sea

Studies By The Sea

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Ah! wherefore do the incurious say,
That this stupendous ocean wide,
No change presents from day to day,
Save only the alternate tide;
Or save when gales of summer glide
Across the lightly crisped wave;
Or, when against the cliff’s rough side,
As equinoctial tempests rave,
It wildly bursts; o’erwhelms the deluged strand,
Tears down its bounds, and desolates the land ?

He who with more enquiring eyes
Doth this extensive scene survey,
Beholds innumerous changes rise,
As various winds its surface sway;
Now o’er its heaving bosom play
Small sparkling waves of silver gleam,
And as they lightly glide away
Illume with fluctuating beam
The deepening surge; green as the dewy corn
That undulates in April’s breezy morn.
The far off waters then assume
A glowing amethystine shade,
That changing like the peacock’s plume
Seems in celestial blue to fade;

Or paler, colder hues of lead,
As lurid vapours float on high,
Along the ruffling billows spread,
While darkly lours the threatening sky;
And the small scatter’d barks with outspread shrouds,
Catch the long gleams, that fall between the clouds.
Then day’s bright star with blunted rays
Seems struggling thro’ the sea-fog pale,
And doubtful in the heavy haze,
Is dimly seen the nearing sail;
‘Till from the land a fresher gale
Disperses the white mist, and clear,
As melts away the gauzy veil,
The sun-reflecting waves appear;

So, brighter genuine virtue seems to rise
From envy’s dark invidious calumnies.
What glories on the sun attend,
When the full tides of evening flow,
Where in still changing beauty, blend
With amber light, the opal’s glow;
While in the east the diamond bow
Rises in virgin lustre bright,
And from the horizon seems to throw,
A partial line of trembling light
To the hush’d shore; and all the tranquil deep
Beneath the modest moon, is sooth’d to sleep.

Forgotten then, the thundering break
Of waves, that in the tempest rise,
The falling cliff, the shatter’d wreck,
The howling blast, the sufferer’s cries;
For soft the breeze of evening sighs,
And murmuring seems in Fancy’s ear
To whisper fairy lullabies,
That tributary waters bear
From precipices, dark with piny woods,
And inland rocks, and heathy solitudes.
The vast encircling seas within,
What endless swarms of creatures hide ,
Of burnish’d scale, and spiny fin !
These providential instincts guide,

And bid them know the annual tide,
When, from unfathom’d waves that swell,
Beyond Fuego’s stormy side,
They come, to cheer the tribes that dwell
In Boreal climes; and thro’ his half year’s night
Give to the Lapland savage, food and light.
From cliffs, that pierce the northern sky;
Where eagles rear their sanguine brood,
With long awaiting patient eye,
Baffled by many a sailing cloud,
The Highland native marks the flood,
Till bright the quickening billows roll,
And hosts of sea-birds, clamouring loud,
Track with wild wing the welcome shoal,

Swift o’er the animated current sweep,
And bear their silver captives from the deep.
Sons of the North ! your streamy vales
With no rich sheaves rejoice and sing;
Her flowery robe no fruit conceals,
Tho’ sweetly smile your tardy spring;
Yet every mountain, clothed with ling,
Doth from its purple brow survey
Your busy sails, that ceaseless bring
To the broad frith, and sheltering bay,
Riches, by Heaven’s parental power supplied,­
The harvest of the far embracing tide.

And, where those fractur’d mountains lift
O’er the blue wave their towering crest,
Each salient ledge and hollow cleft
To sea-fowl give a rugged nest.
But with instinctive love is drest
The Eider’s downy cradle; where
The mother-bird, her glossy breast
Devotes, and with maternal care,
And plumeless bosom, stems the toiling seas,
That foam round the tempestuous Orcades.
From heights, whence shuddering sense recoils,
And cloud-capped headlands, steep and bare,
Sons of the North ! your venturous toils
Collect your poor and scanty fare.

