— John Greenleaf Whittier
Context: Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
Bret Harte wrote a famous parody of this famous poem, "Mrs. Judge Jenkins" in which the Judge marries Maud, and which he ends with the lines:
Maud soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;
And the Judge would have bartered Maud's fair face
For more refinement and social grace.
If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, "It might have been,"
More sad are these we daily see:
"It is, but hadn't ought to be".