Sea Shadows.

From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston


OF old the poets sang of thee, O Sea,
And peopled thee with nymphs and tritons quaint,
And fell asleep beside thy murmuring waves,
Or rocking on thy bosom, and forgot
The tiger heart that crouched and laid in wait
In seeming slumber. Thy great glooms I sing,—
Shadows of chaos and wild passion’s deeps,
And desolations of the unmeasured wastes.

O smooth, false friend, who lured us out too far
From land and home, into the realm of storms,—
Of storms and winter; or in tropic gulfs
Split our brave ships with thunderbolts; or washed
In drowning death a hundred beating hearts
With one sweep of thine arm; or day by clay
Held us in trances of long sickening calm,
Rooted in weary plains of molten glass,

Dumb with despair and famine and the dread
Of pest and fiery death, with none to help,—
The burning eye of heaven that rolled and glared
At noon, an eye of awful maniac light,
Our only witness in the unmeasured leagues
And bottomless abysses! Thou, O Sea,
Hidest in thy blue bosom, and within
Thy gleaming bars of sand and weed-clad stones,
All haunting fears and mysteries of death,
All auguries of chaos and despair.

In thee, O melancholy mother Sea,
Lurk all the vast and direful ocean-shapes,—
The black leviathan, the ravening shark,
The huge sea-snake by mariners beheld,
The krakens and chimeras strong as death,
With elephantine tentacles and jaws
Of slow and sure destruction, and cold eyes
That fathoms down stare up and mark their prey.
Thou art the nurse of that swift cuttle-fish,
Gigantic fleshy spider of grim caves
‘Neath cliffs precipitous, where sucks the tide
In snaky coils of light and dark and death,
Leagues off from land, the tenor of a dream!
Thine are the shadowy waifs of shapeless growths,

Half plant, half fish, fantastic jelly forms
By moonlight drifting past old ships becalmed
In summer nights, while near the Teneriffe
The loose sails flap like thunder through the dreams
Of sleeping sailors. Thine the gleaming teeth
Of white reefs snarling as the ships drive down
Through blackening skies. And thine the calmer glooms
Of sad sea-beaches and their lapping waves;
The rocks half buried in the slippery heaps
Of soaking sea-weed, when the tide is low;
And, wriggling in the moonlight and the sand,
The small wet monsters crawling in and out
The hollows and the ooze; the skull-eyed rocks
With hanging tufts of yellow ocean hair
Combed by the salt winds, decked with dead old shells,
Tricked with the sad waste leavings of the storm,
And washed with treacherous kisses of the surf
That froths and sighs all night beneath the moon.

To thee I come, and scorn thy flattering kiss,
And have small faith in thy smooth surface charms.
Thou fawnest like a spaniel at my feet.
I see the wild beast in thy changeful eyes,
And trust thee not. Rather for me the safe
Green hills and valleys of firm earth,—the joy
Of woods and pastures and the thousand homes
Lit up at evening with home-stars of love,
And musical with loving human hearts.

A truer type of power than thee I find
In the great morn of Science that hath lit
Thy shadows, and the skill that treads thee down
Into a highway for man’s daily steps,
And the world’s multitudinous fleets. Three gods
Chiefly I praise, and not thy Neptune old,—
Magnet and Vapor and the Electric Fire,
Whose forces tame thy spasms, so man thy lord
May plunge across the roaring water-chasms,
And bridge the measureless, and come and go
And talk at case across the world.
Thou too,
O changeful element that bore our ship
Of state upon thy breast! We looked abroad
To thy horizon level, long, and blue
With summer skies. We recked not of the storm,
We dreamed not of the four-years’ hurricane
Raging in battle-fires, and skies of blood,
And mountain waves that swept the young and brave
To sudden death or long-drawn agonies;
Nor saw the sunken reefs beneath the blue,
Nor the dire monsters of thy deeps, nor half
The hidden horrors of thy treacherous calms:
But trusted thee and sailed upon thy waves,
Till thy brute force turned on us, hideous, grim,
Forcing the struggle wherein wisdom rose
Triumphant. Thee too shall man’s science fame,
Lighting the pathway o’er thy perilous deeps,
Anil travel forth and back across thy wastes,
And wed the sundered lands of North and South
Into one continent of flower and fruit;
Taking away the blight of all the past,
And the blind chaos of Humanity.

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