Urged by imperious Want, you dare
Scale the loose cliff, where Gannets hide,
Or scarce suspended, in the air
Hang perilous; and thus provide
The soft voluptuous couch, which not secures
To Luxury’s pamper’d minions, sleep like yours.
Revolving still, the waves that now
Just ripple on the level shore,
Have borne perchance the Indian’s prow,
Or half congeal’d, ‘mid ice rocks hoar,
Raved to the Walrus’ hollow roar;
Or have by currents swift convey’d
To the cold coast of Labrador,
The relics of the tropic shade;

And to the wondering Esquimaux have shown
Leaves of strange shape, and fruits unlike their own.
No more then, let the incurious say,
No change this world of water shows,
But as the tides the moon obey,
Or tempests rave, or calms repose.­
Shew them, its bounteous breast bestows
On myriads life; and bid them see
In every wave that circling flows,
Beauty and use, and harmony­
Works of the Power Supreme, who poured the flood,
Round the green peopled earth, and call’d it good !

 

– Charlotte Smith

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In A Burning Sea

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how often were we wrapped in coolness on the floor
the smell of turpentine and fire
the canvases white to our empty eyes
night’s indifference
and the moon a smile somewhere outside
out of sight
days decompose like seasons beyond the panes
leaves of rain, a face, a cloud, this poem
I wanted to leave my imprint on you
to brand you with the flaming hour
of being alone
no fire sings as clear
as the silver ashes of your movements
and your melancholy body
I wanted to draw that sadness from you
so that you might be revealed
the way a city opens
on a bright landscape
filled with pigeons and the fire of trees
and silver crows also out of sight in the night
and the moon a mouth that one can ignite
and then I wished that you could laugh
and your body bitter
my hands of porcelain on your hips
your breath such a dark-dark pain
a sword at my ear
how often were we here
where only silver shadows stir
only through you I had to deny myself
through you alone I knew I had no harbor
in a burning sea

 

– Breyton Breytonbach

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The Mystic Sea

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The smell of the sea in my nostrils,
The sound of the sea in mine ears;
The touch of the spray on my burning face,
Like the mist of reluctant tears.

The blue of the sky above me,
The green of the waves beneath;
The sun flashing down on a gray-white sail
Like a scimitar from its sheath.

And ever the breaking billows,
And ever the rocks’ disdain;
And ever a thrill in mine inmost heart
That my reason cannot explain.

So I say to my heart, ‘Be silent,
The mystery of time is here;
Death’s way will be plain when we fathom the main,
And the secret of life be clear.’

 

Paul Laurence Dunbar

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By The Sea

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I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me.

And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Presuming me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.

But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,

And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve –
And then I started too.

And he – he followed close behind;
I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle, – then my shoes
Would overflow with pearl.

Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

 

– Emily Dickinson

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On The Sea

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It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

 

– John Keats

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On The Sea

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It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ’tis in such gentle temper found,
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be moved for days from where it sometime fell.
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody—
Sit ye near some old Cavern’s Mouth and brood,
Until ye start, as if the sea nymphs quired!

 

