The Ash Grove”. Her Christian life and devotion was first in her daily walk.

    The Master hath come, and He calls us to follow
    The track of the footprints He leaves on our way;
    Far over the mountain and through the deep hollow,
    The path leads us on to the mansions of day:
    The Master hath called us, the children who fear Him,
    Who march ’neath Christ’s banner, His own little band;
    We love Him and seek Him, we long to be near Him,
    And rest in the light of His beautiful land.

    The Master hath called us; the road may be dreary
    And dangers and sorrows are strewn on the track;
    But God’s Holy Spirit shall comfort the weary;
    We follow the Savior and cannot turn back;
    The Master hath called us, though doubt and temptation
    May compass our journey, we cheerfully sing:
    “Press onward, look upward,” through much tribulation;
    The children of Zion must follow the King.

    The Master hath called us, in life’s early morning,
    With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
    We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
    To cast in our lot with the people of God:
    The Master hath called us, His sons and His daughters,
    We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
    And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
    He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.

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