– John Keats

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Sea Dreams

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A city clerk, but gently born and bred;
His wife, an unknown artist’s orphan child-
One babe was theirs, a Margaret, three years old:
They, thinking that her clear germander eye
Droopt in the giant-factoried city-gloom,
Came, with a month’s leave given them, to the sea:
For which his gains were dock’d, however small:
Small were his gains, and hard his work; besides,
Their slender household fortunes (for the man
Had risk’d his little) like the little thrift,
Trembled in perilous places o’er a deep:
And oft, when sitting all alone, his face
Would darken, as he cursed his credulousness,
And that one unctuous mount which lured him, rogue,
To buy strange shares in some Peruvian mine.
Now seaward-bound for health they gain’d a coast,
All sand and cliff and deep-inrunning cave,
At close of day; slept, woke, and went the next,
The Sabbath, pious variers from the church,
To chapel; where a heated pulpiteer,
Not preaching simple Christ to simple men,
Announced the coming doom, and fulminated
Against the scarlet woman and her creed:
For sideways up he swung his arms, and shriek’d
`Thus, thus with violence,’ ev’n as if he held
The Apocalyptic millstone, and himself
Were that great Angel; `Thus with violence
Shall Babylon be cast into the sea;
Then comes the close.’ The gentle-hearted wife
Sat shuddering at the ruin of a world;
He at his own: but when the wordy storm
Had ended, forth they came and paced the shore,
Ran in and out the long sea-framing caves,
Drank the large air, and saw, but scarce believed
(The sootflake of so many a summer still
Clung to their fancies) that they saw, the sea.
So now on sand they walk’d, and now on cliff,
Lingering about the thymy promontories,
Till all the sails were darken’d in the west,
And rosed in the east: then homeward and to bed:
Where she, who kept a tender Christian hope
Haunting a holy text, and still to that
Returning, as the bird returns, at night,
`Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’
Said, `Love, forgive him:’ but he did not speak;
And silenced by that silence lay the wife,
Remembering her dear Lord who died for all,
And musing on the little lives of men,
And how they mar this little by their feuds.

But while the two were sleeping, a full tide
Rose with ground-swell, which, on the foremost rocks
Touching, upjetted in spirts of wild sea-smoke,
And scaled in sheets of wasteful foam, and fell
In vast sea-cataracts- ever and anon
Dead claps of thunder from within the cliffs
Heard thro’ the living roar. At this the babe,
Their Margaret cradled near them, wail’d and woke
The mother, and the father suddenly cried,
`A wreck, a wreck! ‘ then turn’d, and groaning said,

`Forgive! How many will say, ‘forgive,’ and find
A sort of absolution in the sound
To hate a little longer! No; the sin
That neither God nor man can well forgive,
Hypocrisy, I saw it in him at once.
Is it so true that second thoughts are best?
Not first, and third, which are a riper first?
Too ripe, too late! they come too late for use.
Ah love, there surely lives in man and beast
Something divine to warn them of their foes:
And such a sense, when first I fronted him,
Said, ‘trust him not; ‘ but after, when I came
To know him more, I lost it, knew him less;
Fought with what seem’d my own uncharity;
Sat at his table; drank his costly wines;
Made more and more allowance for his talk;
Went further, fool! and trusted him with all,
All my poor scrapings from a dozen years
Of dust and deskwork: there is no such mine,
None; but a gulf of ruin, swallowing gold,
Not making. Ruin’d! ruin’d! the sea roars
Ruin: a fearful night! ‘

`Not fearful; fair,’
Said the good wife, `if every star in heaven
Can make it fair: you do but bear the tide.
Had you ill dreams? ‘

`O yes,’ he said, `I dream’d
Of such a tide swelling toward the land,
And I from out the boundless outer deep
Swept with it to the shore, and enter’d one
Of those dark caves that run beneath the cliffs.
I thought the motion of the boundless deep
Bore through the cave, and I was heaved upon it
In darkness: then I saw one lovely star
Larger and larger. ‘What a world,’ I thought,
‘To live in! ‘ but in moving I found
Only the landward exit of the cave,
Bright with the sun upon the stream beyond:
And near the light a giant woman sat,
All over earthy, like a piece of earth,
A pickaxe in her hand: then out I slipt
Into a land all of sun and blossom, trees
As high as heaven, and every bird that sings:
And here the night-light flickering in my eyes
Awoke me.’

`That was then your dream,’ she said,
`Not sad, but sweet.’

`So sweet, I lay,’ said he,
`And mused upon it, drifting up the stream
In fancy, till I slept again, and pieced
The broken vision; for I dream’d that still
The motion of the great deep bore me on,
And that the woman walk’d upon the brink:
I wonder’d at her strength, and ask’d her of it:
‘It came,’ she said, ‘by working in the mines:’
O then to ask her of my shares, I thought;
And ask’d; but not a word; she shook her head.
And then the motion of the current ceased,
And there was rolling thunder; and we reach’d
A mountain, like a wall of burs and thorns;
But she with her strong feet up the steep hill
Trod out a path: I follow’d; and at top
She pointed seaward: there a fleet of glass,
That seem’d a fleet of jewels under me,
Sailing along before a gloomy cloud
That not one moment ceased to thunder, past
In sunshine: right across its track there lay,
Down in the water, a long reef of gold,
Or what seem’d gold: and I was glad at first
To think that in our often-ransack’d world
Still so much gold was left; and then I fear’d
Lest the gay navy there should splinter on it,
And fearing waved my arm to warn them off;
An idle signal, for the brittle fleet
(I thought I could have died to save it) near’d,
Touch’d, clink’d, and clash’d, and vanish’d, and I woke,
I heard the clash so clearly. Now I see
My dream was Life; the woman honest Work;
And my poor venture but a fleet of glass
Wreck’d on a reef of visionary gold.’

`Nay,’ said the kindly wife to comfort him,
`You raised your arm, you tumbled down and broke
The glass with little Margaret’s medicine it it;
And, breaking that, you made and broke your dream:
A trifle makes a dream, a trifle breaks.’

`No trifle,’ groan’d the husband; `yesterday
I met him suddenly in the street, and ask’d
That which I ask’d the woman in my dream.
Like her, he shook his head. ‘Show me the books! ‘
He dodged me with a long and loose account.
‘The books, the books! ‘ but he, he could not wait,
Bound on a matter he of life and death:
When the great Books (see Daniel seven and ten)
Were open’d, I should find he meant me well;
And then began to bloat himself, and ooze
All over with the fat affectionate smile
That makes the widow lean. ‘My dearest friend,
Have faith, have faith! We live by faith,’ said he;
‘And all things work together for the good
Of those’- it makes me sick to quote him- last
Gript my hand hard, and with God-bless-you went.
I stood like one that had received a blow:
I found a hard friend in his loose accounts,
A loose one in the hard grip of his hand,
A curse in his God-bless-you: then my eyes
Pursued him down the street, and far away,
Among the honest shoulders of the crowd,
Read rascal in the motions of his back,
And scoundrel in the supple-sliding knee.’

`Was he so bound, poor soul? ‘ said the good wife;
`So are we all: but do not call him, love,
Before you prove him, rogue, and proved, forgive.
His gain is loss; for he that wrongs his friend
Wrongs himself more, and ever bears about
A silent court of justice in his breast,
Himself the judge and jury, and himself
The prisoner at the bar, ever condemn’d:
And that drags down his life: then comes what comes
Hereafter: and he meant, he said he meant,
Perhaps he meant, or partly meant, you well.’

` ‘With all his conscience and one eye askew’-
Love, let me quote these lines, that you may learn
A man is likewise counsel for himself,
Too often, in that silent court of yours-
‘With all his conscience and one eye askew,
So false, he partly took himself for true;
Whose pious talk, when most his heart was dry,
Made wet the crafty crowsfoot round his eye;
Who, never naming God except for gain,
So never took that useful name in vain;
Made Him his catspaw and the Cross his tool,
And Christ the bait to trap his dupe and fool;
Nor deeds of gift, but gifts of grace he forged,
And snakelike slimed his victim ere he gorged;
And oft at Bible meetings, o’er the rest
Arising, did his holy oily best,
Dropping the too rough H in Hell and Heaven,
To spread the Word by which himself had thriven.’
How like you this old satire? ‘

`Nay,’ she said
`I loathe it: he had never kindly heart,
Nor ever cared to better his own kind,
Who first wrote satire, with no pity in it.
But will you hear MY dream, for I had one
That altogether went to music? Still
It awed me.’

Then she told it, having dream’d
Of that same coast.

– But round the North, a light,
A belt, it seem’d, of luminous vapor, lay,
And ever in it a low musical note
Swell’d up and died; and, as it swell’d, a ridge
Of breaker issued from the belt, and still
Grew with the growing note, and when the note
Had reach’d a thunderous fullness, on those cliffs
Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that
Living within the belt) whereby she saw
That all those lines of cliffs were cliffs no more,
But huge cathedral fronts of every age,
Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see.
One after one: and then the great ridge drew,
Lessening to the lessening music, back,
And past into the belt and swell’d again
Slowly to music: ever when it broke
The statues, king or saint, or founder fell;
Then from the gaps and chasms of ruin left
Came men and women in dark clusters round,
Some crying, ‘Set them up! they shall not fall! ‘
And others ‘Let them lie, for they have fall’n.’
And still they strove and wrangled: and she grieved
In her strange dream, she knew not why, to find
Their wildest wailings never out of tune
With that sweet note; and ever as their shrieks
Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave
Returning, while none mark’d it, on the crowd
Broke, mixt with awful light, and show’d their eyes
Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away
The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone,
To the waste deeps together.

`Then I fixt
My wistful eyes on two fair images,
Both crown’d with stars and high among the stars,-
The Virgin Mother standing with her child
High up on one of those dark minster-fronts-
Till she began to totter, and the child
Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry
Which mixt with little Margaret’s, and I woke,
And my dream awed me:- well- but what are dreams?
Yours came but from the breaking of a glass,
And mine but from the crying of a child.’

`Child? No! ‘ said he, `but this tide’s roar, and his,
Our Boanerges with his threats of doom,
And loud-lung’d Antibabylonianisms
(Altho’ I grant but little music there)
Went both to make your dream: but if there were
A music harmonizing our wild cries,
Sphere-music such as that you dream’d about,
Why, that would make our passions far too like
The discords dear to the musician. No-
One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven:
True Devils with no ear, they howl in tune
With nothing but the Devil! ‘

`’True’ indeed!
One of our town, but later by an hour
Here than ourselves, spoke with me on the shore;
While you were running down the sands, and made
The dimpled flounce of the sea-furbelow flap,
Good man, to please the child. She brought strange news.
Why were you silent when I spoke to-night?
I had set my heart on your forgiving him
Before you knew. We MUST forgive the dead.’

`Dead! who is dead? ‘

`The man your eye pursued.
A little after you had parted with him,
He suddenly dropt dead of heart-disease.’

`Dead? he? of heart-disease? what heart had he
To die of? dead! ‘

`Ah, dearest, if there be
A devil in man, there is an angel too,
And if he did that wrong you charge him with,
His angel broke his heart. But your rough voice
(You spoke so loud) has roused the child again.
Sleep, little birdie, sleep! will she not sleep
Without her ‘little birdie? ‘ well then, sleep,
And I will sing you ‘birdie.”

Saying this,
The woman half turn’d round from him she loved,
Left him one hand, and reaching thro’ the night
Her other, found (for it was close beside)
And half embraced the basket cradle-head
With one soft arm, which, like the pliant bough
That moving moves the nest and nestling, sway’d
The cradle, while she sang this baby song.

What does the little birdie say
In her nest at peep of day?
Let me fly, says little birdie,
Mother, let me fly away.
Birdie, rest a little longer,
Till the little wings are stronger.
So she rests a little longer,
Then she flies away.

What does little baby say,
In her bed at peep of day?
Baby says, like little birdie,
Let me rise and fly away.
Baby, sleep a little longer,
Till the little limbs are stronger.
If she sleeps a little longer,
Baby too shall fly away.

`She sleeps: let us too, let all evil, sleep.
He also sleeps- another sleep than ours.
He can do no more wrong: forgive him, dear,
And I shall sleep the sounder! ‘

Then the man,
`His deeds yet live, the worst is yet to come.
Yet let your sleep for this one night be sound:
I do forgive him! ‘

`Thanks, my love,’ she said,
`Your own will be the sweeter,’ and they slept.

 

– Alfred Lord Tennyson

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